India has the most to gain from Google, BMW and Volvo’s call for a ban on deep-sea mining — but it has its own plans to exploit resources under the ocean
- Home to 10% of the world’s fish diversity and the second largest fish producer in the world, India has a lot to lose to deep sea mining.
- Google, BMW, Volvo and Samsung SDI’s call for a ban on deep-sea mining could be a boon for its fisheries sector that may bear the brunt of exploitation.
- Yet, India has its own plans to exploit resources on the ocean floor and is waiting on the International Seabed Authority’s (ISA) green light.
Electric vehicles are pegged to be the next big change to transition to the world towards clean energy from fossil fuels. And deep under the ocean lie battery metals needed to fuel that wave.
“There are currently insufficient scientific findings to be able to assess the environmental risks of deep-sea mining. For this reason, raw materials from deep-sea mining are not an option for the BMW Group at the present time,” said Patrick Hudde, head of supply chain sustainability and indirect purchasing raw materials management at the BMW Group in a statement.
|Polymetallic nodules||4,000-6,000 metres||Nickel, Copper, Cobalt and Manganese|
|Manganese crusts||800-2,400 metres||Mainly Cobalt, some Vanadium, Molybdenum, and Platinum|
|Sulfide deposits||1,400-3,700 metres||Copper, Lead, Zinc, some Gold and Silver|
The borders of oceans are more porous than the ones on land. Marine ecosystems are connected and many of the species living within them are migratory. Therefore, mining the deep seabed would not occur in isolation.
According to the WWF, the impact on global fisheries would threaten the main protein source of around 1 billion people across the planet and the livelihoods of 200 million people — many of whom reside in poor coastal communities.
The irony of what India has to gain from deep-sea mining
India is home to around 10% of the global fish diversity as per the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations.
Moreover, the fisheries sector provides livelihood to around 1.6 million people at the primary level and almost double that number along its entire value chain. The country is the second largest fish producer in the world and contributes 5.45% to the world’s fish production.
The irony is that India has its own deep sea mining program in the works called ‘Samudrayaan’. The pilot project initiated by the Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES) plans to send three aquanauts into the deep-sea in a submersible vehicle to a depth of about 6,000 metres in 2022.
At that depth, metals can be 15 times more concentrated than in land deposits. The government plans to pump in more than $1 billion to develop and test deep sea technologies like underwater crawling machines and human-piloted submarines, according to the MoES.
However, India is yet to get the green light from the International Seabed Authority (ISA) — the United Nations body that oversees mining on the high seas — for commercial exploration. If that comes through, India will have permission to explore an area of 75,000 square kilometres under the sea.
If it doesn’t come through, India will be dependent on China to meet its demand for copper, nickel and cobalt.
The issue of deep-sea mining isn’t just economic
Trawling the sea floor for metals comes at a cost. According to the High Level Panel for Sustainable Ocean Economy, the exercise is likely to wreak havoc on ecosystems, which we know very little about. “If mining was to go ahead with the current state of knowledge, species and functions could be lost before they are known and understood,” said the report.
The ISA was set to discuss regulation that could allow deep-sea mining last year, but their schedule was disrupted because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the meantime, deep-sea mining companies are pushing ahead with preparatory work and research in areas that could prove profitable.
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