A motion for a moratorium on deep-sea mining received overwhelming support earlier this week at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) conference in Marseille, France (Reuters). The motion, while not legally binding, calls for IUCN Member States to back a ban on both deep-sea mining and the issuing of exploration contracts by the International Seabed Authority (ISA) until “rigorous and transparent impact assessments are carried out,” among other requirements (The Guardian). The motion also calls for the ISA to include public consultation in decisionmaking processes and improve stakeholder engagement (Pew). Eighty-one Member governments and agencies voted in favor of the moratorium, 18 voted against it, and 28 abstained. Among nongovernmental organizations and other civil society groups, 577 voted in favor, 32 voted against, and 35 abstained.

The motion comes after the island nation of Nauru, which supports mining, triggered a two-year deadline for the ISA to finalize the industry’s regulations. If the ISA does not finalize the regulations, mining companies will be allowed to start work in accordance with whatever regulations exist at that time. So far, the ISA has approved 16 exploration licenses in a region of the eastern Pacific Ocean, the part of the ocean with the greatest biodiversity. After deep-sea mining has begun, some posit it will be extremely challenging to halt (Mongabay).

Supporters of deep-sea mining argue it would be less harmful to biodiversity than mining on land, and the minerals are needed for renewable energy technologies. Proponents of the moratorium say that biodiversity loss would be unavoidable, it is unknown how ocean ecosystems would be impacted, and renewable energy technologies can be supported with terrestrial mining and metal recycling.