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Pacific regional civil society groups claim that DeepGreen, a venture capitalist company, has started “the clock ticking” with little regard for potential wide-ranging environmental damage from seabed mining in two years’ time.

An aggressive push by any industry player to fast-track the conclusion of seven years of ongoing global negotiations on the mining code was a “naked attempt to hijack and undermine” a process seeking stringent standards and regulations for the extremely risky activity, the groups say.

The company is the real beneficiary of the Nauru government’s decision to trigger the start of a process which could lead to potential widespread seabed mining, said the Pacific Civil Society Organisations Collective (CSOC) today in a statement.

The trigger, a clause within a 1994 Agreement on implementing Part XI of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) allows sponsor states such as Nauru to jump-start the mining process, by invoking a rule that sets a deadline for finalising and adopting of globally negotiated mining laws and regulations.

In the event that the global community failed to agree to mining laws and regulations, DeepGreen or its Nauru subsidiary NORI could proceed to mine based on work plans submitted.

“The Pacific Blue Line collective recognises that under the Sponsorship Agreement, Nauru believes it is required, pursuant to Clause 2.1, to ‘do all things reasonably necessary to give effect to DeepGreen and its subsidiary having the full benefits of the sponsorship’.

“This would include pulling the trigger to ensure full benefits of the sponsorship,” the statement said.

Sovereign decision
“The decision to start the two-year clock ticking is a sovereign decision. However, the Pacific collective believes the Nauru government has been persuaded by DeepGreen to take this action on the pretext that the urgency of the climate crisis demands the commencement of mining in two years, without regard for the potentially wide-ranging environmental damage arising from deep sea mining (DSM).

“The damage could see the Nauru government, future administrations, and Nauruan people face liability for environmental consequences that cannot be foreseen or appreciated at this stage.”

The collective said that last week in media interviews pushing for a rapid opening of the seabed through pulling a trigger, DeepGreen had dismissed the increasing scientific knowledge about the deep sea and its biodiversity, as well as the risks to ocean health from seabed mining.

“In the same week, over 300 scientists voiced their support for a moratorium on DSM. Prior to this, major brands BMW Group, Google, Volvo Group and Samsung SDI signed a pledge not to source deep seabed minerals.

“The European Parliament also called for a moratorium on DSM. Here in the Pacific, the collective has called for a total ban on DSM.”

The collective said that in the Pacific, “one of the major concerns is the impact of mining upon coastal communities”.

“Deep seabed mining would likely cause massive sediment plumes that could affect crucial tuna and other fish stocks, thus further destabilising livelihoods for hundreds of thousands of ocean dependent people and communities,” the collective said.

Mounting pressure
“The Pacific Ocean is already under mounting pressure from human activities and the impacts of climate change, and there is substantial evidence that we need to now be embarking on an era of restoration, not further reckless exploitation.

“Those who are swayed by the false promise that deep seabed mining is a ‘green’ and attractive investment proposition need to think again and listen to the science. It is simply not the case.

“Based on the best scientific knowledge available, scientists predict deep sea mining will cause irreversible harm to the environment, including to species, habitats, ecosystems and critical ecosystem functions and services.”

While the economic gains promised by DeepGreen and other potential investors remained highly speculative and unsubstantiated there was real danger of a domino effect occurring, in which other states would follow Nauru’s lead, with potential Oceania-wide impacts on the people, nature and economies of the region.

Signatories to the civil society collective statement include the Pacific Conference of Churches, Pacific Islands Association of NGOs, and the Pacific Network on Globalisation.

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