Seafloor deposits of cobalt, nickel, lithium and other minerals could become a novel source of minerals for the global markets. According to a paper published by the World Economic Forum (WEF), resource exploitation industries need new frameworks for governance and these frameworks are taking shape for deep-sea minerals.
In 2021, in fact, the International Seabed Authority (ISA), an intergovernmental body based in Kingston, Jamaica, is likely to finalise regulations for the exploitation of deep-sea minerals that can be found there. ISA was established to regulate all mineral-related activities in the International Seabed Area beyond the limits of national jurisdiction, an area underlying most of the world’s oceans.
The supply of minerals, including cobalt, is currently a key bottleneck in lithium-ion battery production. This, in turn, constrains the manufacture of electric vehicles and other technologies that aim to aid the global green transition. By increasing the availability of cobalt and other minerals, deep-sea mining has the potential to reduce costs and boost the production of green technologies, helping curb the negative environmental and biodiversity effects of climate change.
New mineral sources can also bring opportunities for manufacturers. BMW, GEM Co, Samsung SDI, SK Innovation and Tesla have signed direct supply deals with the cobalt giant Glencore in recent years, indicating these companies’ increased attention on supply security, as metal demand surges.
However, the special status of minerals from the International Seabed Area, the novel environmental challenges of deep-sea mineral extraction, combined with the world’s pressing need for mineral resources, make the responsible sourcing of deep-sea minerals a complex proposition.
Environmentalists have called for a ban on deep-seabed mining and more than 80 non-governmental organisations have voiced concerns about the dangers of commercial extraction. To enhance learning and discuss and engage on this complex issue, the WEF has launched the Deep-Sea Minerals Dialogue.
The Deep Sea Conservation Coalition, an alliance of over 80 international organisations, has called for a moratorium on deep-sea mining until a set of conditions is met, including a comprehensive understanding of deep-sea biodiversity, clear social license and substantive improvements to the institutional governance structures and mechanisms.