The move comes after criticism from scientists, MPs and environmentalists of the government’s previous stance which backed the move.
Now the UK government is supporting a temporary suspension on any exploitation licences to mine metals from the sea floor. Instead, it has urged more research into a better understanding of the impact on ecosystems of this type of mining.
Industrial-scale exploitation of the seabed could have grave consequences, whether that’s in terms of its impact on marine life and whether it will undermine the ocean’s ability to absorb carbon dioxide.
This change of heart means that the UK has now joined Brazil, France, Germany, Sweden and Canada, in calling for a pause on issuing exploration licences, at least until the environmental effects of seabed exploitation are better understood.
The environment secretary, Thérèse Coffey, has said that a UK-based environmental science network on deep-sea mining will be launched, to gather data and help fill in gaps in evidence on the environmental impact of mining.
Any ocean mining is going to have a profound impact on the environment so the government’s decision to at least wait until there is clearer scientific evidence that this type of mining can be done safely, should be welcomed.
However, there not only needs to be a pause in this type of mining but new regulations need to be created to better protect the ocean environment.
While mining companies say that harvesting minerals, including copper, nickel and cobalt, from the ocean instead of land is cheaper and less environmentally damaging, others have warned of the “dire consequences” for marine ecosystems should deep-sea mining go ahead.
We don’t have a great record in terms of protecting the land environment, so any decision to exploit our oceans should only be taken after detailed and credible scientific research, even then we should be careful that any mining doesn’t cause the permanent destruction of fragile ocean biodiversity.