A UN body could delay work on a global rulebook for mining the ocean floor until next year, after having to reduce its agenda in response to the coronavirus pandemic, the organization said Thursday.
The International Seabed Authority will hold its assembly and council meetings in October in a reduced format. It will then decide whether to discuss the Draft Exploitation Regulations for mineral resources, Secretary-General Michael Lodge said in an emailed statement Thursday.
“If there is not sufficient time for this agenda item, it may be deferred until 2021,” Lodge said.
The Mining Code, as the regulations are known, would allow private and state-backed firms to mine metals such as manganese, nickel, cobalt, and copper on the seabed beyond national ocean borders.
Many countries in the South Pacific have already granted exploration licenses to mining firms under the organization’s rules.
But seabed mining has garnered opposition from Australian and Canadian environmental groups, who on May 20 released a review of 250 scientific papers that found too little is known about the practice’s effects on ecosystems to properly manage its risks.
The International Seabed Authority, a multilateral organization based in Kingston, Jamaica, had been aiming for its council to consider the mining regulations in 2020. The assembly and council meetings were supposed to be held in July.
The 18-member council, which makes key decisions that are then approved by the assembly, will focus on priority issues like committee elections and annual budgets in October, Lodge said.
Four working groups focused on the Mining Code will deliver reports to the council in October, he added.
DeepGreen Metals Inc., a Vancouver-based firm with exploration licenses near the island nation of Tonga, said it would prefer a set of rules be finished this year, but said it can wait if the process is delayed.
“If the outcome of taking more time is better regulations, then it’s a good outcome for all stakeholders and the planet,” chairman and CEO Gerard Barron said in an email.