On the last day of the meeting, delegates addressed, in an informal setting, the President’s text, which includes all draft regulations on deep-sea mining not taken up by any of the working groups. They focused on annexes addressing the application for approval of a plan of work, the mining workplan, the financing plan, and plans on emergencies, safety, and security. The Council reconvened to discuss issues around the operationalization of the Economic Planning Commission (EPC), the reports of the Chair of the Legal and Technical Commission (LTC), and the way forward on the draft exploitation regulations.
On Annex I (application for approval of a plan of work to obtain an exploitation contract), a delegation drew attention to possible ways to manage information changes concerning the applicant. Some queried how the contractor can prove previous experience when deep-sea mining is a new industry. Some asked for further streamlining the annex.
On Annex II (mining workplan), delegates discussed whether to include details relating to onshore processing of mineral resources, and the results of test mining, with some noting that test mining is still under discussion.
On Annex III (financing plan), an observer highlighted the submission of a written proposal on the International Seabed Authority’s (ISA) due diligence to examine the credentials of key personnel.
Members addressed the emergency response and contingency plan, contained in Annex V, focusing on: references to coastal states; existing treaties that set legally binding obligations; reorganizing the provisions to prioritize those pertaining to environmental protection; and further streamlining the annex, moving details to standards and guidelines.
On Annex VI (health and safety plan and maritime security plan), delegates discussed which elements of the plan should remain confidential and the placement of cyber risks. A delegate stressed that relevant responsibilities under the health and safety plan fall under the flag state. An observer noted that flag states’ responsibility covers normal and not mining operations, pointing to a written submission to address this gap.
Regarding standard clauses for exploitation contracts in Annex X, delegates focused on: ensuring compliance with relevant standards; the need for written warning following a violation to justify a contract suspension, as well as whether the violation should be characterized as “persistent and willful”; and a provision noting that any impacts from activities in the Area carried out under an exploitation contract must be strictly limited to the contract area.
President González Mijares thanked delegates for a productive session and closed the informal discussions on the President’s text. He reconvened the Council session and invited facilitators of the working groups to report on progress, which focused on advancements and intersessional work.
Costa Rica, supported by Brazil and Germany, highlighted that several delegations requested to invite the authors of the report on the value of ecosystem services and natural capital of the Area to clarify externality-related questions. China suggested discussing any invitation at the next Council session.
In the afternoon, Secretary-General Michael Lodge reported on credentials and introduced the report on the operationalization of the EPC. Ghana for the African Group, Trinidad and Tobago, Mexico, Brazil, and China highlighted the necessity to prioritize the operationalization of the EPC, noting this should remain on the agenda for formal discussions. Delegates emphasized that elections for membership in the EPC should be guided by the principle of equitable geographic representation, while ensuring gender balance and representation of special interest groups.
Following informal consultations, Council members agreed on a decision related to the reports of the LTC Chair, aiming at addressing modalities and outputs and increasing transparency in the work of the LTC.
On the way forward on the development of the exploitation regulations, President González Mijares noted that, following the Council decision in July 2023, a consolidated text will be prepared. He invited written submissions by 10 December 2023.
Delegates expressed appreciation and thanked President González Mijares and the facilitators of the working groups for their hard work and dedication. Ghana for the African Group, Norway, India, Spain, China, Italy, Nauru, the Russian Federation, Bangladesh, and others supported the development of a single consolidated text as the basis for further negotiations, stressing it will allow: harmonizing the text and addressing cross-cutting issues; identifying key outstanding questions; and detecting contradictions and inconsistencies.
On modalities for future work, some delegates supported continuing in “informal informals.” Ireland, Germany, and others, suggested allowing observers to participate and sharing results in a transparent manner. China, Poland, and the Russian Federation emphasized that a single person should be responsible for facilitating the discussions on the consolidated document, potentially assisted by facilitators for informal informals. Ireland, Germany, Costa Rica, France, Fiji, and Denmark supported continuing work in the working group format.
Environmental non-governmental organizations emphasized that trying to rush the negotiations under the threat of unregulated mining is a fundamentally wrong approach and reiterated the call for a moratorium or precautionary pause.
President González Mijares stressed that a consolidated text will be developed and underscored Council’s responsibility to achieve a robust, comprehensive, and workable set of exploitation regulation, ensuring environmental protection and effective benefit-sharing. He gaveled the 28th annual session of the ISA to a close at 6:43 pm.