Informal discussions continued during the third day of the International Seabed Authority (ISA) Assembly in an unsuccessful effort to reach consensus on the meeting’s agenda, in particular regarding suggestions to discuss ISA’s periodic review and the two-year rule.
Assembly members devoted most of the day to the 2023 annual report of ISA Secretary-General Michael Lodge and the report on the implementation of the action plan of the ISA in support of the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030).
In high-level interventions, Russ Joseph Kun, President of Nauru, expressed disappointment that the ISA is not adopting the rules, regulations, and procedures (RRPs) for deep-sea mining within the two-year deadline. He welcomed last week’s Council decision, highlighting strong political commitment to fulfill its obligations and adopt the regulations during the 30th session of the ISA in 2025.
Mark Brown, Prime Minister of the Cook Islands, underscored that RRPs must be in place before any decision on a plan of work for exploitation. Highlighting the need for seabed minerals to enable the green transition, he stressed that best available science and the precautionary approach need to inform decision making.
Hervé Berville, Minister of State for Marine Affairs of France, reinforced France’s call for a ban on deep-sea mining. He stressed that we “must not and cannot embark on a new industrial activity without measuring the consequences and taking the risk of irreversible damage.” Drawing attention to the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework and the recently adopted Agreement on biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ Agreement), he highlighted the need to strengthen multilateralism and find ways to preserve humanity’s common heritage.
Delegates carried on with Tuesday’s discussions, recognizing the need to continue, without rushing, developing exploitation RRPs that take into consideration the impacts of seabed exploitation to the marine environment, and the need for fair and equitable benefit-sharing for the benefit of humankind as a whole. ISA members reiterated that no plans of work for exploitation should be approved in the absence of a robust set of RRPs, including environmental thresholds, standards and guidelines, and robust institutional arrangements.
Delegates congratulated the Secretary-General on a comprehensive report and, among other issues:
- welcomed Rwanda as the newest ISA member;
- congratulated Rima Brown for the 2023 Secretary-General’s Award for Excellence in Deep Sea Research;
- noted ISA’s contribution to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals;
- underscored the needed alignment with the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework and the recently adopted BBNJ Agreement;
- emphasized the need to strike a balance between sustainable mineral resources exploitation and marine environmental protection;
- welcomed the establishment of the position of an interim director general of the Enterprise;
- highlighted the relevance of capacity building, transfer of marine technology, and marine scientific research, especially for developing states and with a gender-balanced approach; and
- pointed to the need to guide ISA’s work and decision making with sufficient scientific data.
Observers stressed that understanding deep-sea ecosystems’ functions is vital for informed decision making, emphasizing current data are insufficient and much work remains to be done on the exploitation regulations. They called for further efforts on marine scientific research; underscored the interlinkages with the BBNJ Agreement; and noted that recent research indicates the argument that deep-sea mining is necessary for the green energy transition is misleading. They expressed concerns over attempts to fast-track the development of the exploitation regulations, noting that impacts on the deep sea could be severe, large-scale, and irreversible.
Observers further called for the inclusion of Indigenous voices and traditional knowledge alongside scientific evidence for informed decision-making. They also raised concerns about ISA governance to ensure proper accountability, take legitimate decisions, and generate trust and confidence to the general public. In addition, they reinforced that, as independent studies have shown, “deep sea mining is not needed, is not worth the risk and cannot happen in isolation, without disrupting the entire ecosystem on which our lives rely.”
Secretary-General Lodge thanked members for their participation in the discussion and expressed appreciation for their support for the Secretariat’s work.
In the afternoon, Assembly members addressed international and regional cooperation in support of the stewardship of the Area, and approved two memoranda of understanding. The first, between the ISA and the International Relations Institute of Cameroon, concerns the establishment of a curriculum on the law of the sea and Part XI of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. The second, between the ISA and the National Institute of Oceanography and Fisheries of Egypt, addresses the establishment of a joint regional training and research center.