UN body debates proposed regulations amid pressure to allow deep-sea mining

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Members of a U.N. body charged with protecting deep international waters met Tuesday to negotiate details of a proposed regulatory framework amid pressure to allow companies and countries to mine minerals from the ocean bed.

The nearly two-week meeting of the International Seabed Authority began Monday in Jamaica but was soon interrupted by a 5.4 magnitude earthquake that struck the island and forced organizers to cancel activities for the day. The quake prompted delegates from at least six countries to leave Jamaica, including Panama, Switzerland and New Zealand, all of which support a moratorium on deep-sea mining.

The meeting resumed Tuesday after scientists and environmental groups praised the United Kingdom for joining nearly two dozen other countries calling for a ban or moratorium on deep-sea mining.

“We’re hoping it creates a sense of positive peer pressure for states sitting on the fence,” said Jessica Battle with the nonprofit World Wide Fund For Nature.

The United Kingdom said it would not support issuing a license for deep-sea mining until there’s sufficient scientific evidence on the potential impact of such activities and strong regulations in place.

“Until we fully understand the impact of deep-sea mining on our marine ecosystems, it is right that we seek to protect them,” said Minister of State Andrew Mitchell.

Debate on Tuesday focused on the proposed creation of a compliance committee and the amount of autonomy it should be awarded. Members of the International Seabed Authority also debated whether unannounced inspections should be required.

The push for deep-sea mining comes amid a growing demand for metals used in electric vehicles, solar panels and other clean energy technologies.

Those who support deep-sea mining argue that it is cheaper than land mining and has less of an environmental impact. But scientists say that less than 1% of the earth’s deep seas have been explored and that deep sea-mining could emit light, noise and suffocating dust storms.

The U.N. body has yet to issue a provisional mining license, although it has issued more than 30 exploration licenses. Much of the exploration is taking place in an area spanning 1.7 million square miles (4.5 million square kilometers) between Hawaii and Mexico.