Posted on October 3, 2022
New Zealand is moving closer to joining an effort to ban deep-sea mining, as a mining company begins to extract 3600 tonnes of the Pacific seafloor.
Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta on Wednesday confirmed the Government was headed towards joining the call for a moratorium on the controversial mining, after taking on the views of Pacific nations that have campaigned against it.
“We’re looking at our Pacific neighbours in how they’re reorienting their position. And there are more Pacific neighbours expressing concern around this issue,” she said.
Mahuta said she would soon have advice from officials on New Zealand possibly joining the call for a moratorium. Asked whether she was moving closer to making the decision, she said: “I think we are. I think we are.”
The Government has so far resisted calls to take a stance against deep-sea mining, saying mining should occur only once strong environmental safeguards are finalised through ongoing International Seabed Authority negotiations (ISA).
Without concluding negotiations on regulations, the ISA earlier this month granted Nauru Ocean Resources Inc, a subsidiary of Canadian firm The Metals Company, permission to trial its extraction of 3600 tonnes of metal-rich “nodules” from an area of international seas.
The potato-sized nodules at the bottom of the ocean are rich with metals such as cobalt and manganese, needed for clean-energy technologies, including electric car batteries.
Nauru, Kiribati and Tonga have all sponsored the Metals Company’s proposed mining of metal-rich nodules found within the Clarion Clipperton Zone, an expanse of international water between Kiribati and Mexico.
But the new type of mining has been opposed by four Pacific nations: Palau, Samoa, Fiji, and Federated States of Micronesia. At an oceans conference in Lisbon in June, French President Emmanuel Macron also called for deep-sea mining to be banned.
Mahuta on Wednesday said there had been a “disappointing” lack of progress at the ISA.
“We’ve advocated in the ISA over a number of months now. We have been consistent in our approach.
“A lack of progress is evidenced by being able to achieve that outcome, but also the landscape’s moved quite a bit in terms of where the Pacific are now positioning themselves, so we have to take that on board as we review our own position.
“What we would say to Tonga, Nauru and the Cook Islands is that we respect their territorial integrity and sovereignty. The broader issue is to ensure that we do no harm to the blue Pacific continent.”
Green Party oceans spokesperson Eugenie Sage said New Zealand needed to “seize the opportunity” to strongly support Pacific neighbours that wanted a moratorium.
She said Mahuta’s indication that New Zealand might also call for a ban was “very encouraging”.
“We should go straight to the moratorium. We don’t have confidence in the ISA,” she said.
“It’s too secretive, makes decisions behind closed doors … We’re seeing all of these applications for mining in the deep sea and not for protection.”