Pacific island sets two-year deadline for UN deep-sea mining rules
The tiny Pacific island nation of Nauru has notified a UN body of plans to start deep-sea mining, giving the International Seabed Authority (ISA) two years to complete long-running talks on rules governing the new and controversial industry.
Nauru President Lionel Aingimea notified ISA about the mining plans to be carried out by a subsidiary of The Metals Co in a letter dated June 25 and seen by Reuters on Tuesday.
Reuters reported on Friday that Nauru planned to trigger the so-called “two-year rule,” which allows for a mining plan to be approved after two years under whatever rules are in place at that time.
Nauru is a sponsoring state for Nauru Ocean Resources Inc (NORI), a wholly-owned subsidiary of Canadian-registered The Metals Co, formerly known as Deepgreen, which plans to list on the U.S. Nasdaq in the third quarter in a merger with blank-check company Sustainable Opportunities Acquisition Corp (SOAC).
Aingimea's letter asked the ISA “to complete the adoption of rules, regulations, and procedures required to facilitate the approval of plans of work for exploitation in the area within two years” from June 30.
Deep-sea mining would extract cobalt, copper, nickel, and manganese — key battery materials — from potato-sized rocks called “polymetallic nodules” on the sea floor at depths of 4-6 kilometres. They are abundant in the Clarion-clipperton Zone (CCZ) in the North Pacific Ocean between Hawaii and Mexico.
The Metals Co has deals with Nauru, Tonga and Kiribati for CCZ exploration rights covering 224,533 square km, roughly the area of Romania.
Aingimea's letter said Nauru believed draft deep-sea mining regulations were nearly complete after seven years of talks.
But environmental groups, some of which have called for a ban on the activity arguing that too little is known about its impact, said the draft was far from ready.
“Forcing the regulations through prematurely and without due process or enough scientific knowledge about the deep sea is not in line with the precautionary approach and other principles of international environmental law,” the World Wildlife Fund said.
ISA states still differ over issues including a royalty regime for deep-sea minerals, said Duncan Currie, a lawyer who has followed the ISA talks since 2012.
UN law defines resources on the international seabed as the common heritage of mankind, so benefits should be shared among all countries, not just nations sponsoring mining firms.