The Norwegian Parliament authorized, on Tuesday January 9, the opening of part of the country’s seabed to mining prospecting, despite warnings from experts regarding its uncertain impact on ecosystems. By making 280,000 square kilometers of its seabed available – the equivalent of half the surface area of ​​France – Norway becomes one of the first countries in the world to embark on this controversial practice in an unexplored region.

The government’s proposal was adopted by 80 votes to 20. The possible exploitation of these same funds will have to be the subject of a new examination by Parliament.

“All Norwegian scientific institutions say it’s too risky. We do not know enough about ecosystems to mitigate [potential] damage,” Haldis Tjeldflaat Helle, from the Norwegian branch of Greenpeace, responded to Agence France-Presse (AFP).

NGOs and scientists are warning of the destruction of species and habitats that are still unknown but potentially crucial for the food chain, the risk of disrupting the ocean’s capacity to absorb carbon dioxide linked to human activities, or the noise affecting species like whales. Several demonstrators gathered in front of Parliament to express their discontent.

“It’s a shame because Norway risks creating a precedent”, which will allow “other countries to do the same”, lamented Frode Pleym, head of the Norwegian branch of Greenpeace and present at the demonstration.

At the beginning of December, the minority government coalition secured the support of the Conservative Party and the populist right to gradually open up – and at the cost of reinforced environmental requirements – an area of ​​the Greenland Sea and the Sea of Barents in the Arctic.

Reduce dependence on other countries

Norway thus hopes to become a major global producer of minerals, necessary, according to the government, to succeed in its energy transition. “We need minerals [because] we need to lead a green transition in the form of solar cells and panels, electric cars, mobile phones,” Labor MP Marianne Sivertsen Naess explained in December.

At the same time, the country wants to reduce its dependence on other countries – such as Russia or China – the world’s leading producer of rare earths – for its raw materials. “Norway may in the future be able to contribute to having greater access without being dependent on countries on which it may not be desirable to be totally dependent,” she added.

According to estimates from the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate, the country’s continental shelf most likely contains significant deposits of minerals, including copper, cobalt, zinc and rare earths, which are used in batteries, wind turbines, computers and cell phones. “Norway seems to have this idea that mining will be the solution for the ecological transition, which is really strange,” according to Greenpeace’s Haldis Tjeldflaat Helle.

A moratorium on underwater mining

More and more countries in the world prefer, on the contrary, to turn away from it and favor the precautionary principle on this issue, due to lack of sufficient data on the risks it presents, argues the activist. Several countries, including France and the United Kingdom, have called for a moratorium on underwater mining.

The government, for its part, ensures that no project will be implemented without detailed prior evaluation. The first operations will have to be approved by Parliament before they can be implemented. The condition: this must be able to be done “sustainably and reasonably”, specified the conservative elected official in charge of the file, Bard Ludvig Thorheim.