Norway was one of the first countries in the world to take a gamble: the Norwegian parliament has authorized the opening of part of the seabed for mineral exploration. The 280 000 km2 area around the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard can now be searched for zinc, copper, cobalt and rare earth metals.
In this way Norway hopes to become a major global producer of minerals that the government believes are essential for the energy transition. "We need minerals (because) we need to make the green transition in the form of solar panels and batteries, electric cars and cell phones," explained Labor MP Marianne Sivertsen Naess recently.
A threat to ecosystems
In this way, the Scandinavian country hopes to reduce its dependence on other countries such as Russia and China - the world's leading producers of rare earth metals - for raw materials. The Norwegian Petroleum Directorate estimates that the country's continental shelf likely contains large deposits of minerals that would be useful in the production of batteries, wind turbines, computers and cell phones.
While the possible exploitation of these seabed resources is to be revisited by Parliament, many non-governmental organizations and scientists have already spoken out against the decision: they warn of the destruction of as yet unknown habitats and species potentially important to the food chain, the risk of disrupting the ocean's ability to absorb carbon emitted by human activities, and the noise affecting species such as whales.
Setting a precedent
"Norway seems to think that mining will be the solution to the ecological transition, which is very strange," says Haldis Tjeldflaat Helle of Greenpeace. "It's a shame because Norway risks setting a precedent" that will allow "other countries to do the same," says Frode Plame, head of the NGO's Norwegian branch.
At the last General Assembly meeting of the International Seabed Authority (ISA), some twenty countries, led by France, favored a moratorium on deep-sea mining or a "pause in precautionary measures."
Ultimately, the decision on whether to start mining in the Arctic is a complex and ambiguous one. It is necessary to carefully weigh all possible consequences of these activities before making a final decision.