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UN to allow deep sea mining: Issues and concerns

GS Paper 2/3

Syllabus: International Relations/Environment, Conservation


Source: IE

Context: The International Seabed Authority (ISA) has decided that it will start taking permit applications from companies that want to mine the ocean floor.

Image Credits: ISA 2021


Deep-Sea MiningIt involves retrieving mineral deposits from nodules that dot the ocean floor, typically more than 600 feet below sea level.
Location:The most economically viable nodules lie partially under sediment in the north-central Pacific Ocean, the southeastern Pacific Ocean, and the northern Indian Ocean.


Common Heritage of Humankind●       Under the UNCLOS, ocean areas beyond national jurisdiction and their mineral resources are the common heritage of humankind

●       It contains most of the same minerals (but in enriched forms) that are found on land, as well as minerals that are unique to the deep ocean, such as ferromanganese crusts and polymetallic nodules.



Need for undersea mining:
1To extract key battery materials – cobalt, copper, nickel, and manganese – from potato-sized rocks called “polymetallic nodules” found at depths of 4 – 6 km.
 2Within the next 2 decades, the IEA predicts that renewable energy technology will make up over 40% of the demand for copper, 60 -70% for cobalt and nickel, and 90% for lithium.



At the 28th Session of the ISA (Kingston, Jamaica), several countries insisted that industrial undersea mining requires strict rules.


The mining code is missingThe 36-member council is uncertain about the process it should adopt for reviewing applications for mining contracts.
Rising Geopolitical Competition



China has demonstrated its desire to shape international norms in the maritime domain, as exemplified by Beijing’s aggressive actions in the South China Sea.


Holding 5 out of the 30 deep-sea mining exploration contracts issued by the ISA(more than any other country), it is now leading the race to the bottom of the sea by building superior capabilities and influencing the regulatory environment.

Damaging repercussions for the environmentIt would go beyond harming the seabed and have a wider impact on the deep-sea marine ecosystems in regulating the climate
·        Chile, France, Palau, and Fiji, among other nations, have called for a global moratorium on the practice, citing environmental concerns and a lack of sufficient scientific data.

·        In Resolution 122, IUCN notes that if deep-sea mining is permitted to occur, biodiversity loss in these unique ecosystems will be inevitable, and the consequences for ocean ecosystem function, and for humanity, could be vast.



Pros of Deep sea mining:

Transition to Clean Energy



·        Deep sea mining could help meet the rising demand for energy transition metals.


·        The demand for commodities like copper, lithium, and rare earth is expected to rise due to their essential role in the technologies and infrastructure needed to decarbonize the global economy.


·        Within the next two decades, the IEA predicts that renewable energy technology will make up over 40% of the demand for copper, 60-70% for cobalt and nickel, and 90% for lithium.



Energy SecurityHelps nations reduce their dependence on China for imports of rare earths & avoid a supply squeeze



Deep Ocean Mission by the Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES)

Aim: To explore the deep ocean for resources and develop deep-sea technologies for sustainable use of ocean resources.

Read more here


ISA: It is a  Jamaica-based intergovernmental body established under the UNCLOS. It holds authority over the ocean floors outside of its 167 member states’ Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ)

Insta Links:

Deep Ocean Mission