Federal Council adopts position on moratorium on commercial exploitation of international seabed area

Bern, 28.06.2023 - At its meeting on 28 June 2023, the Federal Council adopted its position on the commercial exploitation of the international seabed area (the Area) ahead of Switzerland's participation in the 28th session of the International Seabed Authority (ISA) in Kingston, Jamaica in July. Switzerland's representatives on the ISA Council and Assembly will support a moratorium on commercial exploitation of the Area until there is more scientific knowledge of its impact and protection of the marine environment can be guaranteed.

The ISA organises and controls all mineral resources-related activities in the Area for the benefit of all humankind. It is mandated to ensure the effective protection of the marine environment from the potentially harmful consequences of seabed extraction operations.

Challenges posed by commercial exploitation of the Area

To date, the ISA has only granted licences for exploration operations in the Area. There is growing interest from certain states and companies who wish to commercially exploit the Area's mineral resources, which are potentially useful for the transition to renewable energy. Minerals such as cobalt and manganese are needed to manufacture electric vehicle batteries.

However, a group of governments, environmental organisations, scientists and companies are calling for at least a temporary postponement of the launch of commercial operations in the Area. New scientific data shows that seabed extraction does not meet environmental protection standards and would pose a further threat to the climate.

Switzerland's position on the moratorium

The majority of ISA member states are currently of the opinion that no commercial seabed mining should be allowed in the Area before the regulations are in place.

Some countries – 15 so far – have gone further, stating their opposition to any commercial use of the Area at this stage, with or without the regulations. Switzerland is committed to protecting the oceans from pollution and promoting their sustainable development. The Federal Council has therefore decided to support a temporary moratorium on the commercial exploitation of the Area. The decision reflects the priorities of Switzerland's Maritime Strategy for 2023–27, which the Federal Council adopted on 2 June.

Consequently, deep-sea mining in the Area must be postponed until there is better scientific understanding of its impacts and effective protection of the marine environment from the harmful effects of such activities can be guaranteed.

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