Norway approves deep-sea mining amid environmental concerns

Norway's Parliament greenlights deep-sea mining in Arctic waters, sparking environmental concerns and international debate over its necessity and impact.

In brief:
  • Norway becomes the first country to authorise deep-sea mining, potentially opening up 280,000 square kilometres of Arctic seabed.

  • Environmentalists and scientists warn of irreversible damage to marine ecosystems and disruption of crucial carbon sinks.

  • Debate intensifies over the necessity of deep-sea mining for green technology, with alternatives like recycling and circular economy proposed.

In details: 

Norway has taken a significant step in resource extraction by becoming the first country to approve deep-sea mining, a decision that has ignited a global debate over environmental risks and the need for such practices in the green transition. 

The Norwegian Parliament's recent bill authorises exploration in the Arctic, potentially affecting an area nearly the size of Italy, located between Svalbard, Greenland, and Iceland.

This move aligns with Norway's ambition to transition from its oil and gas industry and become a major mineral producer for renewable energy technologies. The minerals, crucial for manufacturing batteries, wind turbines, and solar panels, are found in polymetallic nodules on the seabed. Supporters argue that deep-sea mining is less environmentally damaging than land-based mining and crucial for the global green economy.

However, the decision has faced significant backlash from environmental groups, scientists, and international bodies. Critics argue that the environmental and economic risks far outweigh the potential benefits. The Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) and other NGOs have raised concerns about the irreversible harm to unique marine wildlife and the disturbance of the ocean's largest carbon store. They emphasise that alternatives exist, such as recycling electronic waste and shifting towards a circular economy, which could reduce the demand for new minerals by 58% between 2022 and 2050.

The Norwegian Environment Agency has criticised the government's impact assessment, suggesting it might violate the Seabed Minerals Act. Additionally, the proposed mining area overlaps with the Svalbard Fisheries Protection Zone, raising disputes over Norway's resource rights.

Activists and environmental groups gathered outside the Norwegian parliament to protest as the vote was passed. They say the country is pressing ahead with the plan to open Arctic waters to mining companies despite massive criticism from fishery organisations, scientists, and even the wider international community.

Norway’s neighbours, the EU and the UK, have both called for a temporary ban on the practice over environmental concerns. 120 EU lawmakers wrote an open letter to the Norwegian Parliament in November, asking them not to back the project. The lawmakers argue that recycling and reusing the minerals that can be found in electronic waste is a better source of materials.

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