Future Of Deep-Sea Mining Might Rest On International Seabed Authority Leadership Election

Zinger Key Points
  • ISA's July election could significantly impact deep-sea mining's regulatory direction amid rising demand for critical minerals.
  • Deep-sea mining poses environmental risks to marine ecosystems, with sediment plumes and heavy machinery threatening biodiversity.

The International Seabed Authority (ISA) is preparing for a leadership election in July, which could play a key role in shaping the future of deep-sea mining.

With 168 member states and the European Union, the ISA manages contracts with mining companies and sets regulations determining how deep-sea mining will proceed.

As a United Nations-affiliated organization, ISA regulates activities related to deep-sea mining in international waters, overseeing an area that covers around 54% of the world’s oceans. This vast area holds substantial mineral resources crucial for various industries, particularly those driving the energy transition.

The outcome of this election will determine the leadership direction at a time when deep-sea mining is poised to become a more prominent part of the global supply chain for critical minerals like cobalt, nickel, copper and manganese, which are used in electric vehicle batteries, wind turbines and solar panels.

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Michael Lodge, the current Secretary-General of the ISA, is seeking a third term while facing competition from a Brazilian marine scientist, Leticia Carvalho.

Lodge's re-election could signify continuity in the ISA’s approach to deep-sea mining regulations, but it may also signal a more business-friendly stance. He has been criticized for his closeness to mining contractors and his dismissive attitude toward environmental opposition. If Carvalho wins, there could be a shift in focus toward a more environmentally conscious regulatory framework, reflecting growing concerns over the potential impact of deep-sea mining on marine ecosystems.

Deep-sea mining involves extracting valuable minerals like cobalt, nickel, copper, and manganese from the ocean floor, often in the form of polymetallic nodules. These minerals are crucial for electric vehicle batteries, wind turbines and other renewable energy technologies. As the global push for clean energy intensifies, so does the demand for these critical minerals.

“One of the main drivers of industrial interest is the potential to produce larger quantities of minerals at equivalent or lower cost to what can be produced on land. That's the commercial driver, and certainly, there is vast resource potential in seabed minerals,” Lodge said for CNBC.

Scientists do not understand deep-sea marine ecosystems well, and mining activities could devastate biodiversity. The heavy machinery can harm or kill less mobile organisms on the seabed, while sediment plumes generated during mining could smother and suffocate marine life. Warm mining wastewater could also disrupt ecosystems through overheating and poisoning.

Lodge remarked that although exploration has been ongoing for decades, “It is very hard to say conclusively that it would be as destructive as some people claim that it would be,” highlighting the need for further research.

The U.K., which sponsored Lodge for his first term, has led the deep-sea mining moratorium. Meanwhile, Lodge's sponsor for the third term is Kiribati, an island country in the Micronesia area of Oceania in the central Pacific Ocean.

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