- On Feb. 7, members of the European Parliament voted in favor of a resolution that raises concerns about Norway’s intentions to begin deep-sea mining activities.
- Although the resolution doesn’t hold any legal power, experts say it sends a strong signal to Norway that it doesn’t have the European support it may be relying on.
- Norway’s foreign ministry said that it has taken note of the resolution, adding that, like its European partners, it is committed to “sustainable ocean management.”
- In January, Norway voted to allow deep-sea mining exploration to commence in its waters.
The European Parliament has voted in favor of a resolution that raises concerns about Norway’s deep-sea mining intentions in Arctic waters. While the resolution itself doesn’t carry any legal power to stop Norway, experts say it sends a “strong signal” that the European Union — which Norway is not a part of, but is a close partner to — doesn’t support its plans.
The resolution presented a litany of issues related to Norway’s deep-sea mining plans, including the possibility that extracting minerals from the Arctic seabed could disrupt fisheries, release methane stored in sub-glacial ecosystems and Arctic permafrost soils, and lead to a general loss in biodiversity and the functioning of marine ecosystems. It also noted that seven EU states, several international companies and organizations like the IUCN have called for a moratorium, a precautionary pause, or ban on deep-seabed mining. The resolution also stated that Norway’s own Environment Agency raised concerns with the Norwegian government’s environmental impact assessment containing “significant knowledge gaps on nature, technology and the potential environmental effects” for proposed its mineral extraction activities.
The motion for this resolution received overwhelming support, with 523 members of the European Parliament voting in favor of it during a parliamentary session that took place in Strasbourg, France, on Feb. 7. Only 34 members voted against the resolution, and 59 abstained from voting.
Catherine Chabaud, a French member of the European Parliament, whose political group, Renew Europe Group, supported this resolution, said the vote indicates a “strong position of the parliament.”
“If Norway goes in this direction and opens the door to [mining] exploitation, probably it will be easier for China and others to go on this way,” Chabaud told Mongabay. “I think it was very important to react.”
Besides Norway, many other countries are looking to begin deep-sea mining, both domestically and internationally. Leading the way on the international front are China, India, Japan, Russia and South Korea, which together hold about half of the exploration licenses granted by the International Seabed Authority (ISA), the U.N.-associated body that governs deep-sea mining activities in international waters. However, deep-sea mining exploitation — the stage in which mining occurs at an industrial scale for commercial purposes — has not yet started anywhere in the world.
In 2018, the European Parliament passed another resolution that called for an international moratorium on deep-sea mining, a position that it reiterated in 2021 when it released its biodiversity strategy for 2030.
The vote in favor of this new resolution occurred a month after Norway’s own parliament voted in January to allow deep-sea mining to commence off its coast, a move that has drawn criticism from scientists, conservation experts and the general public.
The first step in Norway’s plans is to open a 281,000-square-kilometer (108,500-square-mile) section of the sea — an area nearly the size of Italy — to deep-sea mining exploration. This area falls across Norway’s extended continental shelf, over which Norway has jurisdiction, and the territorial waters of the Svalbard archipelago that Norway controversially claims as its own exclusive economic zone (EEZ). Russia, the U.K. and several EU countries dispute Norway’s ownership of Svalbard.
While Norway claims that deep-sea mining is necessary to procure minerals for renewable technologies, critics say the development of these technologies isn’t dependent on seabed minerals. Moreover, many scientists say there’s a paucity of knowledge about the deep sea and the harmful effects of seabed mining, and that what is known indicates that it would seriously damage the marine environment and disrupt fisheries.
Martin Webeler, an ocean campaigner at the nonprofit organization Environmental Justice Foundation, who attended the Feb. 7 parliamentary session in Strasbourg, said the resolution “sends a strong signal to Norway.”
“Norway is not dependent on Europe’s support, but they are close partners,” Webeler said. “This is a very unusual move that the European Parliament is criticizing a close partner like that, so it has strong political implications.”
Norway may even be reliant on the EU to make deep-sea mining a “financially viable industry,” said Haldis Tjeldflaat Helle, a Norwegian campaigner at Greenpeace Nordic.
“Norway must be able to sell these minerals to a European market, and Norway is also counting on deep-sea mining getting included in the green taxonomy and being seen as a green industry,” Helle told Mongabay.
The green taxonomy is a framework being developed by the European Union to define economic activities that are considered environmentally sustainable.
Helle added that the resolution “shows an international commitment to stopping deep sea mining,” and that “Norway really must take this seriously.”
Maria Varteressian, the state secretary at Norway’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told Mongabay that Norway has taken note of the resolution, and emphasized that “no seabed mining activities have started in Norwegian waters.” She said that Norway will only proceed with deep-sea mining exploration with a “knowledge-based approach” and that “no exploitation activity will be allowed until we know more.”
“Norway and the European Union have a shared interest in and commitment to comprehensive, knowledge-based, and sustainable ocean management, which balances both conservation and sustainable use of ocean resources,” Varteressian said in an emailed statement.
“Our European partners may rest assured that these principles will form the basis of all activities in Norwegian waters,” she added. “We take our role as a sustainable ocean nation seriously and will continue to do so in the process to come.”
Banner image: A bearded seal in Svalbard. Image by Rob Oo via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).