NZ backs conditional moratorium on seabed mining in international waters

Foreign Affairs

The Government has announced Aotearoa New Zealand will back a conditional moratorium on deep sea mining in areas beyond national jurisdiction, until strong environmental rules can be agreed and backed up by robust science.

The decision follows a review of progress on regulations for deep sea mining in the area managed by the International Seabed Authority (ISA), which is the seabed beyond exclusive economic zones and extended continental shelves. The ISA has a July 2023 deadline to complete the regulations, or Mining Code, before mining applications can be submitted.

“This area contains some of the least understood eco-systems on the planet, and our scientific knowledge of it remains extremely limited,” Nanaia Mahuta says.

“Deep sea mining could cause irreversible changes to this environment and have a significant impact on its biodiversity. To understand this impact will require far more scientific knowledge about the deep seabed than we currently have.

“Progress on the Mining Code to date has been slow. We are not confident that a robust regulatory framework for deep sea mining beyond national jurisdiction, which ensures the effective protection of the marine environment, can be agreed by the required deadline.

“This is why we are now calling for a conditional moratorium on deep sea mining in areas beyond national jurisdiction, until a Mining Code can be agreed that ensures the effective protection of the marine environment. This requires adequate knowledge about the deep seabed, and the impacts of deep sea mining.

“Aotearoa New Zealand remains committed to upholding the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which sets out the framework under which all activities in the ocean must be carried out, including deep sea mining.

“UNCLOS requires ISA members to ensure the effective protection of the marine environment from any activities in the deep seabed beyond national jurisdiction. What we are calling for is nothing less than what this important legal obligation demands of us.

“We respect the sovereign rights of other countries. Our call for a conditional moratorium does not include areas within national jurisdictions. Within those jurisdictions, we respect the mana of each country to manage its own kaitiakitanga responsibilities to protect the ocean, consistent with international legal obligations to protect and preserve the marine environment.

“Aotearoa New Zealand will continue to actively participate in negotiations at the ISA to advocate for high environmental standards in the Mining Code.

“We remain committed to engaging in that process, in order to ensure the regulations embed the effective protection of the marine environment and the precautionary approach, as required by international law,” Nanaia Mahuta said.