April 5, 2023
Good morning. In today’s either/view, we discuss whether the UN’s move to allow deep-sea mining is worth it. We also look at the proposed opening of India’s first IAF heritage centre in Chandigarh, among other news.
📰 FEATURE STORY
Is the UN’s move to allow deep-sea mining worth it?
The next time Oscar-winning filmmaker James Cameron dives deep into the ocean’s depths, he might find something concerning along the way. Remote-operated vehicles (ROVs) and dredge pumps could be working away at the ocean floor mining for minerals.
Last week, after two weeks of negotiations and discussions, the International Seabed Authority (ISA) decided to start taking applications from companies that want to mine the ocean’s floor in July. The United Nations (UN) body will permit deep-sea mining to extract minerals like cobalt, copper, and nickel. While these minerals are necessary for companies and industries, environmentalists and others are concerned about the ecological impact.
The deep-sea mining industry employs specialised technology to extract valuable minerals from the seabed. These mineral deposits are of three types – seafloor massive sulfides extruded from hydrothermal vents, ferromanganese (or cobalt-rich) crusts formed along seamounts, and polymetallic (or manganese) nodules resting on the abyssal plain.
Each contains various amounts of minerals like cobalt, nickel, and manganese. More often than not, the deposits contain more mineral content than those found on land. Manganese nodules were first discovered in the 1870s during the Challenger expedition. It’s widely regarded as the scientific mission that laid the foundation for modern oceanography. Commercial interest propelled up in the mid-20th century.
In a 1960 article for Scientific American, engineer John L Mero spoke of their commercial viability. Soon, companies began to take notice. Among them were Kennecott Copper and US Steel. They formed multinational companies to develop the capability to mine the ocean floor.
Who could lay claim to the resources? In a 1967 speech at the UN General Assembly (UNGA), Maltese ambassador to the UN, Arvid Pardo, broached the issue. While speaking in favour of exploiting valuable resources, he warned of a contest for national control. Thanks to him, the UN adopted the common heritage principle as the seabed was designated the common heritage of humanity.
The UN understood the importance of the seabed. Two attempts at a legal regime for the oceans failed. The third Conference on the Law of the Sea proved successful. It spanned nine years with 150 countries participating, and the result was the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The convention formed the ISA to oversee seabed mining, issuing contracts, and distributing profits among countries.
In the early 1980s, the demand for seabed mining reduced. Commodity prices fell. The availability of minerals on land was seemingly sufficient. In recent years, deep-sea mining has returned to the spotlight with advances in mining technology, increasing demand for green technology, and global economic development.
Many of the largest mining companies in the world have launched underwater mining programs. For example, the De Beers Group used a fleet of specialised ships off the west coast of Africa to look for diamonds. In 2018, they extracted 1.4 million carats from the coastal waters of Namibia. Another is Nautilus Minerals in the territorial waters of Papua New Guinea, which explored underwater hot springs lined with precious metals.
While some countries see deep-sea mining as a way to fight inequality and move up economically, others have pointed out it could come at the cost of the environment. The ISA is under pressure as the Pacific Island of Nauru invoked a 2-year deadline under UNCLOS in 2019 for draft exploitation rules to be formed.
VIEW: For the greater good
Nauru president Lionel Aingimea wants the draft regulations done fast so industries can move forward. Like Nauru, other countries are interested in mining the seabed, like the nodules, which don’t require drilling to collect. The 5,000-km stretch between Hawaii and California has trillions of mineral-rich nodules. For countries like Nauru, it’s a gold mine.
Unlike many land-based ores, nodules on the seafloor have several valuable minerals in one package. They produce better yields overall. With global warming and climate change at the forefront, there’s increased awareness of our carbon footprint. A study cited by the World Bank and International Energy Agency showed global demand for cobalt will increase by over 450% by 2050. These nodules, rich with cobalt and nickel, could supply metals for batteries that power electric vehicles.
One country that’s pushing forward is China. The country wants to reduce its dependence on foreign suppliers of metals. They see themselves as lagging behind in “the new frontier for international competition,” as they put it. From the companies’ point of view, seabed mining is relatively less harmful than mining on land. Chris Williams of the UK Seabed Resources said extracting nodules will have a lower environmental impact than opening a new mine. Going to the ocean floor is the only viable option.
COUNTERVIEW: It will be disastrous
Conducting extensive deep-sea mining activities is jumping into the unknown. It’s hard to see how seabeds can be mined without damaging species and ecosystems. Oceans are already plastic-ridden and overheated. Mining the ocean floor involves dredging and dragging large machinery along the seabed. Corals, seaworms, and other flora and fauna would be obliterated. Sediments laced with toxic metals would poison the marine food chains.
If mining is to happen, what are the rules and regulations? Currently, there aren’t many since the mining code is absent. The ISA’s decade-long discussion on the matter has gone nowhere. While some countries, even smaller ones, have supported deep-sea mining, others, like Micronesia, are against it. One thing many countries agree on is that the ocean floor is a hotbed of minerals and wealth. But as the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) President David Panuelo said, it could cause the systematic collapse of oceanic ecosystems.
Then there’s the issue of power imbalances between large mining corporations and small nations. Take Canadian firm DeepGreen. Tiny Pacific island states like Nauru, Tonga, and Kiribati sponsor its explorations. Seabed mining holds little promise of substantial returns despite the government’s claims to the contrary. It could be a recipe for disaster.
