Deep Seabed Mining: WWF takes legal action against the government

Norway has decided to open up Norwegian sea areas for deep seabed mining activities. WWF-Norway believes the decision was made based on a strategic impact assessment that does not meet the minimum requirements and intends to take the government to court if the decision is not reversed.

Active venting chimney at the Jan Mayen Vent Fields on the Arctic Mid-Oceanic Ridge. Depth: around 500m deep. Credit: CDeepSea/University of Bergen/ROV Aegir6000.

An environmental disaster

In our deep ocean there is wonderful wildlife and nature that does not exist anywhere else on our planet. Now this unique nature is threatened by destructive mining.

As one of the first countries in the world, Norway has decided to open up vulnerable and unique areas in Arctic waters for exploration and extraction of minerals on the seabed. These areas are huge, comparable to the size of the UK.

The Norwegian government has received massive criticism for this decision from its own environmental authorities, national and international research communities, the EU and the rest of the world.

"Norway's decision to proceed with opening up vast areas of ocean for destructive mining, is an unprecedented management scandal. We have never before seen a Norwegian government so arrogantly ignore all scientific advice and defy the warnings of a united marine research community", says Karoline Andaur, CEO of WWF-Norway.

The decision to open up for potential deep seabed mining, is based on an strategic impact assessment by the Ministry of Energy. WWF believes that this assessment does not meet the requirements for an strategic impact assessment in accordance with section 2-2 of the Seabed Minerals Act. Thus, there is no legal basis for the decision. This has also been the conclusion of the governments own expert body, the Norwegian Environment Agency, in its response to the public consultation.

Further, WWF believes that the strategic impact assessment shows that the government does not have enough knowledge about marine environment in the deep sea to be able to assess the consequences of exploration and exploitation, either on the environment, other industries or the Norwegian economy. There are too many and too large knowledge gaps for the legal minimum standard of a strategic impact assessments to be met. This is the basis for WWF's lawsuit.

"If this decision is not challenged, we accept that politicians can break the law and manage our resources blindly", says Andaur.

Deep Seabed Mining

In our deep ocean, there is amazing wildlife and nature that exists nowhere else on our planet.

Large areas are still unexplored. In particular, little is known about the nature and role of the deep sea in the ecosystem of the ocean. Scientists estimate that we know nothing about at least 80 percent of the ocean. In fact, we have more knowledge about both the surface of the moon and Mars than the ocean. Yet, the Norwegian government wants to open up these areas for destructive mining.

WWF also believes that a new and dangerous precedence will be set for how both current and future governments can carry out impact assessments, if the decision is upheld.

"This controversial decision made by the Norwegian government, could have a major negative impact on negotiations on mining in international waters, and in the worst case, contribute to other countries opening up for mining on the seabed in their waters as well – without the necessary knowledge", says Andaur.

MAJOR INTERNATIONAL OPPOSITION

So far, 25 countries, including France, Paulau, the UK, Mexico and Sweden, have called for a pause, moratorium or ban on offshore mineral extraction. The EU Parliament and more than 30 industry players including Google, BMW, KLP and Storebrand are calling for a moratorium, as well as over 800 marine scientists from 44 different countries.

The European Commission also wants a ban until it is proven that deep seabed mining will not harm nature, while the EU Investment Bank has excluded seabed minerals from its investments. Recently, an overwhelming majority in the European Parliament voted for a resolution criticizing Norway's plans for deep seabed mining.

WHAT ARE WE RISKING WITH DEEP SEABED MINING?

  • Mining can destroy vulnerable and unique wildlife and can break up continuous habitats in the deep sea. We risk destroying huge areas of the seabed in the deep sea.
  • The interventions will break up the seabed.
  • Loss of species and destruction of habitats in the deep sea can lead to less food for fish and other marine life.
  • Expected emissions of chemicals, waste products and particles from mining operations can pollute the marine environment, even far away from the operations themselves.
  • Unprecedented negative impacts on wildlife from noise, vibration and light.
  • Potential future important scientific discoveries, such as medicines, may be lost.
  • Unprecedented negative consequences from changing emissions from hot chimneys to the sea. Noise pollution can extend up to 500 km out from the point. It's like from Oslo to Trondheim.
  • The ocean is worth more than just the value of its limited resources. The long-term benefits of a rich and clean ocean outweigh any short-term gains from seabed mining.
  • Large amounts of carbon are stored in the sediments on the seabed. Mining in these areas can have unprecedented negative consequences by releasing CO2 stored on the seabed (PDF).

Disclaimer top photo: Any opinions and/or conclusions expressed in this product are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of the Centre for Deep Sea Research.

This has happened so far

  • April 2024

    WWF-Norway announces that we intend to take the Norwegian government to court for failing to comply with the impact assessment requirements of the Seabed Minerals Act, if they do not reverse their decision to open areas to deep seabed mining.

  • April 2024

    The opening report for deep seabed mining was officially presented to the King in Council on April 12th.

  • February 2024

    The EU Parliament adopts a resolution against Norway's opening of deep seabed mining. The resolution was adopted by a large majority (523 of the Parliament's 751 representatives voted in favor, while 34 voted against), and expresses strong concern that Norway has decided to open areas for activities on the deep seabed.

  • January 2024

    The government's proposal to open up mining on the seabed was voted on January 9. The Norwegian Parliament said yes to the controversial mining operations on the seabed, and decided to open up for exploration of minerals on the deep seabed.

  • June 2023

    The government is submitting a white paper to the Storting proposing to open up an area the size of the UK for seabed mining, despite all the environmental advice and warnings from the Norwegian Environment Agency. The report will be presented and discussed in parliament in the fall of 2023.

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