Will Ocean Mining Regulations Miss 2023 Deadline?

Countries in Latin America and the Caribbean have suggested that the long-awaited governing regulations for ocean mining will likely miss their 2023 deadline due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the lingering uncertainties for businesses planning to mine the ocean floor for polymetallic nodules. The possible delay could potentially hinder companies seeking to raise further investments to fund their ongoing exploration activities.

The International Seabed Authority (ISA) is currently working on a draft of the global guidelines and regulations. In June, the Pacific state of Nauru tried to accelerate the process by triggering a two-year deadline for the guidelines to be completed. Nauru is the sponsoring state of The Metals Company, of which Nauru Ocean Resources Inc (NORI) is a subsidiary.

However, the ISA Council may not be able to finalize the required regulations within the two-year period as some delegations are yet to reach an agreement on certain key issues. Costa Rica, on behalf of a group of Latin American and Caribbean countries, recently stated that "no tangible progress has been achieved" towards adopting regulations and guidelines for mining. Its submission, dated October 13, was recently published on the ISA website. A spokesperson for the ISA said it had no comment about the letter by Costa Rica but said the ISA's Legal and Technical Commission had prepared 10 draft standards and guidelines through remote meetings in 2020 and 2021, and those have been submitted for public consultation for three months.

In July, a group of African nations criticized fast-tracking the negotiations, calling the task of agreeing on regulations by mid-2023 "seemingly insurmountable." Many scientists and environmentalists have called for a ban on deep-sea mining, saying it could cause lasting damage to little-understood habitats.

In September, the ISA said meetings of the ISA Council and ISA Assembly would be held in Kingston from December 6-10 and December 13-15, with restrictions on how many delegates can enter the meeting room, due to the pandemic. Jamaica's COVID-19 measures include a quarantine period even for vaccinated arrivals, and a 50-person limit on meetings, which further complicates face-to-face meetings for representatives from around the world to attend.

Chile and two environmental groups recently requested the meetings to be postponed due to the restrictions, in letters seen by Reuters. Chile proposed a postponement of the Council meeting to April 4-8, 2022.