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The Pacific island of Nauru sets a two-year deadline for deepwater mining standards

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The small Pacific island nation of Nauru applied for approval of deep-sea mining plans for a subsidiary of The Metals Co, giving the UN’s International Seabed Authority (ISA) two years to decide the rules for the controversial new industry.

Nauru President Lionel Aingimea notified the ISA board chairman in a letter dated June 25 and seen by Reuters on Tuesday. Reuters reported on Friday that Nauru planned to activate the so-called “two-year rule” that allows mining to continue after two years under the rules in effect at the time.

Nauru is a sponsor state of Nauru Ocean Resources Inc (NORI), a wholly owned subsidiary of The Metals Co, formerly known as DeepGreen, which plans to go public on the Nasdaq in the third quarter in a merger with blank checking company Sustainable Opportunities. Acquisition Corp.

“Nauru requests the council to complete the adoption of the rules, regulations and procedures necessary to facilitate the approval of the work plans for exploitation in the area within two years from the operational date of this request, which is Wednesday June 30, 2021, ”Aingimea wrote.

Aingimea said the international community has been negotiating for more than seven years on a draft code, adding that “in light of the most recent developments, we are of the opinion that the draft Exploitation Code is almost complete.”

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But differences remain among ISA member states over regulations and no agreement has been reached on a royalty regime for deep-sea minerals, said Duncan Currie, an international lawyer who has attended the ISA since 2012.

The Metals Co, which has previously said it aims to start mining in 2024, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Deep-sea mining would extract cobalt, copper, nickel and manganese, key battery materials, from potato-sized rocks called “polymetallic nodules” that dot the sea floor at depths of 4 to 6 km (2.5 to 4 miles) and are particularly abundant in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone (CCZ) in the North Pacific Ocean, an area spanning millions of kilometers between Hawaii and Mexico.

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The resources of the international seabed are defined as the common heritage of humanity under United Nations legislation, so the benefits of deep-sea mining should be shared among all countries, not just those that sponsor a mining company, but how those benefits should be shared remains debated.

NORI has exploration rights to four blocks covering 74,830 square kilometers in the CCZ. The Metals Co also has agreements with Tonga and Kiribati that bring its total CCZ exploration rights to 224,533 square kilometers, roughly the area of ​​Romania.

Nauru, an island of about 12,000 people, said in its letter that more than 80% of its land had been rendered uninhabitable by colonial-era phosphate mining and said deep-sea mining was more sustainable.

The Metals Co has said that deep-sea mining would be a cleaner way to source battery metals, saying it would produce less waste and fewer emissions than land-based mining.

Some environmentalists and scientists have called for a ban, saying that very little is known about deep-sea ecosystems and that mining could kill off undiscovered species.

(Reporting by Helen Reid; Editing by Edmund Blair)

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