Stockholm (NordSIP) – On 5 December, after weeks of intense negotiations, Norway’s centre-left government announced that it had reached an agreement with opposition parties to open parts of the Norwegian seabed to commercial mining, becoming one the first countries in the world to do so. According to the announcement, the Labour, Centre, Progress, and Conservative Parties have settled on an incremental opening of areas of the Greenland and Barents Seas in the Arctic, about 280,000 square kilometres in total. The parliament is to approve any potential development project in the same way it has done for extraction projects in the petroleum sector.
Drilling to accelerate the green transition?
The Norwegian government first presented its controversial plans for deep-sea mining in June this year. At the time, it was uncertain whether the parliament would support the plans. It appears, however, that the campaign to present the proposal as a responsible and sustainable way to extract crucial minerals needed for the green industries has yielded results.
“We need minerals because we want to lead a green transition in the form of fuel cells and solar panels, of electric cars and mobile phones,” said Marianne Sivertsen Naess, a parliament (Labour) member at the press conference announcing the political agreement.
To gain the opposition’s support, the government has issued numerous assurances that it would impose strict environmental safeguards. “Exploitation will only be authorised if studies carried out show that it can be done in durable and reasonable ways,” reiterated member of parliament Bard Ludvig Thorheim (Conservative) at the press conference.
These reassurances have so far failed to sway environmentalists, with many scientists and NGOs claiming that the consequences of extraction on the seabed are unknown but are likely to damage fragile marine ecosystems.
“This is the biggest disgrace in Norway’s management of the oceans in modern times and the final nail in the coffin for Norway’s reputation as a responsible maritime nation,” comments Karoline Andaur, CEO of WWF Norway.
According to Frode Pleym, head of Greenpeace Norway, his organisation has already decided on an action plan. “We will work to stop every deep-sea mining project presented to the Norwegian Parliament,” he says. “We will not allow Norway to destroy the unique life in the deep sea, not in the Arctic nor anywhere else.”
Not all Norwegian politicians are on board with the parliamentary agreement either. Commenting on the news for Adresseavisen, Lars Haltbrekken, Environmental spokesperson for the Socialist Left, sounds preoccupied. “It is unfathomable that Norwegian authorities are first in line to destroy the seabed,” he says. “Environmental researchers have issued strong warnings. […] What the Labor and Center Party are opening up with this agreement with the political right is an experiment of unimaginable dimensions. We risk destroying enormous natural values for uncertain profit. The signal Norway is sending by being the first country to open the seabed for mineral extraction worries me deeply,” he adds.
Apart from the serious environmental concerns, there are also worries that Norway’s decision might lead to increased geopolitical tensions. The area to be opened up for exploration is close to Svalbard, the Norwegian archipelago in the Arctic. Norway’s exclusive mining rights off the islands have previously been disputed by Russia, the EU and UK.
Ironically, the proponents of mining the Nordic seabed also use geopolitical arguments. According to them, Norway’s opening up for deep-sea exploration would reduce the reliance on China in the supply chain of many green industries. Nevertheless, several countries, including France and the UK, have previously called for a moratorium on deep-sea mining.
“By allowing mining on the seabed, Norway has lost all credibility as a responsible ocean nation,” summarises Greenpeace’s Pleym. “Norway cannot go to the UN with sustainable ocean management as its main priority and at the same time ignore national and international law, scientists and its own environmental institutions.”