Speech by Steffi Lemke at the Our Ocean conference on the growing momentum to stop deep sea mining.

Steffi Lemka auf der Our Ocean Conference
Federal Minister Steffi lemke gives a speech at the Our Ocean Conference on "from Palau to Panama: the growing momentum for an end to deep sea mining".

– Check against delivery –

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Our seas and oceans are under extreme pressure.

On top of the present geopolitical challenges arising from Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine, we are faced with three existential crises, which are mutually reinforcing: the climate crisis, the rapidly progressing loss of biodiversity and rising pollution. These three crises threaten human life on this planet and endanger marine biodiversity. We must protect nature, so that nature can protect us. This is especially true for the oceans.

In spite of this – extremely worrying – situation, I am convinced that the developments over the last months give us grounds for hope.

A few weeks ago, we saw the international community achieve a historic milestone with the adoption of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, and the goal of protecting 30 percent of the world’s oceans by 2030. Now, this new Global Deal for Nature must be underpinned with effective measures and implemented with a high level of ambition. The ongoing BBNJ negotiations offer a good opportunity to immediately take another major step forward – for the oceans and the 30 by 30 target.

With regard to possible exploitation of raw materials in the deep sea, I share many of the fears and concerns expressed here today. Commercial deep-sea mining threatens to place a considerable additional burden on marine ecosystems that are already under serious pressure. It may also be detrimental to the global climate. Scientific knowledge indicates that the risks connected with deep-sea mining are high, and we cannot yet foresee the consequences.

At the ISA Council meeting in November, Germany therefore asked for a precautionary pause on deep-sea mining, and announced that until further notice we will not sponsor any plans of work for mining raw materials from the seabed. This will apply until the deep-sea ecosystems and impacts of deep-sea mining have been sufficiently researched – and until stringent exploitation regulations have been put in place that rule out serious environmental damage. We urge all states to join us in a precautionary pause.

A number of countries have voiced support for a similar approach – some of which are represented here today. Over the past months, many of you have taken on a key leadership role. Together with scientists and marine conservationists, we have succeeded in significantly strengthening the precautionary principle in political debate around the world.

We want to build on this in the coming weeks. We want to win other countries over to our critical approach and canvas for a precautionary pause.

Incidentally, a legal opinion published just last week in the United Kingdom by respected experts on the law of the sea showed that a moratorium on deep-sea mining is not only consistent with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, but may even be mandatory. This is namely the case if, due to lack of scientific knowledge, the exploitation of marine resources would counteract the Parties’ obligation to protect and preserve the marine environment. Legally speaking, therefore, we are on completely solid ground.

But there is another development that we also need to prepare for. In ISA, we are at a crucial juncture for policy-making. As you are aware, ISA could soon receive the first applications for commercial deep-sea mining projects. It is already clear that it is highly unlikely a robust set of rules for the protection of the marine environment will be adopted by the summer.

In light of this, in the ISA Council we must actively take precautions in case exploitation applications are received before the relevant regulations are in place. Please, let us all make sure that we do not sleepwalk into an age of deep-sea mining.

The challenges are enormous – but we also have good grounds for hope, as a growing number of countries are joining our critical approach. Germany stands ready as a strong partner for the oceans and for the protection of the deep seas.

Thank you.

03.03.2023 | Speech Marine Conservation | Panama

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