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Opinion

Deep sea mining vital for small island states to combat climate change

When it comes to climate impacts, the hammer falls hardest on those who have contributed the least to our current predicament. On Nauru, the small Pacific island I call home, we are responsible for less than 0.01% of global emissions, yet suffer the most as sea levels rise, we experience more frequent extreme weather, and the tuna we are so dependent on are projected to move out of waters in response to climate change, impacting our livelihood. Our very way of life and the future of our island nation hangs in the balance.

Turning the tide on climate change means turning away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy. This transition will be incredibly mineral intensive and we cannot escape the fact that vast quantities of new metals will be needed to build out the infrastructure needed to generate and store this renewable energy. So great is this need that the world will need to be digging up six times the amount of metals that we produce today if we are to hit net-zero globally by 2040, according to the International Energy Agency.

Polymetallic nodules sit unattached on the ocean floor and contain four base metals essential for our transition to a clean energy economy, in quantities and grades long since extinguished on land. These nodules present an opportunity to source these metals in a manner that, I believe, could be more environmentally, socially and economically responsible. As such, I would urge all those with a care for the future health of our planet, our ocean, and its people to take this pragmatic, planetary perspective.

To be sure, there are still questions as to some of the potential impacts of collecting nodules. With this in mind and to deepen our understanding, the global community – through the International Seabed Authority (ISA) – has set up a world-class environmental impact assessment mechanism to ensure that if this industry proceeds, it does so with upmost caution. Genuine concern as to the impacts of this industry, however, do not warrant the unjustified claims levied by NGOs at Small Island Developing States like mine. Small though we may be, our efforts to explore for a lower-impact alternative do not stem, as some activists claim, from an element of naïveté on our part, nor from our lack of knowledge. Nauru – like a number of Pacific Island states – is simply taking advantage of the rights conferred upon it under international law and I and many others here in Nauru are immensely proud that we have been a leader in the deep-sea minerals industry from the start.

With impeccable foresight, the founders of the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) knew that if protections were not provided for small island states like ours, then this new industry would come to be dominated by developed states in the Global North. Without our private sector partners, developing states, not for the first time, would be shut out of these promising economic opportunities which can greatly assist us in our fight against climate change. It was Nauru that first proved the legitimacy of this model – established under UNCLOS – and which has since been re-affirmed by our Pacific neighbours, the Kingdom of Tonga, Kiribati, the Cook Islands and most recently Jamaica who has joined the ranks of developing Sponsoring States.

Nori Maersk Launcher Ship. Photo: Facebook

I am thankful for UNCLOS and the opportunity that it provides for countries such as mine and I am immensely proud of the partnership that Nauru Ocean Resources Inc (“NORI”) has developed with Nauru. I also feel grateful that we are able to be able to provide benefits to Nauru today, which include training, capacity building and support for social and community initiatives; and, if the projected environmental benefits can be safely proven, we look forward to providing additional financial benefits to Nauru in the future through our partnership.

For the first time in history, an extractive industry regime will take into account and aim to alleviate some of the economic disparities that exist between the Global North and the Global South. Nauru’s economy is narrow and susceptible to external forces; collecting minerals from the seafloor therefore presents a timely and exciting opportunity to diversify our nation’s economy in preparation for life in a warming world. Disappointingly, Nauru is subject to insulting and patronizing assertions from those opposing this industry that Nauruan’s are incapable of making these decisions. I am proud of my country and the leadership role it has taken in this industry as it strives to combat climate change and provide its citizens with a brighter future.

The history of my country has been shaped by the impacts of mining and the responsible stewardship of the ocean. It is only natural that now, as the waves lap ever higher, that we explore all the options that we have at our disposal in our bid for a cleaner, fairer future.

Peter Jacob

Peter Jacob is NORI Country manager for The Metals Company. He has served as Chairman of the Board of the Nauru Rehabilitation Corporation and as the Chief of Staff to the President of Nauru from 2013 to 2020.

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