Benefit Sharing and the Common Heritage of Mankind: Policy Brief Makes Recommendations for the Governance of Deep Seabed Mining

Date: July 13, 2018

Source: IASS Potsdam

How could the exploitation of the resources of the deep seabed conceivably benefit humanity? What risks does such exploitation pose to the marine environment? And how can we ensure that governance in this area is fair – for all of humankind? The latest IASS Policy Brief examines what the International Seabed Authority can do to reconcile the use of the ‘common heritage of mankind’ with the global sustainable development goals formulated in the 2030 Agenda.

The seabed and subsoil beyond national jurisdiction (the ‘Area’) as well as the resources contained therein belong to all of humankind and may only be exploited for the common good. This is stipulated in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which has declared the Area the common heritage of mankind. Founded in 1994, the International Seabed Authority (ISA) determines access requirements, sets mining rules, and concludes agreements with state or private entities for the exploration and subsequent mining of deep-sea resources. One of its main tasks is to ensure that such activities deliver positive net benefits to humankind and that those benefits are shared equitably.

In the 36 years since the adoption of UNCLOS, international awareness of the need to protect our oceans has grown considerably. Originally, the discovery of new mineral resources in the oceans fuelled hopes that they could satisfy the needs of industrial nations while also giving third world countries a development boost through benefit sharing. Nowadays we are far more conscious not only of the technical difficulties presented by deep seabed mining but also of the risks of destroying the largely unknown ecosystems of the deep ocean. At the same time, new technologies and concepts for recycling and circular economies have emerged as alternatives to mineral exploitation. In the light of increasing pressures on our oceans, which are leading to the very tangible loss of species and habitats, the principles of conservation and sustainable use of the oceans have been to the fore in recent international agreements and treaties.

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