UK supports moratorium on deep sea mining to protect ocean ecosystems

THE UK government has today announced its support for measures designed to protect the world’s ocean and improve the conservation of marine biodiversity.

Ahead of International Seabed Authority (ISA) negotiations starting today, and a month ahead of COP28, the UK government has announced its support for a moratorium on the granting of exploitation licences for deep sea mining projects – which involve the extraction of minerals such as precious metals, copper and cobalt – by the ISA.

This means the UK will not sponsor or support the issuing of any such licences until sufficient scientific evidence is available to assess the potential impact of deep sea mining activities on marine ecosystems and strong, enforceable environmental regulations, standards and guidelines have been developed and adopted by the ISA.

The UK has been pushing the ISA to develop strong and enforceable environmental regulations, standards and guidelines on deep sea mining.

To support this, a new UK-based environmental science expert network on deep sea mining will be launched to gather scientific data and increase the effective use of the UK’s world-class research through cross-disciplinary learning. This will build on the independent evidence review on deep sea mining carried out by independent experts following a government commission in 2022.

The network will bring together the UK’s environmental science expertise to help fill the current evidence gaps on the environmental impact of deep sea mining and share internationally.

Environment Secretary Thérèse Coffey said, “We will use our scientific expertise to fully understand the impact of deep sea mining on precious ecosystems; and in the meantime, we will not support or sponsor any exploitation licences. This work will go alongside our wider efforts to conserve and enhance precious marine habitats around the world.”

Clare Brook, CEO of Blue Marine Foundation, said, “Deep-sea mining threatens some of the rarest and most vulnerable ecosystems on Earth. Blue Marine is therefore delighted to see the UK supporting a moratorium on deep-sea mining, along with other leading economies such as Germany, France and Sweden.

“There are cheaper, cleaner and more secure ways of producing minerals as the world transitions to net zero without causing the catastrophic and permanent destruction of fragile ocean life.

“Blue Marine welcomes the Government’s proposal to convene a UK scientific expert group on deep-sea mining, which would underline the UK’s position as a leading voice in ocean conservation.”

The measures set out today further demonstrate the UK’s commitment towards ocean conservation and protection.

Over recent years, the UK has committed to protecting at least 30% of the global ocean by 2030 through a network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and Other Effective Area-based Conservation Measures (OECMs), and driven this forward through UK-chaired Global Ocean Alliance. It has also supported developing countries to protect the marine environment through projects to protect and restore habitats such as mangroves, coral reefs and seagrasses through the £500 million Blue Planet Fund.

The UK has also created a network of 178 marine protected areas across 35,000 square miles of English waters, with a commitments for 70% of designated features to be in a favourable position by 2042

This action will support the delivery of targets in the UK’s Environment Act, underpinned by its Environment Improvement Plan – the five-year blueprint for action to halt and reverse the decline of nature.

Environmental Audit Committee Chair, Rt Hon Philip Dunne MP, said, “As far back as 2019 our Committee has warned that deep sea mining would have catastrophic impacts on habitats and species.

“As we approach net zero and the need to transition to a clean economy, the demand on precious resources that can be extracted by deep sea mining will inevitably increase. But this must be done in a considered way and with the backing of scientists that the environment and its inhabitants will not be severely impacted.

“The Government’s move today backing a moratorium on deep sea mining will allow these vital investigations to take place before irreversible harm is done.”

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