- Belgium awaits with impatience new conversation on the internalization of the environmental cost to the marine environment.
- The environmental costs should be included as much as possible in the exploitation project. Belgium will therefore contribute towards studying any proposal aiming at taking into account the environmental costs in the ISA rules.
- On Article 45 – we propose adding ‘restoration and rehabilitation’. These two terms should be considered possible as part of the mitigation hierarchy, even though there is no knowledge on the restoration and rehabilitation of deep-sea environments yet. This should be part of the plan to develop this knowledge throughout the lifespan of the project.
- All environmental damage that surpasses the limits set should be compensated by the contractor first, in line with polluter pay principle, even if it is a consented activity, as the activities carries risks which is taken on by the contractor.
- This should free up money for when damages occurs in cases when no one is liable.
- 30% of ocean must be protected before we can consider exploitation.
- We need sufficient and adequate scientific information that allows for the establishment of a sound environmental baseline in order to achieve evidence based decisions regarding the environmental impacts of the activities
- We wish to add our voice to Spain and others that this mechanism [compliance committee] should be in place before exploitation activities begin
- Belgium noted the short time countries had to review the Strategic plan and requested more time to review before adoption. “There was simply not enough time at the national level to assess the budgetary and political repercussions.”
- “This document is a key document for the work of the authority because it shows the priorities of the authority and the way in which it intends to integrate the principles of good governance and precaution.”
- Belgium committed to continue to actively contribute to the negotiations of the rules, regulations and procedures in regards to deep-sea mining.
- Belgium also stated there should not be exploitation of the deep seabed without agreeing on a set of rules and regulations that ensure high environmental standards and sound scientific knowledge.
- They stated that “we all want to obtain the same reality whereby no mining is done in the absence of rules and regulations that can ensure no harm to biodiversity and called for deep-sea mining to be delayed until certain conditions can be met.”
- Belgium supports the inclusion of agenda item establishing a general policy by the Assembly related to the consultation of the marine environment under the two year rule, proposed by Chile, Costa Rica, France, Palau, and Vanuatu. States the Assembly should be allowed to discuss important matters such as this.
- Belgium asked for better coordination between several ocean policy processes, including SDGs and CBD process.
- Belgium is in favour of having better coordination between the ISA and other ocean policy for the High Seas such as CBD, rather than making decisions in silos. There should be more coordination between these policy making processes as ultimately they could affect one another.
- Belgium stressed a number of matters that they consider to be of importance and would like clarification on including:
- That if a contractor has not, or not sufficiently, followed up on a request by the LTC to remediate problems identified by the Council with regards to their contractual obligations.
- Urging the LTC to hold public sessions, if appropriate, in order to improve the transparency of the LTC.
- The delegation pointed out that the “2 year period ended last week and by next week we need to find a resolution to allow us to proceed to have comprehensive rules, regulations and procedures.”
- The delegation stated that “In the absence of a complete set of rules, regulations and procedures, Belgium believes that the Council should be in a position to take the final decision with regard to a plan of work without being beholden to recommendations of the LTC to provisionally approve a plan of work for exploitation.”
- Regarding the oral report by the Chair on the work of the Legal and Technical Commission at the second part of its twenty-eighth session, and the notification that the intention was not to have a detailed debate during the afternoon session of 13 July. The Council has designated one of its members to be present in the Council on the 20 July for questions, but it will not be possible for the Chair of the LTC to be in attendance.
- Belgium raised that the intention of a debate in the Council is to get answers from the LTC, and wanted to ensure this would be the case as it has not been during some previous sessions.
- In the future, the Chair should be there. It is one of the most important functions of the Chair. Belgium understands the logistical constraints on this occasion but the Chair being present is something that should be taken into account during future sessions.
- Regarding the ISA commissioned Value of Ecosystem Services and Natural Capital in the Area report: Given the very limited existing data on the value of deep sea ecosystem services, Belgium concluded that it is currently not feasible to conduct value transfer to estimate robust or even indicative global values for the Area. Therefore, Belgium supports the call for further research and knowledge to estimating values for the Area.
- Belgium stated: “On the 20th of January, Greenpeace, Deep Sea Mining Campaign, and Mining Watch Canada have jointly sent a letter to the Secretary General informing of video footage allegedly showing the discharge of wastewater containing debris and sediment from the seabed and to the sea at surface level, occurring during the test mining by The Metals Company and Nauru Ocean Resources Inc.
- On the 8th of February 2023 the Secretary General replied to this letter, stating that the Secretariat is aware of the incident on the 12th of October 2022, described by the contractor as a “temporary overflow of water, which contained sediment particles and fragments of nodules.”
- It also stated that the reports provided by the contractor on the 4th of November 2020 assessed the incident as minor.
- Belgium stated that a preliminary assessment by the Secretariat, based on the information provided indicated no serious harm to the marine environment from the incident. Furthermore, the Secretary General announced out of an abundance of caution, the Secretariat has initiated a further investigation and analysis of the available data from the incident. With respect to the reports of the inspection on the contractors operations, this will be made publicly available on the authorities website soon.
- Belgium was interested to hear from the Secretary General if the further investigation and analysis is still ongoing and if there are any additional findings and also when the report of the inspection will be made publicly available on the authority’s website.”
- Belgium regretted that the legal 2-year loophole was not closed before the ninth of July, as this doesn’t guarantee the upholding of the precautionary principle and adequate protection of the environment in all possible scenarios.
