Norway cites ‘green transition’ in move toward embracing deep-sea mining

Norway cites ‘green transition’ in move toward embracing deep-sea mining

  • Norway has announced its intention to open 281,200 square kilometers (nearly 108,600 square miles) of its nearby ocean to deep-sea mining.
  • The country’s parliament could still overturn the decision, but most political parties in Norway currently support moving forward with deep-sea mining.
  • Critics of deep-sea mining say Norway needs to pay attention to the warnings of its own scientists about the dangers of deep-sea mining.

The Norwegian government is pushing forward with plans to open its nearby ocean to deep-sea mining, despite opposition from scientists and environmentalists.

On June 20, the government announced its intention to open 281,200 square kilometers (nearly 108,600 square miles) of the ocean — an area almost the size of Italy — between the Barents Sea and the Greenland Sea, along Norway’s continental shelf. The government has said it intends to divide this area into smaller blocks to manage the commercial exploration of resources.

Parliament will formally debate this issue later this year, which may provide an opportunity for the decision to be overturned. However, most political parties in Norway currently support deep-sea mining.

“We need minerals to succeed in the green transition,” Terje Aasland, Norway’s minister of petroleum and energy, said in a statement. “Currently, the resources are controlled by a few countries, which makes us vulnerable. Seabed minerals can become a source of access to essential metals, and no other country is better positioned to take the lead in managing such resources sustainably and responsibly. Success will be crucial for the world’s long-term energy transition.”

The government says it will only allow exploitation to begin if industry can demonstrate that deep-sea mining can be done sustainably and responsibly.

Yet Frode Pleym of Greenpeace Norway says the country is not “heeding scientific advice from their own scientists” about the dangers of deep-sea mining.

A dandelion siphonophore seen in deep sea. Image by NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program, INDEX-SATAL 2010 via Flickr.

“Norway portrays itself as green on the global scene but their actions say otherwise,” Pleym told Mongabay in an emailed statement. “Instead of listening to scientific advice, the Government is giving the deep sea mining companies exactly what they want.”

Norway’s own environmental agency previously raised concerns about an impact assessment the government conducted to study the effects of deep-sea mining in its nearby waters. The agency argued that this assessment did not provide adequate information about how deep-sea mining could be done safely and sustainably, which violated the nation’s own Seabed Minerals Act.

Earlier this month, the European Academies’ Science Advisory Council (EASAC) announced its support for a moratorium on deep-sea mining, arguing that it would cause irreparable harm to marine ecosystems. In a report, the EASAC also challenged the widespread claim that deep-sea mining is needed to procure necessary minerals for renewable energy technologies. The EASAC is an association of 28 national science academies of EU member states, Norway, Switzerland and the U.K., that provides independent advice to policymakers.

Critics have also pointed out that deep-sea mining plans will contradict the conservation goals of international agreements such as the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework and the recently adopted High Seas Treaty.

The International Seabed Authority (ISA), the U.N.-mandated mining regulator, is also overseeing plans to open up large swaths of international waters to deep-sea mining in the near future, a move that has garnered criticism from scientists and civil society. Next month, delegates of the ISA will meet in Kingston, Jamaica, to discuss the possible adoption of mining regulations that would allow exploitation to begin.

Jessica Battle of WWF’s No Deep Seabed Mining Initiative called Norway’s mining plans “one of the worst environmental decisions” the country has ever made.

“These waters contain vulnerable Arctic marine species and are already threatened by ice reduction from the impacts of the climate crisis,” Battle said in a statement. “At a time when the world is celebrating the formal adoption of the High Seas Treaty just yesterday, this move by the Norwegian Government is complete hypocrisy.”

Banner image: A minke whale near Svalbard. Image by Rob Oo via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

Elizabeth Claire Alberts is a senior staff writer for Mongabay. Follow her on Twitter @ECAlberts.

Norway proposes opening Germany-sized area of its continental shelf to deep-sea mining

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