FSM joins regional alliance calling for deep-sea mining moratorium
By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
The Federated States of Micronesia has joined a regional movement that calls a halt to deep-sea mining until a sustainable exploration policy is put in place.
The FSM was the latest Pacific island nation to sign up with the Alliance of Countries for a Deep-Sea Mining Moratorium, which was launched by Palau on the sidelines of the Second UN Oceans Conference held in Lisbon, Portugal two weeks ago.
FSM President David Panuelo said any contracts for deep-sea mining must be suspended “until rigorous and transparent impact assessments have been conducted.”
“Such assessments would ensure the environmental, social, cultural, and economic risks of deep seabed mining are comprehensively understood, including how biodiversity loss and species extinction can be prevented,” Panuelo said.
Fiji and Samoa previously joined the Palau-led movement, which was initiated in partnership with the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition and the World Wildlife Fund.
Nauru is making its neighbors nervous. The small island nation that sponsors The Metals Company, New Zealand's metal supplier, triggered an obscure legal provision called the “two-year rule” that would allow the International Seabed Authority or ISA to begin taking applications for commercial deep-sea mining projects by July 2023.
ISA was initially expected to finalize the exploitation regulations in 2020, but the process was stalled by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The alliance calls for a moratorium on the issuance of new deep-sea mining exploration contracts and ISA’s adoption of the mining code in international waters.
Nauru, however, has defended its move, declaring that “seabed mining in the Pacific is environmentally and economically vital.”
On June 8, 2020, the Nauru government issued a statement, reaffirming the nation’s “intent to conserve and sustainably use the ocean, while also recognizing the part it plays in our future economic viability” and describing seabed mining as “a welcome and exciting development.”
“Polymetallic nodules, found on the ocean floor, can assist with the world's paramount challenge of transitioning away from fossil fuels, by delivering a timely and effective energy transition that is more environmentally, socially and economically responsible,” the statement said.
Panuelo agreed that deep-sea mining "offers a genuine pathway for countries and corporations to achieve significant wealth while providing essential resources for global development and civilizational enrichment."
However, he warned that unregulated explorations of the seabed would redound
to "the systemic collapse of our oceanic ecosystems, resulting in mass starvation and mass environmental destruction."
Panuelo said he intends to solicit the support of other member-nations of the Pacific Islands Forum, either on the margins of the forthcoming meeting to be held in Suva, Fiji, or during the PIF leaders’ retreat.
“It is the view of the FSM national government that seabed mining should not occur until policies to ensure the responsible production and use of metals, such as the reduction of demand for primary metals, a transformation to a resource-efficient circular economy, and responsible terrestrial mining practices, have been developed and implemented,” he added.
Panuelo said the FSM is committed to its own conservation goals set by the Micronesia Challenge and Blue Prosperity Micronesia.
"Through these programs, the FSM has committed to protecting a minimum of 30 percent of our ocean territory, 50 percent of our coastal marine territory, and 50 percent of our terrestrial territory by 2030," he said.
"We have also committed to effectively managing 100 percent of our ocean territory by 2030. It is unlikely we can effectively manage our ocean territory without being aware of the impacts of deep-sea mining, which I believe is an unsustainable solution," the FSM president added.