Brazil wants 10-year pause on deep-sea mining as UN agency comes under pressure to draft regulations

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Brazil on Friday requested a 10-year precautionary pause on deep-sea mining in international waters just days after companies and countries were allowed to begin requesting provisional licenses.

The call came during a two-week conference hosted by the International Seabed Authority, a United Nations regulatory agency based in Jamaica that has not endorsed a set of rules and regulations to govern the deep sea mining before the July 9 deadline.

The agency has not issued any provisional licenses and received no applications, although the government of Nauru is expected to apply for a license soon through the Canadian company Metals Co.

The small Pacific island government said on Friday it wanted to diversify its “limited economic base”, but promised it would not sponsor a bid at the UN conference, which ends on July 21.

Nauru noted that its “good faith decision” does not mean the authorities are withdrawing their plan to continue deep sea mining.

“We are no longer in a ‘what if’ scenario, but ‘what now’?” said Margo Deiye, Nauru’s permanent representative to the International Seabed Authority.

A growing number of countries and companies, including BMW and Volvo, support a moratorium on deep-sea mining, warning that the extraction of precious metals from deep seas that are used in batteries for electric cars and other green technologies could cause environmental damage.

Brazil’s representative to the International Seabed Authority, Elza Moreira Marcelino de Castro, said the country supports a precautionary pause for at least a decade.

“Priority must be given to the protection of the international seabed until conclusive and comprehensive studies… are available,” she said.

Scientists have warned that deep-sea mining could trigger dust storms and cause light and noise pollution, noting that minerals that grow at such depths take millions of years to form. Companies, however, have said deep-sea mining is cheaper and has less impact than land-based mining, while some countries have said it will allow them to grow and diversify their economies.

On Friday, several board members insisted on more scientific studies before licensing.

“Exploitation should not begin until it is guaranteed that there will be no loss of biodiversity,” said Siddharth Shekhar Yadav, representative of Vanuatu.

The UN agency has issued more than 30 exploration licenses, with most of the activity concentrated in the Clarion-Clipperton Fracture Zone, which covers 1.7 million square miles (4.5 million square kilometers) between Hawaii and Mexico. Exploration takes place at depths ranging from 13,000 to 19,000 feet (4,000 to 6,000 meters).

The UN agency’s 36-member council is working on a proposed framework that would regulate potential deep-sea mining, but it’s unclear when it would be ready.

“Exploitation in the region should not be conducted in the absence of rules, regulations and procedures,” Gina Guillén, representative of Costa Rica, said in a statement that represented the position of more than a dozen country.

Australia’s representative said on Friday it was clear the draft rules would not be ready before the end of the conference or by the next meeting scheduled for October and November.

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