China blocked discussion of a moratorium on plans to harvest rare minerals from the ocean floor, at the conclusion of international talks that ended last week.
The clash set Beijing against France, Chile, Costa Rica and other states that are opposing the exploitation of the seabed. It follows claims that China obstructed recent G20 climate talks, refusing to debate issues such as emissions targets.
A number of countries including China, Mexico, Norway and Nauru are keen to push ahead with seabed mining. Talks on regulating the industry have been taking place over the last two weeks at the International Seabed Authority, a UN-affiliated regulator based in Kingston, Jamaica.
Martin Webeler, ocean campaigner at the Environmental Justice Foundation, said: “The meeting ended without a moratorium on deep sea mining being discussed. It was blocked by, primarily, a refusal from the Chinese delegation to allow it to be brought up.”
Another observer said the discussion was originally blocked by Mexico and Nauru as well as Beijing but after the two other countries backed down, China continued to “fiercely oppose” discussing a moratorium.
Greenpeace International oceans campaigner Louisa Casson said: “If deep sea mining was truly as sustainable as miners claim, why block dissent?”
Metallic nodules on the seabed are rich in minerals like copper, cobalt, nickel and manganese, which are essential to the green energy transition.
Chinese companies hold five out of 31 licences that have been granted to explore the seabed for minerals, more than any other country. Beijing currently dominates global processing of battery minerals, a fact that Washington regards as a strategic weakness akin to Germany’s reliance on Russian gas.
At the talks in Jamaica, countries agreed that commercial deep-sea mining on the high seas could not go ahead until a regulatory code is finalised, a process that will take years.
However, Norway has said it will press ahead with seabed mining in its own territorial waters.
Photograph Simon Dawson/Bloomberg via Getty Images