- The delegation stated that they are giving up on closing this loophole before the end of the deadline but the very hard compromise to make for Belgium and the sleepwalking into a legal uncertain situation beyond the ninth of July has become a reality. Without adopted RRPs by the council it seems only logical that the Council will provide the necessary guidelines and directives to one of its organs, the LTC.
- Belgium stated that the role of the LTC in this process will be crucial but the ultimate decision-making body is in such matters the Council – we finally have to agree on the RRP to be put in place. So without RPS approved by the Council guidelines and directives by the council seem to be a minimum.
- The delegation stated that Belgium has given in a lot in the last few days to come to a consensus and is encouraged by the sense of compromise and convergence, which was clearly noticeable in the last few days across the board. It bodes well for the further discussions and I believe it is really possible to end with a more robust decision in July that will indeed close a legal loophole, but an effort from all of us to reach that stage will be absolutely necessary.
- Belgium stated that “The council has made clear in the preamble that and I quote “the commercial exploitation of mineral resources in the area should not be carried out in absence of such RPS”. And of course, this is therefore the objective that we all want to achieve. The discussion can therefore be concentrated on the question how to reach such an objective. Let us not sleep walk any further.”
- The 2 year rule does not exempt sponsoring states from applying principles of UNCLOS and international law.
- Stated that the inspectorate is like a police service, and its aim is to detect possible infringements and play a preventative role. It should be independent, transparent and accountable, and be responsive, and proactive
- Stated that 30% of the ocean must be protected qualitatively before Belgium can approve any plan of work for exploitation.
- We know by now quite well where potential contractors want to develop exploitation activities, but we know very little about the areas we want to protect. In order to restore that balance, we first need to implement the BBNJ Agreement towards the 30×30 threshold, and only then will we be able to live up to the precautionary principle and to consider plans of work.
- Stated that environmental costs are very important and might force us to shift our position on the financial model.
- Stated that there have been many statements made over the last year. Whether we call it a Conditional Moratorium, a Precautionary Pause, a Precautionary Break, a Precautionary Delay, we all want to encompass the same reality: there can be no exploitation of the deep seabed without agreeing on a set of rules and regulations that ensure high environmental standards and a sound scientific knowledge, and that avoid any significant harm to ocean biodiversity and marine ecosystems. We should not divide on labels but agree on conditions.
- For Belgium, it is crystal clear: 30% of the ocean must be protected qualitatively before we can approve any plan of work for exploitation.
- We should hereby at all cost avoid a situation in which the Council would sleepwalk into a decision after July 9th which a majority of the member states did not want to take. This again would be contrary to the precautionary principle.
- The delegation also called to hear from observers.
- Proposed to establish an informal inter-sessional dialogue to facilitate further discussions on the possible scenarios and other pertinent legal considerations with a view to explore commonalities on possible approaches and legal interpretations of the 2 year rule.
- Regarding the NORI EIS, Belgium questioned whether information was missing from the approved EIS and Environmental Management and Monitoring Plan (EMMP), and raised questions regarding the approval process by the Legal and Technical Commission.
- Belgium called for greater transparency and more open information sharing with the Council and the wider public.
- Supports The Netherlands’ proposal for contractors that have ignored calls by the Council to be named.
- Belgium said that if the situation is that there are no regulations in July, we will have sleepwalked into the deadline without regulation – there is an optimistic idea that regulations will be adopted.
- Noted no consensus on the proposal to allow contractors observer status.
- Stated that the delegation are all for inclusivity, “but for efficiency, it is good for member states AND observers who work with joint statements or to work together in any other way so that was the gist of my comment”
- On the two year rule: “During part 1 and part 2 of the Council this year. Some progress has been made on the exploitation regulations but the task ahead is enormous. We should continue the work in a structured and efficient manner. The adoption of royalty mechanism threshold and standards, regional environmental plans and financing are only 2 of them.”
- “The regulations should be based on the precautionary approach which does not allow for artificial deadlines. The likely outcome is that at the end of the 2 year period this will not be done. Legal uncertainty is something we do not need. The stakes for mankind are too high. We look forward to the November discussion on the what if scenario. As seen in the roadmap we agreed upon in December 2021.”
- On the next assembly meeting – “It will be a bit strange that we will be holding 2 weeks of council meetings after the deadline has passed. Lots of interventions where a lot of possible legal questions have been raised. Council should meet prior to the deadline. Another two weeks might be necessary to advance even more.
- Belgium Introduced “proposed amendments to the Rules of Procedure – this rule stipulates who can participate as an observer in the Assembly and the Council of the Assembly”
- The delegation proposed that “contractors be given the same rights as observers as NGOs and civil society.”
- Belgium also stated “We encourage the NGOs also to associate themselves to increase the efficiency of the meetings.”
- Called for operationalization of EPC before approval of 1st plan of work for exploitation.
- Stated that they “hope we can finalize some regulations today.”
- Commented that the longer we wait to go into work on text paragraph by paragraph, the later we will ever come to the finalization of the negotiations.
- Called for simplification of text.
- Called more transparency for names of contractors in default, calling for the Authority to act more vigorously in giving teeth to its rules.
- The delegation added that when there is a serious breach the Council is notified – who decides what is a serious breach? Is that somewhere in the rules for the LTC?
- Stated a preference for “REMPs for particular areas to be in place before a plan of work for an area can be considered” and that the delegation “Don’t want a tight deadline for developing the REMP, the two-year deadline we are currently experiencing leads to shoddy work.”
- Together with Chile, Canada, Costa Rica, Italy, Spain, New Zealand and Dominican Republic called for full transparency in negotiations and the reinstatement of UN Web TV so that remote delegates, observers and media could follow meeting proceedings