On 8 December 2022, the Secretary-General of the International Seabed Authority (ISA), H.E. Mr. Michael Lodge, was invited to address the plenary meetings of the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly in relation to the commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the adoption and opening for signature of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

The session was opened by the President of the General Assembly for the 77th session, H.E. Mr. Csaba Kőrösi. It was the opportunity to hear statements delivered by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, H.E. Mr António Guterres; the President of the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea, Prof. Tommy Koh; H.E. Ms. Vanessa Frazier, President of the 32nd Meeting of States Parties to UNCLOS and Permanent Representative of Malta to the United Nations and to ISA, who paid a special tribute to the late Ambassador Arvid Pardo of Malta; the Chairs of the five regional groups; the President of the ISA Assembly, H.E. Mr. Satyendra Prasad (Fiji); the ISA Secretary-General and the President of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, Judge Albert Hoffmann.

Secretary-General Lodge joined all speakers in commending the success of UNCLOS as a fundamental instrument for promoting legal order and peace in the oceans, noting that through the years it has been in force, it has demonstrated that it is resilient, flexible and adaptable to changing economic, environmental and political realities.

“During these four decades, the Convention has been a fundamental instrument for promoting legal order and peace in the oceans,” Mr. Lodge said. “As the international organization tasked with organizing and controlling activities in the Area, protecting the marine environment, and promoting and encouraging marine scientific research in the Area for the benefit of all, the Authority is a fundamental pillar of the ocean governance architecture,” he noted.

“Since its establishment in 1994, the Authority has implemented in good faith the roadmap established by the 1994 Agreement. It has adopted regulations governing exploration for three mineral resources in the Area. It has issued 31contracts for exploration sponsored by 21 States Parties, including 10 developing States. It has made the most important contribution to marine science and massively improved our collective understanding of the deep sea and its ecosystems while sharing that knowledge with the developing world,” he added.

Reflecting on some of the challenges faced by UNCLOS today, the Secretary-General recalled that the Convention was adopted as a “package” and that its adoption had been possible because of the adoption in 1994, of the supplementing agreement on the status and use of the seabed beyond national jurisdiction.

“The 1994 Agreement was critical in ensuring that the 1982 Convention could enter into force with the full participation of all States. The Agreement introduced various safeguards and compromises intended to make Part XI of the Convention (the deep-sea mining provisions) broadly acceptable to all States,” Mr. Lodge said.

“The extraordinary success of the Convention was to establish a system for the shared management of the global commons that strikes an effective balance between the rights of all States to explore and exploit natural resources and the interest of the international community to protect and preserve the marine environment and share the benefits from natural resources.”

Echoing some concerns expressed by other speakers, Secretary-General Lodge stressed the importance for States Parties to UNCLOS to take a consistent approach in implementing all the provisions of the Convention.

“The regime, and the entire Convention, is threatened and undermined when States Parties act unilaterally, outside the rules set by the Convention and its implementing agreements. It is a matter of the greatest concern, therefore, when States Parties promote positions that radically change the rules of engagement and even deny the essential vision set out in the Convention,” he said.

In concluding his intervention, Mr. Lodge underscored the visionary mandate assigned to ISA by UNCLOS in establishing it to act as a “Trustee of the Area” for the benefit of humanity as a whole.  “The deep sea and its mineral resources are the only examples we have of a global commons managed under a universally accepted international regime. If we cannot manage this shared resource effectively, then the prospects for successfully managing other global commons based on equity and equality between States are likely to become increasingly remote,” he further added.

“I remain confident that the remarkable progress made by the members of the Authority to give life to this ideal of solidarity and equity for all humanity gives us hope and reinforces our trust in our ability, together, to address any complex challenges our world must face today. The success of the legal regime so far, after 28 years of consolidation, offers a concrete example of how the international community can come together to ensure sound and careful management of global public goods for the benefit of humanity.”

“I urge all States Parties to come together and ensure that the Convention endures for another 40 years,” Mr. Lodge concluded.

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