Proposed experimental seabed mining in the Pacific will breach the well-established international law concept known as the precautionary principle. This is confirmed in a legal opinion prepared by the United States office of the Environmental Law Alliance WorldWide.
ELAW says the application of the precautionary principle supports a moratorium on seabed mining until the risks of harm to the marine environment and coastal people are better known and understood.
The opinion was prepared by ELAW at the request of a coalition of Pacific based civil society groups led by Pacific Action Network on Globization based in Fiji and ACT NOW!.
ELAW says the precautionary principle dictates taking a cautious approach in matters that affect the environment when there is scientific uncertainty about the negative impacts. The principle is widely used in international environmental law and has been applied in the courts in areas such as climate change, hazardous waste, fisheries and sustainable development.
The precautionary principle is cited in the Rio Declaration and there is a clear obligation on all States to widely apply the principle. This includes the need for an open, informed and democratic process involving all potentially affected parties and this is something that has just not happened with the introduction of experimental seabed mining.
"The significant risks and uncertainties surrounding deep seabed mining implicate strict application of the precautionary principle. Little is known about seafloor mining technology, its efficacy, safety, and the impacts that may arise from the process. In addition, the deep sea environment is a unique and diverse realm that has not been extensively researched and is not well understood. Both of these uncertainties warrant unprecedented caution and attention before proceeding with full-scale development of deep seabed mining".