Calgary Herald

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.

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