Once again, the dwarfs are up against the giants of this world: the Pacific island states of Palau and Fiji are rebelling against the exploitation of minerals on the seabed.

During the United Nations (UN) Ocean Conference in Lisbon, Portugal, the small islands with their vast sea areas presented an alliance.

Their goal: a moratorium on permitting the mining of mineral resources on the seabed.

Christopher Hein

Business correspondent for South Asia/Pacific based in Singapore.

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They are supported by the Chilean government, which is demanding a 15-year delay.

The UN conference is about plastic waste, investment models in healthier oceans and the protection of the remaining biodiversity.

The oceans feed 80 percent of life on earth and provide half of the oxygen supply.

Remarkable: Both sides argue with environmental and climate protection.

Opponents of mineral mining are advancing at a critical time: On the one hand, more and more governments want to use the exploitation of the seabed to supply them with raw materials, especially for a climate-friendly industry.

On the other hand, environmental organizations are not the only ones warning against venturing into this largely uncharted territory.

Raw materials for e-cars, computers and smartphones

One possible way would be to suck up manganese nodules, copper, cobalt or nickel from the lake bed with “giant vacuum cleaners”.

They could be used, among other things, in the construction of electronics such as mobile phones and computers, but also in renewable energy technology such as batteries.

The Metals Company (TMC), which is pushing for mining, says there are enough minerals to be extracted from the seabed to build more than 280 million electric cars.

The Canadians work alongside Tonga, Kiribati and Nauru.

However, the industrial process of mining at these depths is still completely open.

"Have we not learned our lessons?

We just don't know what we're going to unleash when we go hundreds, even thousands of feet to the bottom of the sea," warned Marco Lambertini, head of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), representing the critics in Lisbon.

The governments of the industrialized nations of the G7 have just announced that they would only allow deep-sea mining under strict rules.

On the other side is China, which is urgently demanding mining, but also poor island nations like Nauru, which – often under Beijing's influence – want to develop additional sources of income.

It's a race against time.

Surangel Whipps, President of Palau, warned: "How can we in our right mind say, 'Let's go mining' without knowing

what are the risks involved?

Deep-sea mining increases the vulnerability of the seabed and marine life.”

How do you regulate something that doesn't even exist yet?

At the same time that the critics are raising their voices, the United Nations is trying to regulate the uncoordinated advance.

Scientists point out that this may be the first time an industry has been regulated before it even comes to life.

The UN's International Seabed Authority (ISA), founded in 1994, works on laws for seabed extraction on the high seas and thus in areas that lie beyond the economic zone, which extends 200 nautical miles beyond the coast of the respective countries.

However, America is not a member of the authority.

As long as there are no global rules, digging in the sands of international waters is prohibited, but exploring them is.

On the other hand, there is the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition (DSCC), an association of more than a hundred non-governmental organizations from all over the world.

Companies such as BMW, Google or the Korean Samsung group are also in favor of a moratorium together with the WWF.

The coalition warns that the ISA will meet in August to approve a draft regulation.

If this were to happen, the exploitation of the seabed in international waters, feared by the DSCC, could begin as early as next summer.

billion tons for climate protection

The ISA has already prepared 17 preliminary contracts for mining on an area of ​​1.3 million square kilometers.

The area is in the Clarion Clipperton Fracture Zone (CCZ), in the East Pacific between the Mexican coast and Hawaii at a depth of four to six kilometers.

Geologists at the Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center in California estimate that reserves of more than 21 billion tons of the minerals that are important for climate protection are waiting in this region alone.

7.5 billion tons of cobalt covered the surfaces of underwater hills in the Pacific.

"A single contract is likely to cover eight to nine thousand square kilometers of seabed and last 25 to 30 years," the critics counter.

"In addition to the direct impact on the affected regions, another 350,000 to 800,000 square kilometers will be affected by indirect influences, scientists warn."

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