Deep Seabed Mining: WWF takes legal action against the government

Norway has decided to open up Norwegian ocean 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 is now taking the government to court.

Active venting chimney at the Jan Mayen Vent Fields on the Arctic Mid-Oceanic Ridge. Depth: around 500 meter 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 exploitation of minerals on the seabed. These areas are huge, comparable to the size of the United Kingdom.

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.

WWF IS TAKING THE NORWEGIAN GOVERNMENT TO COURT

In April 2024, WWF-Norway announced 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.

"We hoped the notice of a lawsuit would prompt the government to reconsider and withdraw its controversial decision. Unfortunately, WWF-Norway sees no other options but to proceed with legal action," says Andaur.

"We believe the government is violating Norwegian law by now opening up for a new and potentially destructive industry without adequately assessing the consequences. It will set a dangerous precedent if we allow the government to ignore its own rules, override all environmental advice, and manage our common natural resources blindly," says Andaur.  

WWF-Norway believes that the strategic impact assessment by the Ministry of Energy, which underpins the government’s decision, fails to meet the minimum requirements of the Subsea Minerals Act § 2-2. Consequently, there is no legal basis for the decision to open these areas for mining activity. This concern was also highlighted by the government expert body, the Norwegian Environment Agency, in its public consultation response. 

Further, WWF-Norway believes that the strategic impact assessment shows that the government does not have adequate knowledge about the 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 deep seabed mining. The European 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 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.

"While other countries opt for a moratorium to gather sufficient knowledge about the deep sea environment to assess the consequences of mining and ensure the effective protection of the marine environment, the Norwegian Offshore Directorate has already invited industry proposals for extraction licenses. This approach is both arrogant and cynical, damaging Norway's reputation as a responsible ocean steward," says Andaur.

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.
  • 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.
  • Drilling, escavating and digging will destroy 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.
  • Noise pollution can radiate up to 500 km out from the point.
  • 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.

Read more about the dangers of deep seabed mining here.

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

  • May 23, 2024

    WWF announces that we are taking the government to court for deep seabed mining.

  • 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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