The fourth workshop organized in the framework of the Abyssal Initiative for Blue Growth project (#OceanAction16538) successfully concluded today with increased understanding among participants of key components of environmental management and monitoring requirements related to activities in the international seabed area (the Area).
The workshop, which took place virtually from 26 to 29 July 2021, was jointly organized by the International Seabed Authority (ISA) and the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA) in collaboration with the Cook Islands and with the support of the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD).
Over 120 participants attended the event, including representatives from the four Pacific Small Island Developing States (SIDS) that are currently sponsoring activities in the Area - the Cook Islands, Kiribati, Nauru and the Kingdom of Tonga – as well as international experts, contractors, observers, and regional, international and civil society organizations. Topics discussed ranged from the relevant legal framework and the application of the precautionary approach to the responsibilities of sponsoring States, environmental risk and impact assessment, environmental information and data sharing, deep-sea exploration and mining technology. The workshop concluded with a dedicated session in which Pacific SIDS sponsoring States further identified their specific capacity development needs in relation to these areas of expertise and discussed ways to address them through strengthened cooperation at both national and regional levels.
In his welcome address, the Honourable Mark Brown, Prime Minister of the Cook Islands, commended the success of the Abyssal Initiative project and emphasized the support of his government to the mandate and work of ISA. “Collectively, we are putting in place the regulatory frameworks and processes needed to ensure the sustainable and responsible development of seabed minerals for the benefit of all humanity. All of this, before any mining has been approved. This workshop is yet another step towards our collective engagement to ensure the sound and sustainable management of deep-seabed minerals within and beyond our national jurisdictions,” he said.
In his opening remarks H.E. Mr. Michael W. Lodge, Secretary-General of ISA, underscored the importance of ensuring the effective protection of the marine environment as a key responsibility of ISA and insisted that, “the development of the mineral resources of the deep seabed is only possible within a precautionary framework that places environmental protection front and centre.” He further added: “That is why ISA’s environmental requirements for exploration contractors are more rigorous than for any other activity in the ocean beyond national jurisdiction. No other ocean industry has been regulated to this extent before it even begins and on a global scale”.
As of today, ISA counts 15 Pacific SIDS amongst its Members, four of which are sponsoring contracts for mineral exploration in the Area. Mr. Liu Zhenmin, Under-Secretary General of UN DESA, noted the decision of these four Pacific SIDS to prioritize seabed mineral extraction as a possible driver to realize their blue economy and the path this can open for other developing countries. Mr. Zhenmin praised the fruitful partnership established between UN DESA and ISA and commended the ongoing efforts of the two organizations to strengthen an already productive collaboration with Pacific regional organizations to support the sustainable development priorities of the Pacific SIDS. “We must continue to work with you, under the Abyssal Initiative, to ensure that you have the necessary governance structures and mechanisms required to meet your obligations as Sponsoring states,” he said.
Norway’s State Secretary, Mr. Jens Frølich Holte, also reaffirmed Norway’s support to the Abyssal Initiative project, stressing that, “Like Norway, ISA is committed to putting environmental protection at the heart of deep-seabed mining. Together we need to build the necessary capacity and infrastructure, share marine scientific data, engage in collaborative research and training programmes in order to ensure that benefits are indeed shared equitably in a sustainable manner.”
Speaking in the high-level opening segment, Mr. Henry Puna, Secretary-General of the Pacific Islands Forum and Pacific Ocean Commissioner said: “The Abyssal Initiative for Blue Growth project [...] is an opportunity to ensure that you, as sponsoring States, are in a position to comply with national and international obligations as seabed activities progress. This is an opportunity to ensure that the necessary governance and mechanisms required for deep-seabed activities are in place.”
To support regional engagement in ISA and its work, two major regional organizations in the Pacific – the Pacific Community (SPC) and the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) – have been granted observer status with ISA.
Closing the opening segment, Mr. Stuart Minchin, Director General of the Pacific Community, emphasized the importance of the topic of this fourth workshop. “I am sure this workshop will help build the national capacities of the four Pacific sponsoring States in environmental management and monitoring of deep-seabed mining activities. SPC will continue to work with partners to secure the required resources and provide relevant technical assistance and sound advice that will enable Pacific SIDS to make informed decisions in this area.”
The Abyssal Initiative project was launched following the joint Voluntary Commitment (#OceanAction16538) registered by ISA and UN DESA at the United Nations Ocean Conference in 2017. Its main objective is to strengthen the capacity of Pacific SIDS to develop and implement appropriate enabling legal, institutional and policy frameworks for the sound and sustainable management of marine mineral resources in the Area.
This week’s workshop is the fourth organized under the Abyssal Initiative project and the third thematic regional workshop held with a view to addressing the needs identified by Pacific SIDS sponsoring States during a consultation workshop held in the Kingdom of Tonga in February 2019. Since then, two workshops were held in August 2019 to address questions related to the obligations and responsibilities of sponsoring States and to marine scientific research in Nauru and Kiribati, respectively. A final workshop will be organized in Tonga in 2021 to focus on questions pertaining to benefit sharing.
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