This recent announcement is making waves in the electric vehicle (EV) market. It makes clear the rapid growth in EVs needed for tackling climate change does not need to be responsible for severe and irreversible damage to ocean biodiversity, fisheries and carbon stores.
The deep seabed is our planet’s final frontier. Covering half the Earth’s surface, it’s a largely unknown, uncharted world. Once believed to be barren, scientists are now discovering it’s a world teeming with life, exerting a major influence on the whole ocean ecosystem and on our climate.
Due to its richness in metals and minerals, some argue that mining the deep seabed is our best solution for providing the cobalt, lithium, nickel and other minerals needed to enable the massive growth in the number of electric vehicle batteries, solar panels and wind turbines over coming decades. Proponents also suggest that mining the deep seabed could avoid the negative environmental and social impacts of mining on land.
But according to a recent report by World Wildlife Fund (WWF) titled In Too Deep, What We Know, And Don’t Know, About Deep Seabed Mining, the risks of deep seabed mining are great:
“Deep seabed mining would have a destructive impact on deep-sea ecosystems and biodiversity, which could have a knock-on effect on fisheries, livelihoods and food security and compromise ocean carbon, metal and nutrient cycles.”
In the report, the negative impacts of deep seabed mining are plenty. They include loss of habitat and life-supporting substrates, killing fauna and flora; exposure of seabed life to toxic metals released during mining operations; harm to genetic links between different populations of deep-sea animals; reduced primary production, affecting marine food webs; and the disruption of key processes affecting ecosystem functions.
By committing to excluding ocean minerals from their supply chains, these companies offer a powerful refutation to the argument by the growing ocean mining industry that we must open up international waters to mining as soon as this year to obtain the metals to build batteries central to this shift toward electrification. In their announcement, these companies also show their support for improved resource efficiency to reduce demand for primary minerals—innovations in battery chemistry, technology and recycling are already reducing mineral demand for next-gen EVs and batteries.
BMW’s continued leadership on sustainable mineral sourcing shows the world that there is a viable alternate pathway to fast-tracking this ramp-up in automotive electrification—without the need to send massive mining machines into the ocean.
Prof. Douglas McCauley, a professor at the University of California Santa Barbara, said:
“By rejecting ocean mining, these companies are helping to protect some of the planet’s oldest corals, whales, beautiful and mysterious deep-sea octopus and countless other ocean species that have not yet been discovered.”
McCauley urges companies such as Tesla, Renault, Volkswagen, General Motors and the world’s other big EV manufacturers to follow suit in taking a leadership role in protecting the future of the oceans.
WWF joins over 90 NGOs, alongside ocean protection advocates like Sir David Attenborough and Dr. Sylvia Earle, who have called for a moratorium or pause on ocean mining. The moratorium will continue until the environmental, social and economic risks are comprehensively understood, and it is clearly demonstrated that deep seabed mining can be managed in a way that ensures the effective protection of the marine environment and prevents loss of biodiversity.