UK backs suspension of deep-sea mining in U-turn

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s government had been in favour of exploratory licences, a position criticised by Labour and dozens of scientists…reports Asian Lite News

The UK has for the first time come out in support of a pause in highly controversial mining of the deep-sea bed, having previously supported it.

On Monday, the government added its name to a group of countries seeking a moratorium on new licences to exploit minerals such as lithium, copper and cobalt – vital for green energy – from the deep sea.

The environment department said the precautionary pause is designed to protect the world’s ocean from such projects, which involve heavy machinery scraping deposits from the world’s largest habitat, until more evidence on the impact is available.

It said it would establish a new UK-based network of experts to collect further scientific data.

Environment Secretary Therese Coffey said the UK will use “our scientific expertise to fully understand the impact of deep sea mining on precious ecosystems; and in the meantime, we will not support or sponsor any exploitation licences”.

The announcement comes as negotiations at the United Nations regulator, the International Seabed Authority, start on Monday, and take place one month before the COP28 climate talks commence in Dubai in December.

Previously, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s government had been in favour of exploratory licences, a position criticised by Labour and dozens of scientists.

Now the UK joins countries including Germany, France, Chile and Vanuatu in backing a pause on exploitation licences for the new and contested industry.

Other than from a few small tests, no commercial mining has happened at scale yet, and campaigners say it will be extremely destructive, with full environmental impacts hard to predict.

But deep sea mining is regarded as a potential solution to the expected global shortage of raw materials considered critical to a greener energy future, and used in things like batteries and renewable power.

It is also seen as a way to reduce dependence on the relatively few countries that hold deposits on land, including China, Australia, Russia, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

The Environmental Audit Committee of MPs has warned since 2019 that deep sea mining would have “catastrophic impacts on habitats and species”.

Its current chair, the Conservative MP Philip Dunne, said the transition to cleaner energy means will “inevitably increase” demand for precious resources that can be extracted by deep sea mining.

“But this must be done in a considered way and with the backing of scientists that the environment and its inhabitants will not be severely impacted,” he said.

Greenpeace UK’s oceans campaigner Fiona Nicholls said: “The UK government’s change of heart on deep sea mining shows the tide is turning against this destructive industry threatening some of the world’s last undisturbed habitats.”

The campaigning group wants the UK to go further by agreeing to a full ban and reconsider its fossil fuel licensing, with climate change being “one of the biggest threats to marine life”.

The PM has recently come under fire from green groups for watering down some key green targets, and an attempt to relax rules on water pollution for homebuilders – though this was later rejected in the House of Lords.

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