- Diving into the History of Seabed Mining – Edgeeffects
- UN to start taking deep-sea mining applications this July – Reuters
- The 2-Year Countdown to Deep-Sea Mining – EOS
- Deep-Sea mining efforts to increase – China Daily
- Deep Seabed Mining – The Ocean Foundation
- Deep-Sea Mining Could Help Meet Demand for Critical Minerals, But Also Comes with Serious Obstacles – Government Accountability Office
- Mining’s new frontier: Pacific nations caught in the rush for deep-sea riches – The Guardian
- Is deep-sea mining a cure for the climate crisis or a curse? – The Guardian
What is your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)
a) The UN’s move to allow deep-sea mining is right.
b) The UN’s move to allow deep-sea mining is wrong.
🕵️ BEYOND ECHO CHAMBERS
For the Right:
Social media narratives on Article 370 show how opinion is manufactured and manipulated
For the Left:
Muslim Personal Law is an embarrassment. Adapt it to modern life—marriage, divorce, adoption
🇮🇳 STATE OF THE STATES
India’s first IAF heritage centre to open soon (Chandigarh) – An Indian Air Force heritage centre, the first of its kind in the nation, has been built in Sector 18 of Chandigarh and is pending inauguration. The facility displays five antique aircraft and gives guests cockpit access and a flying model experience. A stunning wall of 58 vintage and decommissioned aeroplanes measuring one foot in height will delight tourists’ eyes. A souvenir store with the IAF monument and scale models has also been established. A theme-based public café will also be set up for the public.
Why it matters: This centre is approximately 17,000 square feet in size. The centre reflects the IAF’s involvement in all conflicts while also outfitting itself with contemporary paraphernalia such as augmented reality, virtual reality, holograms, simulators, and electromechanical enclosures. Visitors would be assisted by aides on Air Flight Simulators and cockpit experience. The centre would not only be a treat for the tourists but will also educate and inspire the young generations.
Rare Earth Elements discovered (Andhra Pradesh) – The Hyderabad-based National Geophysical Research Institute discovered significant deposits of 15 rare earth elements (REE) in Andhra Pradesh’s Anantapur region. NGRI scientists performed a survey in Anantapur searching for unconventional rocks such as syenites and effectively found the host minerals. Allanite, ceriate thorite, columbite, tantalite, apatite zircon, monazite, pyrochlore euxenite, and fluorite were the main REE discovered.
Why it matters: According to the study, REE of the lanthanide series are essential components in many electrical devices such as mobile devices, TVs, computers, vehicles used on a regular basis, and various industrial uses. Union Minister Nitin Gadkari recently stated that if India is able to utilise the recently discovered reserves of lithium in Jammu and Kashmir, it can become the world’s leading car manufacturer in the electric vehicle sector. The EV industry is currently experiencing a boom and will also alleviate national as well as global pollution levels.
HC demands report of Soren’s mine probe (Jharkhand) – The Jharkhand High Court on Monday ordered the state government and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) to provide a progress report on the probe into Chief Minister Hemant Soren’s mining license case. Soren has been at the centre of controversy following allegations of a mining plot rented in his name in Angarha. The lease was given to the chief minister outside of office while he was in charge of the mines department.
Why it matters: Soren leasing a mine in his favour is a clear breach of the law against public officials “holding an office for profit.” Soren claimed that the mining license had previously been given to him and that when it expired, he had reapplied for it. The government under Soren has lately been very invested in the social welfare of Jharkhand, but until this case is cleared, it will continue to be a blemish on Soren’s record.
Doctors finally end protest (Rajasthan) – After more than two weeks of fierce protests over the Right to Health (RTH) Bill in Rajasthan, private and some government doctors reached an agreement with the state government, particularly regarding private hospitals protected by the Bill, and called off their protests on Tuesday. A group from the Indian Medical Association (IMA) Rajasthan, the Private Hospital and Nursing Home Society (PHNHS), and the United Private Clinics and Hospitals of Rajasthan (UPCHAR) met with the state administration for the agreement. Both parties agreed to an eight-point accord.
Why it matters: According to the agreement, the health minister has already removed less than 50 bedded private multi-specialty clinics from RTH. Moreover, all private hospitals created without obtaining government facilities in the form of property and buildings at subsidised rates shall be exempt from the RTH Act. Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot expressed his joy at the conclusion of the protests and stated hope for an improved future of medical services in Rajasthan.
‘Park Library’ established (Assam) – A first-of-its-kind ‘park library’ in Assam has opened in Golaghat town, where people can look through literature after going for a stroll. Akhil Bharatiya Marwari Mahila Sammelan, Assam branch, and an NGO established the unique facility at Sankardev Udyan. The library, which has about 150 volumes in Assamese, Hindi, and English, was opened to the public on April 3, 2023.
Why it matters: With the assistance of the District Agriculture Office and the Office of the Joint Director of Health Services, an Information, Education, and Communication (IEC) section on Agriculture, Health, and other topics has also been established. Singha stated that they had called people to donate literature and that the IAS Officers’ Wives Association had already contacted them in this regard. The idea of such a park brilliantly combines nature, literature, physical activity as well as donation. Such initiatives carry the potential to bloom into a cultural and tourist hotspot.
🔢 KEY NUMBER
159 – Goa has given 159 mining companies one month to vacate their leases.