Deep-sea mining involves extracting minerals from the ocean floor, hundreds to thousands of feet below the water surface. The risks of irreversible damage to biodiversity are very high. For example, a recent study by the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ) shows that manganese nodules contain much more life than expected. We still don't understand life on the seabed enough to understand the consequences of deep-sea mining.

The adoption of the so-called High Seas Treaty in June 2023 was an important step towards extending the responsibility of governments beyond national borders to conserve and sustainably manage vital habitats and plant and animal species on the high seas and the international seabed area. Despite this treaty, Norway, a state that has become rich thanks to oil extraction in the North Sea, is debating a permit for deep-sea exploration near Svalbard. More countries are considering doing the same. This would be a worrying step towards the actual harvesting of minerals from the bottom of the sea.

Poison arrow

Deep-sea mining may seem like a panacea for the energy transition to some. The demand for precious minerals is high. For the transition to green, renewable energy, precious metals such as cobalt, nickel, and copper are critical, as they are needed in batteries, solar panels, and electric vehicles. Current supply chains are problematic due to serious human rights violations in mining, child labor, forced labor, and generally unsafe working conditions.

However, we cannot afford to use deep-sea mining as a solution to existing problems. In any case, mining minerals from the seabed will not solve the current problems with mining on land. Rather, it creates additional, ecological problems.

Sustainable technology requires certain minerals, but that does not mean it always must be new materials. And before we take the demand for new minerals as a given, we should also look at our consumption patterns. Let’s first focus on reducing our energy consumption, on recycling minerals, and on making smart choices like improving public transportation to counter the growing demand for electric vehicles. Scraping new material from the bottom of the sea is the easy escape for not having to think about these perhaps more demanding solutions.

No financing, no deep-sea mining

The financial sector has an obvious responsibility here. After all, without loans or investments, deep-sea mining will not get off the ground. It is the responsibility of banks, pension funds and asset managers, for example, to not finance or invest in deep-sea mining. Although some investors obscure their responsibility by claiming that they engage with companies involved in deep-sea mining, disastrous damage to the environment can only be prevented by excluding this harmful activity entirely.

And if the moral obligation is not enough, financial institutions should realise that they also run the risk of financing a stranded asset of the future. The latest research results on the impact of deep-sea mining on the environment are so worrying that it is questionable whether there will be permits for commercial exploitation at all.

Let the financial sector really take the lead here. Deep-sea mining should be an absolute no-go.

Triodos Bank and Triodos Investment Management commit to excluding deep-sea mining from their financing. We are signatories of the Business Statement Supporting a Moratorium on Deep Sea Mining.