Negotiations are currently underway in Jamaica under the auspices of the International Seabed Authority. At the most recent Session of the International Seabed Authority this year, the German government called for a "precautionary pause" in deep-sea mining. The German government declared during the negotiations that it would not sponsor any applications for commercial deep-sea mining of raw materials until further notice. Existing knowledge and the current state of research are not sufficient to rule out serious environmental harm arising from deep-sea mining activities. Germany is also urging other member states to follow suit and stop supporting applications as well. Formal sponsorship of mining applications by a State Party of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea is mandatory for a company to obtain a license from the International Seabed Authority.
Federal Environment Minister Steffi Lemke commented: "Deep-sea mining would put even greater pressure on our oceans and irreparably destroy ecosystems. That is why, as a first step, we are calling for a pause to prevent any rash decisions at the expense of the marine environment. Together with our international partners, we now have the opportunity to avert another looming environmental crisis and prioritise nature conservation and its exploration. Only an intact ocean will help us tackle the biodiversity and climate crises."
Parliamentary State Secretary Franziska Brantner remarked: "Germany wants to pursue further exploration of the deep sea. But we want to strengthen the precautionary principle in deep-sea mining, which is why, until further notice, applications for commercial mining of resources in the deep sea should not be supported."
By declaring that it will withhold support until further notice, each country can contribute to a precautionary pause until the deep-sea ecosystems and potential risks of deep-sea mining have been adequately researched, and strict mining regulations are put into place that preclude serious environmental harm. The decision to stop sponsoring mining applications, which is subject to review to determine whether changes to legislation are necessary, the German government is showing one possible way to implement a precautionary pause under the current UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and is advocating this stance in discussions with other countries.
The German government’s decision to call for a precautionary pause in deep-sea mining comes in response to the mining application announced last year by the Pacific nation of Nauru. This triggered what is called the "two-year rule" of the Law of the Sea Convention, which stipulates that mining regulations must be developed within two years. The deadline is July 2023.
In its opening statement at the 27th Session of the International Seabed Authority Assembly and Council, Germany stated: "Subject to national legal review, Germany will therefore not sponsor any plans of work for exploitation until the deep-sea ecosystems and the impacts of deep-sea mining have been sufficiently researched and until there are exploitation regulations with strict environmental standards in place, ensuring that the marine environment is not seriously harmed. Germany insists on the strict application of the precautionary approach and sees the need for a precautionary pause in deep-sea mining, facilitating further marine scientific research."
In the future, Germany will continue to play an active role in the work of the International Seabed Authority, particularly in the development of effective mining regulations with strict environmental standards, in order to ensure that the marine environment is not seriously harmed, even if licensing procedures are initiated. At the same time, marine scientific research needs to be stepped up to gain more knowledge about the deep sea as well as the potential impacts of deep-sea mining.
The deep sea is one of the least explored areas of our planet.
Germany has long supported the exploration of deep-sea resources and, through the Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources, has two exploration contracts with the International Seabed Authority in the Pacific and Indian Oceans.