Asset managers welcome pause halting deep sea mining

Also agreement for formal discussions next year on protection of the marine environment

Several asset managers who co-signed a letter urging governments to protect the ocean and not proceed with deep-sea mining, have welcomed a temporary moratorium on the practice.

Robeco, Aviva Investors and Rathbone Greenbank all told ESG Clarity they supported the outcome of an international meeting in Jamaica on 29 July, which ended with no green light to start industrial-scale deep sea mining.

There was also an 11th-hour agreement to hold formal discussions next year on the protection of the marine environment.

Eugenie Mathieu, Earth Pillar lead in the ESG team at Aviva Investors, said: “We are pleased to see that the UN seabed regulatory agency, the International Seabed Authority, has delayed deep sea mining rules until 2025 and ruled out mining activities in their absence. 

“We want governments to protect oceans and to not proceed with deep sea mining, until the environmental, social and economic impacts are comprehensively understood, and alternatives to deep-sea minerals have been fully explored. 

“In particular, we believe that opportunities for recycling minerals already in the economic system should be exhausted before deep sea mining becomes necessary.”

Kate Elliot, head of ethical, sustainable and impact research at Rathbone Greenbank Investments, welcomed the “precautionary approach” being taken with regard to deep sea mining and the potential environmental risks it poses

She said: “While we recognise the importance of securing additional supplies of minerals vital to the low carbon transition, the potential negative impacts of deep sea mining on biodiversity and climate change – through the release of carbon stored in deep sea sediment – are unknown. 

“While a loophole allowing companies to apply for mining licences remains open, last week’s talks created greater oversight of applications and made them much less likely to be approved ahead of the new 2025 target date for finalising rules on deep sea mining.”

As the International Seabed Authority only has jurisdiction over international waters, Elliot said it is important to note that a question mark still remains over the future of deep sea mining in territorial waters. 

Some countries, such as Canada, have stated that they would not authorise seabed mining in areas under their national jurisdiction until the impacts are better understood and regulations developed to help manage potential risks. 

Other countries, such as Norway, have indicated a more open stance to deep sea mining in its waters – though it remains to be seen how the ISA’s decision may be reflected in national policies.

Elliot added: “Wherever operations are located, we believe they can only be undertaken in a responsible manner when the impacts are better understood and appropriate risk management and mitigation frameworks are in place.”

Peter van der Werf, head of engagement at Robeco, said: “Robeco supports the call for a moratorium on deep-sea mining until the risks and opportunities are fully understood and the policy frameworks are in place.”

However, due to the role that critical minerals play in the global energy transition which can be mined with deep-sea mining, Robeco has opted not to apply exclusion criteria, preferring engagement with companies. 

Robeco will commence engagement with two companies that are exposed to deep-sea mining in its investment portfolios.

The Global Financial Institutions Statement to Governments on Deep Seabed Mining, which Aviva Investors, Rathbone Greenbank and Robeco signed along with 33 other asset managers, coordinated by the Finance for Biodiversity (FfB) Foundation, wants deep sea mining halted until the environmental, social and economic risks “are comprehensively understood”, and alternatives to deep-sea minerals have been fully explored.

There is a widespread concern in the scientific community regarding deep sea mining and the irreversible impact it could have on delicately balanced and sensitive, deep ocean ecosystems.