August 13, 2020 / by Tay Yuke Ling / In Sustainability
TSC Thursdays - Will the Post-COVID Clean Energy Transition Put the Spotlight on Deep Seabed Mining?
TSC Thursdays is a weekly TSC blog post with top trending news and issues pertaining to UN Sustainable Goals. TSC’s SDG COVID Impact Dashboard applies our proprietary models and methodologies to filter the global chatter through a dynamic issue taxonomy to track and visualize COVID-19's impact across 17 SDGs in real-time. For more insights on global SDG commitment, sentiment and activity explore our SDG COVID Impact Dashboard here: https://sdg-covid.tsc.ai
TSC's SDG COVID Impact Dashboard identified a recurring theme in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal focussing on ensuring affordable and clean energy and the need for a green economic reset. This week TSC's SDG COVID Impact Dashboard highlights "Renewable Energy" and "Affordable and Clean Energy".
Pandemic lockdowns have greatly changed the way we work and live, and this has caused a paradigm shift in how we think of energy consumption and production. Green recovery plans and strengthened commitments to invest in renewable energy have followed. What will make such a transition truly successful and sustainable in the long run? Let’s do a deep dive.
COVID-19 has accelerated clean energy transition efforts globally
This year, global energy demand is estimated to fall by 6% compared to the previous year according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). The ‘unprecedented’ circumstances are not the only factor that will hit the traditional energy markets; International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and BloombergNEF (BNEF) found that renewables have become increasingly cost-competitive due to more technological breakthroughs, larger production scales, and more experienced renewable developers.
Many governments, organizations and even traditional energy players are recognizing this as the unique opportunity to rethink the traditional energy landscape and adopt more sustainable methods of generating and supplying energy that is more sustainable and “greener”, thereby lowering carbon footprints and working towards sustainability and climate targets. The so-called “Green Recovery” has commenced. Some key developments:
- June 2020: UK businesses sign letter to PM ‘pushing for clean recovery (here)
- June 2020: South Korea unveils 62bn post-virus ‘new deal’ plan, with investment allocation into green technologies and a more energy-efficient recovery (here)
- Jul 2020: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urges nations to put clean energy policies at the heart of their COVID-19 recovery plans (here)
- Aug 2020: European battery makers are gearing up to take advantage of massive "green" stimulus packages part of the EU’s 750bn Green Recovery Plan unveiled in May this year, making a play for large-scale production, and focusing on new technologies (here)
TSC's Atium heatmaps with real-time trend and sentiment analysis show that renewable energy is an increasingly “emerging” debate across the globe and positively covered throughout.
Are minerals in the deep seabed the key to sustaining a clean energy transition?
With the projected increased focus on renewable energy across the globe comes a rise in demand for amongst others batteries, electric vehicles and solar panels. The production of many of such is dependent on metals and minerals like cobalt. The IEA predicts that by 2025, we will be facing a severe shortage of key metals including cobalt. In order to sustain this clean energy transition, talks of an alternative abundant mineral source have surfaced. In the 1960s we became aware of the fact that the deep ocean floor boasts large reservoirs of untapped mineral-rich resources. So-called polymetallic nodules, polymetallic sulfides and ferromanganese crusts contain various minerals and precious metals, many of which are those that will be required for large-scale renewable energy operations.
Mapping synergy networks between the green recovery movement and deep seabed mining. Will they define the way forward for both?
Between the 1960s and 1980s several countries sent out vessels to the High Seas to collect precious minerals and metals from the deep seabed. Many of such attempts were barebones and resulted in disappointing returns. Anno 2020, deep seabed mining has evolved into a much more structured affair: any such activities are considered to lie within the Marine Biodiversity of Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction and is governed by the International Seabed Authority (ISA), under the auspices of the United Nations Conventions on the Law. So far, the ISA has approved 30 exploration contracts for mining the deep seabed.
Many of the deep sea contractors have invested in innovation, R&D and marine research, which will make the future mining efforts - likely to commence once the regulations on the prospecting, exploration and exploitation of marine minerals (known as the ‘Mining Code’) is finalized - more structured and efficient. The fact that many national governments are either directly or indirectly involved in the contracting landscape, gives an interesting twist to this story. As some have already called for a post-COVID green recovery with a focus on increased investment on renewable energy, what we might see is a “gold rush” for the ocean floor to supply the domestic energy transitions once the ISA signals the green light. Other governments that are involved as direct or indirect contractors might soon “copy” green recovery plans to justify their investments in this niche space, whereas governments that are not yet involved might start tendering due to peer pressure.
Will deep seabed mining shape the energy transition, or will the green recovery accelerate deep sea mining efforts? Continuous monitoring, trends and insights will be required to get to the bottom of this.
- International Renewable Energy Agency: Coalition For Action calls on government worldwide to consider renewable energy as a key solution for COVID reponse (here and here)
- United Nation report supporting the prioritization of clean energy in national economic recovery packages and bring the world closer to meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement (here)
- World Bank in Maldives focusing on renewable energy (here)
Last five articles in the TSC Thursdays series
Navigate the SDG COVID Impact Dashboard for a snapshot of SDG and thematic insights, or request a demo.