On 12 June 2023, the Secretary-General of the International Seabed Authority (ISA), H.E. Mr. Michael W. Lodge, presented the status of the work of ISA to the 33rd Meeting of States Parties to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) at the United Nations Headquarters in New York.

Mr. Lodge congratulated Ambassador Cornel Feruță of Romania on his election as the president of the Meeting. He extended his appreciation to the outgoing president, Ambassador Vanessa Frazier of Malta, for her leadership during the past year and to the Legal Counsel and his team for their consistent support and collaboration, including in the context of UN Oceans.

Mr. Lodge further thanked States Parties for their continuous support of the work of ISA. He recognized the active engagement of many delegations during the 27th session and the first part of the 28th session of the ISA Council as “a testament to the strong commitment of State Parties to ensure the effective implementation of UNCLOS and the 1994 Agreement.”

Development of the regulatory framework for the exploitation of mineral resources in the Area

Mr. Lodge stressed that the Council was discussing the development and adoption of the draft regulations governing the future exploitation of marine mineral resources in the international seabed area (the Area), as mandated under UNCLOS and the 1994 Agreement, as a matter of priority. Accordingly, the Council dedicated most of its time during its 27th session in 2022 and the first part of its 28th session in 2023 to advancing the draft regulations and achieved significant progress in the different informal working groups established for that purpose. The creation of 11 intersessional working groups in March 2023 was also mentioned as an indicator of progress in discussions between delegations.

“I believe the work accomplished so far is highly constructive and building consensus around many of the critical issues in the draft regulations. I look forward to further progress in July so that the momentum gained so far can be maintained. As always, the ISA Secretariat stands ready to support the negotiations,” he said.

Mr. Lodge further reported that the Council adopted a decision relating to the establishment of the position of an interim Director General of the Enterprise in March 2023 and requested the submission of a supplementary budget proposal, which the Finance Committee will consider in July. He also informed the Meeting that the Finance Committee will resume its discussions on the development of rules, regulations and procedures for the distribution of funds received under Article 82(4) of UNCLOS and the possible establishment of a Seabed Sustainability Fund. He congratulated the new composition of the Legal and Technical Commission, which now comprises 41 members and held its first meetings in March this year.

Financial situation

Addressing ISA’s financial situation, Secretary-General Lodge reported that 88 per cent of assessed contributions to the budget for the year 2023 had been paid as of the end of May 2023. He urged Member States concerned to pay outstanding contributions, which amount to a total of USD1,005,405, as soon as possible. He also urged all States Parties in arrears of more than two years to pay without delay their outstanding contributions, which amount to a total of USD636,976.

Strategic Plan for the period 2024–2028

Mr. Lodge recalled that the strategic framework of ISA builds on the Strategic Plan for the period 2019-2023 adopted in 2018 and now includes a High-Level Action Plan, an Action Plan for Marine Scientific Research in support of the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development 2021-2030 and a Capacity Development Strategy.

“Together, these have been highly effective in focusing ISA’s programmatic activities, mobilizing resources and delivering on the manifold mandates of ISA beyond its regulatory functions, as envisaged by UNCLOS,” Secretary-General Lodge said.

He further informed the Meeting that a draft strategic plan for 2024-2028 had been released for consultation until 23 June and will be considered by the Assembly at its 28th session in July.

Programmatic activities

Secretary-General Lodge then reported on other responsibilities of ISA outside its regulatory mandate, including the custodianship of the Area as the common heritage of humankind, the facilitation of scientific research in respect of the Area, capacity-building and international cooperation in the governance of marine space.

“ISA serves as a fundamental forum for dialogue, negotiation and consensus-building on matters concerning the sustainable management of deep-sea resources, environmental preservation and the advancement of scientific knowledge accessible to all States Parties,” he said.

In relation to capacity-building, the Secretary-General recalled that the ISA Assembly adopted its first-ever Capacity Development Strategy in August 2022. This strategy consolidates ISA’s approach to delivering even more meaningful and tailored activities to respond to the needs identified by its Members. In that regard, Mr. Lodge thanked the 59 Member States that appointed national focal points for capacity development to support ISA in this work.

Mr. Lodge then cited the establishment of the ISA Partnership Fund by the Assembly as a major milestone to promote and encourage the conduct of marine scientific research in the Area. Contributions to this fund amounted to USD604,644 as of June 2023, thanks to donations from China, Greece and Mexico this year. “I am pleased to inform you that the Board of the Partnership Fund held its first meeting of the year a few weeks ago and allocated a total of USD382,000 to four different projects, which will be advertised in the upcoming days,” he said.

In relation to ISA’s commitment to advancing women’s empowerment and leadership in ocean affairs, Mr. Lodge thanked Ambassador Tone, Permanent Representative of Tonga, for accepting to co-chair the new Impact Group on Research and Oceans for Women established under the International Gender Champions network. He also thanked Ambassador Burhan Gafoor of Singapore and Ambassador Vanessa Frazier of Malta for the support provided in organizing the first-ever Women in the Law of the Sea Conference in September 2022 in New York. “The participation of 45 women experts in the law of the sea from all over the world, particularly those from least developed countries, landlocked developing countries and small island developing States, was a testament to the importance of our collective action and the need to do more,” he said.

Mr. Lodge also stressed that ISA’s celebrations of World Oceans Day were dedicated to recognizing the contributions of women scientists in deep-sea research and seeking ways to foster their engagement and progression into leadership positions. On this occasion, ISA, the Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States and more than 20 other partners of the Women in Deep-Sea Research project launched the S.H.E. (See Her Exceed) Mentoring Programme – the first-ever global mentoring programme for women scientists from developing States working in deep-sea research. “A call for expressions of interest to enroll in this programme has been issued. I encourage you to share this information broadly with your respective national and regional institutions to enable talented women to break the glass ceiling,” Secretary-General Lodge said.

Finally, Mr. Lodge welcomed the successful conclusion of the Intergovernmental Conference and the imminent adoption of the BBNJ Agreement as a “monumental achievement.” He reiterated that “coordination, cooperation and complementarity will be pivotal for the sustainable use of ocean resources.”

“In keeping up with its mandate under UNCLOS and the 1994 Agreement, and in the spirit of contribution to the consistent application of all the legal instruments under UNCLOS, I expect that the future work of ISA will be oriented towards the achievement of the commonly shared objectives of the new BBNJ Agreement. ISA stands ready to work with all relevant stakeholders to implement the ambitious goals set out by the BBNJ Agreement,” he said.

In conclusion, Mr. Lodge reiterated the importance of the role played by UNCLOS and its institutions to ensure international cooperation, peace, security and legal order for the seas and oceans. “This robust framework, grounded in international law, promotes the equitable utilization of resources, protection of the marine environment and preservation of the global order. In fact, it is the main safeguard for the collective and peaceful management of shared resources sustainably. Every time it is challenged, the entire system is weakened and undermined,” he said.

“One core principle underpins the regime. It is that every State Party, whether coastal or landlocked, is entitled to carry out activities within the Area as long as it does so following the rules, regulations and procedures of ISA. The fact, therefore, that there have been no unilateral claims to seabed resources and that no activities of exploration or exploitation have taken place in the Area, except as fully regulated by ISA, is evidence of the tremendous success of this regime so far,” he concluded.

The written version of the Secretary-General’s Statement is accessible here: https://www.isa.org.jm/wp-content/uploads/2023/06/Statement_Thirty-third_Meeting_of_States_Parties_to_UNCLOS.pdf.


For media enquiries, please contact:

Ms. Stefanie Neno, Communications Specialist, ISA, sneno@isa.org.jm