2019 marks the 25th anniversary of the formal establishment of the International Seabed Authority (ISA or the Authority) and this side event was convened to take stock of the environmental work of the Authority. The ISA is the sole organization with the mandate to develop measures to protect the marine environment from harmful effects which may arise from activities in “the Area.” The Area, which covers the seabed, ocean floor and the subsoil, beyond the limits of national jurisdiction, is defined under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) as the common heritage of mankind, which is to be used for the benefit of mankind as a whole. The side event highlighted the experience gained through the Authority’s work on the application of area-based management tools (ABMTs) and environmental impact assessments (EIAs) in the Area. It also articulated lessons learned that can contribute to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ).
Co-Chair Alfonso Ascencio-Herrera, ISA Legal Counsel and Deputy to the Secretary-General, on behalf of ISA Secretary-General Michael Lodge, highlighted that 2019 marks the triple anniversary of: UNCLOS entering into force; ISA being formally established; and the Part XI implementing agreement being adopted by the UN General Assembly. He stressed that through its exploration work and via its contractors, the Authority has facilitated a database of deep-sea-related information, enhancing global knowledge on deep-sea biodiversity, and potentially assisting work under the BBNJ instrument.
Co-Chair Khurshed Alam, Bangladesh, emphasized that the ISA, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) and the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS), are now fully operational, which is an UNCLOS accomplishment. He drew attention to 30 exploration contracts issued by the Authority and emphasized that over the next years, work t the exploitation regulations is critical for the implementation of the common heritage and the protection of the marine environment.
Amb Courtenay Rattray, Permanent Representative of Jamaica to the UN, emphasized that with its vast experience in ocean management, the Authority is poised to play an instrumental role in the BBNJ process. He stressed that the ISA’s ability to evolve is a great strength, pointing towards the Article 154 review and the linkages to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). He further highlighted the development of robust environmental regulations that solidify the ISA’s leadership “for the benefit of all and the environmental integrity of the seabed.”
Myeong-rae Park, Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries, Republic of Korea, congratulated the ISA on its work and noted the need to further promote cooperation between the Authority and other relevant bodies and organizations. He highlighted the role of capacity building in achieving effective conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity.
Two thematic presentations focused on the ISA’s 25-year journey in applying the holistic approach to the protection of the marine environment in the Area.
Lowri Griffiths, UK, discussed the ISA’s role in protecting the marine environment in the Area and focused on recommendations related to EIAs for exploration activities. She noted that the Legal and Technical Commission (LTC) had adopted the revised Recommendations for the Guidance of Contractors for the Assessment of Possible Environmental Impacts arising from Exploration for Marine Minerals in the Area. She further emphasized that a note was provided to the ISA Council regarding the process for developing and prioritizing standards and guidelines under the draft regulations on exploitation of mineral resources in the Area, highlighting a relevant technical workshop to be held by the ISA in South Africa in May 2019.
Jihyun Lee, Director, Office of Environmental Management and Mineral Resources, ISA Secretariat, highlighted the ISA’s mission, status and prospects, and focused on how to enhance scientific knowledge and regional environmental management planning in the Area. Among other things, she drew attention to the increasing number of exploration cruises and emphasized significant technological developments.
Lee also discussed the 2012 environmental management plan established for the Clarion-Clipperton Zone and the data for relevant areas of particular environmental interest collected by contractors. She highlighted key approaches for regional environmental management plans (REMPs), articulating modalities to effectively implement goals, objectives, principles, and strategies for REMP development.
In the subsequent panel discussion, Kjell Kristian Egge, Norway, highlighted the ISA’s responsibility to safeguard and implement the common heritage principle, noting “the right to use and the obligation to protect the marine environment.” Regarding lessons learned for the BBNJ process, he stressed that focusing on the activity facilitates the right environmental choices. Recalling the history of UNCLOS negotiations, he cautioned against deferring discussions to future bodies.
Tevita Suka Mangisi, Tonga, drew attention to the overall architecture of UNCLOS, which was decided upon as a package deal, similar to the BBNJ negotiations since all the elements of the new instrument are interlinked. He focused on: the development of environmental measures and integration of the mining process to achieve the protection and preservation of the marine environment; capacity building, stressing relevant ISA initiatives; and international cooperation.
Ronan Long, World Maritime University, highlighted lessons learned from the work undertaken by the Authority and challenges lying ahead. He highlighted: the lack of unilateral mineral exploitation in areas beyond national jurisdiction; centralized decision making and enforcement powers; and the ISA’s ability to adapt to changing economic and scientific circumstances. Inviting participants to a relevant conference to be held in Sweden in May 2019, he drew attention to further work needed on: benefit-sharing; the inspection and liability regimes; monetary penalties for damage to the marine environment; and capacity building.
Yoshihisa Shirayama, Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC) discussed the results of a long-term environmental impact study, performed by Japan in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone under the ISA framework. Focusing on impacts of plumes on benthic ecosystems, he presented the location, procedure, sampling method, and timeline of the experiment. Highlighting results on the abundance of Metazoan Meiofauna and species’ diversity, he concluded that meiofaunae in the region are dynamic and may be resilient against plume sedimentation, despite it being difficult to distinguish between natural fluctuation and recovery.
In the ensuing discussion, participants addressed inter alia: ways to increase transparency in the LTC if it is to be involved in BBNJ-related work; the nomination process for participation in the upcoming workshops on REMPs; decoupling resource use and growth; and whether increases in species variability due to human intervention could be regarded as positive or negative.
IISD Reporting Services, through its ENB+ Meeting Coverage, provided web coverage from the side event on the Twenty-Five Years of ISA’s Contribution to Applying Holistic Approach to the Protection of the Marine Environment in the Area.
L-R: Amb Courtenay Rattray, Permanent Representative of Jamaica to the UN; Alfonso Ascencio-Herrera, ISA Legal Counsel and Deputy to the Secretary-General; Khurshed Alam, Bangladesh; and Myeong-rae Park, Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries, Republic of Korea
Amb Courtenay Rattray, Permanent Representative of Jamaica to the UN
Alfonso Ascencio-Herrera, ISA Legal Counsel and Deputy to the Secretary-General
Myeong-rae Park, Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries, Republic of Korea
Khurshed Alam, Bangladesh
Participants during the event
Lowri Griffiths, UK
Jihyun Lee, Director, Office of Environmental Management and Mineral Resources, ISA Secretariat
L-R: Yoshihisa Shirayama, Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science & Technology (JAMSTEC); Lowri Griffiths, UK; and Jihyun Lee, Director, Office of Environmental Management and Mineral Resources, ISA Secretariat
Participants during the event
Participants listen to a presentation on ISA’s development
Nii Allotey Odunton, Ghana, former ISA Secretary-General
Amb Courtenay Rattray, Permanent Representative of Jamaica to the UN, shaking hands with Alfonso Ascencio-Herrera, ISA Legal Counsel and Deputy to the Secretary-General
L-R: Kjell Kristian Egge, Norway; Tevita Suka Mangisi, Tonga; and Ronan Long, World Maritime University
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