The mining industry is pushing to explore more of the world’s deep oceans to find metals and minerals used in electric vehicles and other technologies.
However, some scientists fear that deep-sea mining will harm the environment and biological systems important to the atmosphere.
Scientists, lawyers and government officials are meeting in Jamaica until November 11 to discuss the issue. The International Seabed Authority (ISA), an independent group created by a United Nations treaty, organized the meeting.
The ISA has given 31 exploration licenses for deep sea waters outside the territory of a country. Though it hasn’t issued any licenses to start mining, some experts fear it will happen soon before the rules are in place.
Experts say mining would produce dirty water, noise and light that could harm humans ecosystem in the deep sea. They also note that scientists don’t know much about the deep sea and need to learn more before making mining decisions.
Less than one percent of the world’s deep seas have been explored. Most of the current exploration activity is taking place in a large region between Hawaii and Mexico.
Mining companies argue that deep-sea mining is less costly and less damaging than onshore mining.
The International Energy Agency estimates that mineral demand will increase six-fold by 2050. A Fitch Ratings report released in October said demand will increase because electric vehicles and renewable energy technologies require minerals found in the sea.
Nauru, a small island northeast of Australia, is leading the mining push. It hopes to financially benefit from mining minerals used in technologies like electric cars batteries.
Need for study and rules
But officials in other countries are concerned about the impact of mining and are pushing for new rules.
“We are still very concerned about that consequencessaid Elza Moreira Marcelino de Castro, Brazil’s representative at the meeting.
French President Emmanuel Macron said earlier this year he supports a ban on deep-sea mining. Germany, which has two exploration contracts, announced Wednesday it would not do so sponsor such mining at that time.
New Zealand, Fiji and Samoa want a ban on mining until more is known about its potential impact, a move supported by some academics and legal experts.
The ocean contains more carbon than Earth’s atmosphere, plants and soil, and scientists are discovering new species of plants and animals as they explore.
Diva Amon is a marine biologist. She said studies took months or even years.
“We don’t understand what lives there, how they live there, the global function that this ecosystem is playing,” she said. She added that the deep sea is slow to recover from damage because minerals only grow one to ten millimeters every million years.
Other concerns about deep-sea mining concern money-sharing and policing of mining companies.
Countries that have signed the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea can sponsor private companies looking for exploration licenses. The United States is one of several countries that have not joined the convention.
Pradeep Singh is a Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies in Potsdam, Germany. He said there are concerns that private mining companies may be looking for a sponsor country due to reduced tax treaties, weak environmental laws and other influences.
Michael Lodge is the Secretary General of the ISA. He said at the Jamaica meeting that the agency wants to ensure the protection of the marine environment while member countries work on proposed rules.
I’m Faith Pirlo. And I’m Andrew Smith.
Dánica Coto wrote this story for the Associated Press. Andrew Smith adapted it for VOA Learning English.
words in this story
license -n. official permission to engage in or exercise an activity
ecosystem -n. everything that exists in and is connected to a particular environment
battery -n. a device that stores electricity and can power machines
consequences -n. (pl.) the results of an action or condition
sponsor -n. a person or group who supports and takes responsibility for another person or group
function -n. a special purpose or activity for which something exists
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