Opinion: Swedish banks must stop support for deep-sea mining to protect the world's oceans

07 March 2023

In this Opinion piece, Fair Finance Guide Sweden Project Manager Jakob König, examines Swedish banks funding for deep-sea mining projects.

Many are delighted with the UN's new agreement on deep-sea protection. Now Fair Finance Guide Sweden is urging Swedish banks to stop supporting deep-sea mining, which greatly threatens the world's oceans. Research shows that major Swedish banks lent over SEK 10 billion to companies involved in the controversial practice in the last five years alone.

After 17 years of discussions, the UN was finally able to conclude an agreement on deep-sea protection. The purpose of the agreement is to, among other things, create marine reserves in international waters, the so-called deep seas. This is in order to be able to meet the goal set at COP15 in Montreal, where the need to protect 30 percent of the sea and land was agreed.

However, while negotiators from 100 countries are trying to catch up after a long night of discussion and mediation, there are others who see no time for rest at all, others such as the more than 50 companies around the world that plan to extract metals and minerals from the deep-sea ocean floor; for here are ecosystems that are largely unexplored and that are believed to contain more species than anywhere else on our planet. Who knows, maybe this is where the solution to the big antibiotic issue lies, for instance...

We cannot be sure, what we do know, however, is that mining at depths as large as this will lead to:

  • Depletion of flora and fauna at the bottom of the ocean
  • The destruction of even more species and nesting sites as sediment is stirred up
  • The exposure of the seabed to toxic substances during the work
  • Reduced regrowth of species
  • Important processes in the ecosystem being disturbed
  • The balance in the sea being disrupted – and much more

These are losses that, converted into money, are upwards of 1,000 times greater than the profits of the extraction companies could ever be, according to an estimate by WWF 2021.

It is also the reason why the Fair Finance Guide put an end to deep-sea mining as a new sustainability criterion in our international methodology.  As yet, however no major Swedish banks have supported the demand.

Is it because banks already have financial interests in this business?  A review in 2022 shows that in the last five years alone, the five largest banks in Sweden (Nordea, SEB, Swedbank, Handelsbanken and Danske Bank) have lent over SEK 10 billion to several of the companies active in deep-sea mining. Bankerna is also a co-owner of several of them.

Even if the UN agreement is in place within a few years – and at best reasonably complied with – it means that 70% of the sea surface is not protected from exploitation.  It is, therefore, extra important to shine a light on the actors who, alongside the UN, can make a difference. And here banks play a key role.

They can adopt policies that stop financial support for deep-sea mining companies and require companies not to use minerals from there. Already today, a number of large companies  have promised not to do so, including Scania, Volvo and Samsung.

Several international banks have also taken a stand against supporting deep-sea mining, such as Credit Suisse and the European Investment Bank.  In this way, they contribute to the development of norms in the financial industry and support more financial actors to take a stand against the exploitation of the deep seas.

When should Swedish banks follow suit? Now is the opportunity to raise your voice and have an impact before the next global environmental crisis can be a fact.  Take it!



For more information, contact Jakob König, Project Manager for Fair Finance Guide Sweden at jakob.konig@sverigeskonsumenter.se