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On January 9, the Norwegian Parliament voted in favor of exploring the Arctic for deep-sea minerals. The approved region includes over 280,000 sq km—nearly the size of Italy. For now, this only approves exploration, not exploitation.
This proposal to exploit the Arctic for deep-sea mining goes against all scientific recommendations, including that of the Norwegian Environmental Agency, cautioning against “significant and irreversible consequences for the marine environment.”
While this still signals Norway’s interest in proceeding with exploitation at some point, Parliament will be required to vote again before allowing any deep-sea mining activity to begin. For any international activities, they will have to also go through the International Seabed Authority (ISA)—the governing body responsible for monitoring and regulating deep-sea activity, with a particular emphasis on deep-sea mining.
Initially, Norway's exploration efforts will involve collecting information regarding the metals in the Arctic seabed and conducting research on what harm large-scale mining might have on the ecosystems.
"For too long, we have treated the ocean as an endless dumping ground for human waste and taken life underwater for granted. It is deeply worrying that Norway wants to bring yet another extractive industry into one of the most vulnerable ecosystems on Earth," said SOA Deep Sea Mining Europe Lead, Anne-Sophie Roux, who was on site in front of Parliament following the verdict.
"The only silver lining of today is that the first extraction licenses must be passed through Parliament. The fight for the ocean continues."
Why This Matters
This decision is diametrically opposed to the image of a 'climate leader' that Norway claims to be on the global stage, with the country's continuous greenwashing policies, fossil fuel production, commercial whaling practices, and now, its interest towards deep-sea mining. Opening the Arctic to this damaging practice could also create a dangerous precedent in international waters by triggering deep-sea mining activities while robust scientific data and regulations are lacking.
"The parliament’s decision to move forward with seabed mining against all expert advice, with an impact assessment that has been widely criticised, is a catastrophe for the ocean, and leaves a big stain on Norway’s reputation as a responsible ocean nation," said Kaja Lønne Fjærtoft, Global Policy Lead for WWF’s No Deep Seabed Mining Initiative.
Norway’s plans for deep-sea mining have been subject to substantial international criticism. The EU Commission has expressedstrong concern about the environmental impact of the plans, and119 European parliamentarianshave written an open letter to the Norwegian Parliament asking them to vote against deep-sea mining. Even former Norwegian Prime Minister, Thorbjørn Jagland, joined the call for the moratorium and condemned Norway's current position in favor of deep-sea mining.
"We humans have partially plundered the earth's surface and pumped up oil and gas to such an extent that the planet's climate and nature are on the verge of collapse," said Mr. Jagland. "I don't need any scientific research to understand that we can't do the same on the seabed. We must get an international treaty that protects the seabed."
The Role of Activism
Sustainable Ocean Alliance (SOA) has been on the frontlines of this fight, working directly with parliamentarians, NGOs, and scientists to keep mining companies and commercial operations out of the Arctic—and we will continue to mobilize youth, raise public awareness, and express our concern for how this threat would affect our collective future.
Thanks to you and ocean advocates around the world, this campaign reached over 25 million people around the globe regarding the decisions of a country of 5 million people and secured half a million signatures calling on Norway to abandon its plans for deep-sea mining. These signatures were handed over to parliamentarian Marianne Sivertsen Næss outside of Parliament following the January 9 vote.
Because of this international pressure, the Norweigan Parliament changed its proposition to only vote for the exploration phase for deep-sea mining—not exploitation.
The numbers speak for themselves: the world is watching, and activism works.
What Comes Next
While we are celebrating the partial win of halting Norway’s exploitation plans, this fight isn’t over.
The approved exploration phase will still have an invasive impact on marine ecosystems in the Arctic that we still know so little about.
If adopted, the mining code would open the fragile ocean to deep-sea mining and pave the way for an inherently damaging extractive activity to begin with sparse scientific understanding and harmful operational practices. Rather than adopting the mining code, SOA and our partners are advocating that the best way forward is a moratorium on deep-sea mining.
Come March, SOA will continue our efforts on the ground as formal Observers of the ISA to provide firsthand critical updates from the meetings with insight into what is being discussed, negotiated, and agreed upon.