A short bureaucratic note from a brutally degraded microstate in the South Pacific to a little-known institution in the Caribbean is about to change the world. Few people are aware of its potential consequences, but the impacts are certain to be far-reaching. The only question is whether that change will be to the detriment of the global environment or the benefit of international governance.
In late June, the island republic of Nauru informed the International Seabed Authority (ISA) based in Kingston, Jamaica of its intention to start mining the seabed in two years’ time via a subsidiary of a Canadian firm, The Metals Company (TMC, until recently known as DeepGreen). Innocuous as it sounds, this note was a starting gun for a resource race on the planet’s last vast frontier: the abyssal plains that stretch between continental shelves deep below the oceans.
In the three months since it was fired, the sound of that shot has reverberated through government offices, conservation movements and scientific academies, and is now starting to reach a wider public, who are asking how the fate of the greatest of global commons can be decided by a sponsorship deal between a tiny island and a multinational mining corporation.