Norway cites ‘green transition’ towards embracing deep-sea mining

  • Norway has announced its intention to open up 281,200 square kilometers (nearly 108,600 square miles) of its nearby ocean to deep-sea mining.
  • The country’s parliament can still reverse the decision, but most of Norway’s political parties are currently supporting advances in deep-sea mining.
  • Deep-sea mining critics say Norway should heed its own scientists’ warnings about the dangers of deep-sea mining.

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

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

Parliament will formally debate the issue later this year, which could provide an opportunity to reverse the decision. 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, 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 lead the way in sustainably and responsibly managing such resources. Success will be crucial to the long-term global energy transition.”

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

Still, Greenpeace Norway’s Frode Pleym says the country “doesn’t heed scientific advice from their own scientists” about the dangers of deep-sea mining.

A dandelion siphonophore
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 stage, 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 environmental agency previously expressed concern over an impact assessment the government had conducted to study the effects of deep-sea mining in nearby waters. The agency argued that this assessment provided insufficient information on how to conduct deep-sea mining safely and sustainably, which violated the country’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 irreversible damage to marine ecosystems. In a report, EASAC also disputed the widespread claim that deep-sea mining is necessary to obtain the necessary minerals for renewable energy technologies. EASAC is an association of 28 national science academies from the EU Member States, Norway, Switzerland and the UK, which provides independent advice to policy makers.

Critics have also pointed out that deep-sea mining plans conflict with 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 UN-mandated mining regulator, is also overseeing plans to open large areas of international waters to deep-sea mining in the near future, a move that has drawn criticism from scientists and civil society. Next month, ISA delegates will meet in Kingston, Jamaica, to discuss the possible approval of mining regulations that would allow operations 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 yesterday, this move by the Norwegian government is complete hypocrisy.”

Banner Image: A minke whale off Spitsbergen. 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 is proposing to open up an area the size of Germany of its continental shelf to deep-sea mining

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