Prominent UK banks have vowed not to invest in deep-sea mining. The banks collectively own £2.3tn ($2.9tn) in assets, equating to a third of the UK total.
NatWest, Lloyds and Standard Chartered have made their capital unavailable to deep-sea miners, reducing their access to UK capital markets.
The analysis, provided to the i newspaper by the Blue Marine Foundation and the Deep Sea Mining Campaign, comes amid increasing pressure to ban the practice.
Polymetallic nodules found on the sea floor at depths of 3,000–6,000 metres contain copper, manganese, nickel sulphate and cobalt sulphate, which are used in the production of batteries and other transition technologies including electric vehicles.
There is concern among conservationists and environmentalists that mining the sea floor could result in lasting damage to ocean ecosystems.
“The removal of parts of the seabed in this way, in the way that commercial mining is likely to go ahead, is going to mean that areas of these habitats will be removed, and that will be irreversible,” said ecologist Dr Kirsten Thompson, speaking to Mining Technology in March. “Those areas won’t recover, certainly within our lifetimes and more likely beyond.”
Following a two-year deadline triggered by the Pacific Island state of Nauru in 2021, deep-sea mining is due to begin in July. The International Seabed Authority, an arm of the UN, has until next month to draw up a legal framework for the practice.
Earlier this year France voted on a complete ban on the practice of deep-sea mining in its waters. President Emmanuel Macron has spoken out against deep-sea mining on numerous occasions and has called for laws to protect ocean environments.
A precautionary pause
Several countries have called for a “precautionary pause” to allow legislators to finalise deep-sea mining restrictions. These include Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Germany, New Zealand, Palau, Panama, Samoa and Spain.
Norway announced plans to open its seas to deep-sea miners earlier this month. The move has been met with criticism, including from Norway’s own environment agency.
Deep-sea mining supporters maintain that the metals found on the sea floor are necessary for mass electrification and the roll-out of renewable technologies.
“With growing momentum amongst responsible lenders and businesses rejecting deep sea mining, it’s time for the UK Government to show global leadership and back a moratorium on the practice before it is too late,” Jonny Hughes, policy director of the Blue Marine Foundation told i.
“The UK is now lagging behind other countries including France, Germany, and New Zealand which have all called for a moratorium or a ban. The UK’s public support for a moratorium could be very influential in one being imposed,” he added.