Mining the deep sea for metals such as copper, cobalt, nickel, manganese and silver may move a step closer this year as the countries that are members of the International Seabed Authority (ISA) continue to draft regulations to allow commercial deep-sea mining. The ISA is the United Nations (UN) body charged with managing seabed mining in the half of the world’s ocean that lies beyond the jurisdiction of any individual nation. As envisaged, such mining would be on a scale that will dwarf any mining undertaken on land.
From July 16 to 27, the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition (DSCC), which represents over 80 non-governmental organizations concerned with protecting the deep sea, will be present in Jamaica where the ISA Council and Assembly will debate the regulations. The DSCC will seek to ensure that the final version of the code adopted is adequate to protect the vulnerable deep ocean from the massive long-term destruction inherent in mining.
Key issues the DSCC will raise during this 24th Annual Session of the ISA include the need for transparency, to establish an Environment Committee, the development of regional environmental management plans, procedures for robust environmental impact assessments (EIAs), the establishment of a strong liability regime, and to ensure that regulations currently being drafted ensure the effective protection of the marine environment – a requirement under the UN Law of the Sea Convention.
The DSCC will continue to call on member countries to make the ISA far more transparent and open to public scrutiny and to public participation. This includes a call for the “contracts” that the ISA has already issued for exploration of the seabed and any that may be issued for commercial mining to be made publicly available, and that the main advisory body of the ISA – the Legal and Technical Commission, which currently operates behind closed doors – hold open meetings. These calls are necessary for the mandate of the ISA under the UN Law of the Sea Convention to operate “for the benefit of mankind as a whole”.
Thus far, the ISA has issued 29 contracts to companies or government agencies to explore for minerals in over 1.3 million square kilometres of the deep abyssal plains, on seamounts and along oceanic ridge systems in the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans. These ‘exploration’ contracts could be converted into ‘exploitation’ contracts once the commercial mining regulations are adopted.
The Belgian company Global Sea Mineral Resources NV (GSR) and the German Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources (BGR) will be the first ISA contractors to test commercial mining equipment in their ISA claim areas. Both have submitted EIAs to the ISA for the testing of the equipment in the Pacific Ocean’s Clarion-Clipperton Zone in 2019. As the ‘sponsoring states’ of the two contractors, both the German and Belgian governments have agreed to hold public consultations on the EIAs, a move welcomed by the DSCC. The DSCC is also calling for the EIAs to be open for public comment and scrutiny by the ISA.
The DSCC is a coalition of over 80 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) committed to protecting the deep sea. It was founded in 2004 to address the issue of deep sea trawling on the high seas in the absence of effective governance.
The ISA is an intergovernmental body established under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to organise, regulate and control all mineral-related activities in the international seabed area beyond the limits of national jurisdiction as well as “ensure effective protection” of the marine environment from harmful effects of mining. This seabed area, known in law as “the Area”, underlies approximately one-half of the Ocean. The ISA is charged with managing the Area for the “benefit of mankind as a whole” under UNCLOS. Currently 167 countries and the European Union are members of the ISA.
A draft strategic plan designed to guide the direction and aims of the ISA for the next five years will be debated at the 24th Annual Session of the Assembly of the ISA (23-27 July). According to the ISA Secretariat, the strategic plan “constitutes a key instrument for the transparent and accountable governance and leadership of the Organisation.” The ISA is also in the process of developing “exploitation” regulations that would allow commercial mining.
The DSCC’s work in this area is made possible through support from the J.M.Kaplan Fund, The Overbrook Foundation, Synchronicity Earth, and Arcadia – a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin.
Brittney Francis in the UK on +44 7508 979958 firstname.lastname@example.org