Negotiations are currently underway in Jamaica among the Council of the International Seabed Authority. There, the German Federal Government has called for a “precautionary pause” in deep-sea mining for the first time. Germany stated that it will not sponsor any applications for the commercial mining of raw materials in the deep sea until further notice. Existing knowledge and the current state of research is insufficient to rule out serious environmental damage from exploitation of the deep sea. In addition, Germany is making the case to other member states to not sponsor any applications either. Formal sponsorship of a mining application by a member state of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea is necessary for a company to receive the approval of the International Seabed Authority.
Parliamentary State Secretary Franziska Brantner said, “Germany wants to further explore the deep sea. But we want to strengthen the precautionary approach to deep-sea mining. Therefore, until further notice, no applications should be sponsored for the commercial mining of raw materials in the deep sea.”
Federal Minister for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Nuclear Safety and Consumer Protection Steffi Lemke said, “Deep-sea mining would further pollute oceans and irrevocably destroy ecosystems. That is why, as a first step, we are calling for a pause and for no hasty decisions to be made at the expense of the marine environment. Together with our international partners, we currently have the opportunity to avert another looming environmental crisis and to prioritise the preservation of nature and its exploration. Only an intact ocean will help us against the biodiversity and climate crisis.”
By declaring that it will refrain from supporting deep-sea mining until further notice, each state can contribute to the observance of a precautionary pause until the deep-sea ecosystems and the possible risks of deep-sea mining are sufficiently researched and strict mining regulations are in place that rule out serious environmental harm. By refraining from sponsoring mining applications, which is declared subject to a review of a need for legal adjustments, the Federal Government is demonstrating a way to implement the precautionary pause within the framework of the current UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and is promoting it in contact with other countries.
The Federal Government’s decision to call for a precautionary pause in the exploitation of the deep sea is a response to a mining application announced by the Pacific island of Nauru last year. This triggered the UN Convention’s “two-year rule”, according to which mining regulations must be devised within two years. The deadline for this is July 2023.
The Federal Government’s statement at the 27th session of the Council of the International Seabed Authority reads:
“Subject to national legal review, Germany will therefore not sponsor any plans of work for exploitation until the deep-sea ecosystems and the impacts of deep-sea mining have been sufficiently researched and until there are exploitation regulations with strict environmental standards in place, ensuring that the marine environment is not seriously harmed.
Germany insists on the strict application of the precautionary approach and sees the need for a precautionary pause in deep-sea mining, facilitating further marine scientific research.”
Germany will also play an active part in the future work of the International Seabed Authority, particularly in the development of effective mining regulations with strict environmental standards, in order to ensure that the marine environment is not seriously harmed even in the event approval procedures are initiated. At the same time, marine research must be intensified in order to gain more knowledge about the deep sea and the potential implications of deep-sea mining.
The deep sea is among the least explored areas of our planet. Germany has long supported the exploration of deep-sea resources and, through the Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources, it has two exploration contracts in place with the International Seabed Authority in the Pacific and the Indian Ocean.