The Council of the International Seabed Authority (ISA) closed the meetings of Part III of its 27th session on Friday, 11 November 2022, ending the 27th session of ISA. The Council met in person for ten days. A total of 30 of the 36 Members of the Council were in attendance, along with 16 other Members and 12 observers. The main item on the agenda was the draft regulations on the exploitation of mineral resources in the Area prepared by the Legal and Technical Commission (LTC) and submitted to the Council in March 2019 (ISBA/25/C/WP.1). The Council also discussed other processes and documents necessary to support the sustainable development of mineral resources in the Area and agreed on a plan of work for 2023.
Progress on the draft exploitation regulations
The Council progressed the negotiations on the draft exploitation regulations for mineral resources in the Area in the four working groups it created on i) a financial model and payment mechanism for deep-sea mining, ii) the protection and preservation of the marine environment, iii) inspection, compliance and enforcement and iv) institutional matters. Following the discussions, the facilitators of the groups will present revised texts ahead of the next meeting of the Council in 2023.
H.E. Ms. Alison Stone Roofe, Permanent Representative of Jamaica to ISA, recognized the complex task faced by Members of ISA to develop a comprehensive regulatory framework for exploitation. “We must balance a range of interests, including robust protection of the marine environment, a State’s right to invoke provisions under the 1994 Agreement, and safeguarding the common heritage of humankind. The process must move at a suitable pace to consider current realities and build consensus,” Ambassador Stone Roofe said.
H.E. Mr. Juan González Mijares, Permanent Representative of Mexico to ISA, said his country welcomed the progress and celebrated the diverse approaches expressed during the meetings. “Mexico reiterates its commitment to achieving a robust legal framework to protect the environment and for the benefit of humankind as a whole,” Ambassador González Mijares said.
Regional environmental management plans
The Council considered the LTC recommendations concerning the standardized procedure for developing, reviewing and approving regional environmental management plans (REMPs) and the draft REMP for the northern Mid-Atlantic Ridge. On this matter, the Council agreed that the standardized procedure that is in development should be finalized before a new REMP is approved. They decided to revert the two issues to the LTC with specific recommendations.
Transfer of rights and obligations under a contract for exploration
The Council considered the LTC recommendation concerning the procedure for the transfer of rights and obligations under a contract for exploration. Members welcomed the development of the procedure and decided to revert the issue to the LTC for further consideration in light of a series of technical questions raised. They suggested that the work should be informed by relevant ongoing discussions in the informal working group on institutional matters.
Development of binding environmental threshold values
The Council adopted a decision relating to the development of binding environmental threshold values initially introduced by Germany in July 2022 and revised based on comments received (ISBA/27/C/CRP.5/Rev.1).
Operationalization of the Enterprise and the Economic Planning Commission
The Council considered a draft zero decision relating to the appointment of an Interim Director General of the Enterprise submitted by the African Group with a view to reach a decision at the first meeting of the 28th session of the Council.
Mr. Thembile Joyini of South Africa welcomed the progress made during the meetings and expressed satisfaction that the two submissions of the African Group on the payment regime and a draft decision on the appointment of the Interim Director General for the Enterprise had both been well received by Members of the Council.
“There was consensus in welcoming the report of the Secretary-General concerning the operationalization of the Economic Planning Commission, including its financial implications. There was also consensus in welcoming the report of the Special Representative of the ISA Secretary-General for the Enterprise,” he noted.
The Council adopted a decision relating to the reports of the LTC Chair that was introduced by Australia (ISBA/27/C/CRP.8).
The Council adopted a decision related to commissioning a study on the internalization of environmental costs of exploitation activities in the Area by the Secretariat (ISBA/27/C/CRP.6).
Finally, the Council decided to establish an informal intersessional dialogue to facilitate further discussions on the possible scenarios foreseen in the context of the implementation of section 1, paragraph 15 of the annex to the 1994 Agreement relating to the implementation of Part XI of the Convention and on any other pertinent legal considerations, with a view to explore commonalities on possible approaches and legal interpretations for the Council to consider in this respect in 2023.
Intersessional work and roadmap for the 28th session of the Council
The Council agreed to carry out intersessional work to advance the discussions in the different working groups. The Council adopted a roadmap for the 28th session of the Council in 2023, which will comprise three parts, like the 2022 one. According to the agreed roadmap, the Council will hold its first meeting under Part I of the 28th session from 16 to 31 March 2023.
Closing the meetings of the Council and the 27th Session, the Secretary-General of ISA, H.E. Mr. Michael W. Lodge, congratulated the Members of the Council for the progress made. He also recalled the mandate given by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the 1994 Agreement to ISA to implement the regime for the deep-seabed from the Part XI of UNCLOS and the 1994 Agreement in good faith.
“From the outset, UNCLOS was regarded as a package deal. There would have been no agreement on all other elements of the package without agreement on the status and use of the seabed beyond national jurisdiction. It is important not to forget this. This is also why it was necessary to adopt an Implementation Agreement in 1994 to reflect the understanding on the deep-seabed and bring UNCLOS into force,” Mr. Lodge highlighted.
“It is, therefore, with legitimate interest that many States Parties to UNCLOS, both developed and developing, are looking to this unique governance architecture to support the rights recognized to them under international law. It is important to understand and acknowledge what those rights entail. It is the right of all States, developed and developing, coastal and landlocked, to conduct exploration and, eventually, to exploit minerals in the Area. The only condition around the exercise of these fundamental rights is that all activities in the Area must be carried out in accordance with the rules, regulations and procedures of ISA, including those relating to the protection of the marine environment,” he added.
“Completing the work underway is the best guarantee we have that activities in the Area will be carried out under a single global regime in a way that prevents damage to the marine environment and benefits all humanity. The work is difficult, it requires commitment, but it is within reach,” Mr. Lodge said.
“I urge the Council, as well as all other stakeholders engaged in this work, to come together, redouble your efforts and continue to focus on the work at hand,” Mr. Lodge concluded.
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This press release was updated on 18 November.