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Amidst growing concerns over deep-sea mining, the International Seabed Authority begins the second half of its 28th session to discuss regulations

On Monday, 10 July 2023, the International Seabed Authority (ISA) opened its 28th session’s Part II in Jamaica. The UN-affiliated regulatory body will discuss deep-sea mining permits following a two-year ban on deep-sea mining.

According to a press release from the ISA, the council will meet until 21 July 2023 for ten days. It is expected that the council will continue to advance the negotiations on the draft regulations relating to the exploitation of mineral resources in the Area, which was prepared by the Legal and Technical Commission of ISA and submitted to the Council in March 2019, according to the roadmap agreed upon at the meetings in November 2022.

Planning for deep-sea operations already underway

Even though the ISA regulations have not yet been finalised, many multinational companies and governments have already applied for deep-sea mining permits. This is because the rule states that the ISA must “consider and provisionally approve” applications two years after they are submitted. The Pacific state of Nauru activated the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea sub-clause, giving the ISA a two-year deadline to finalise these regulations.

During the ongoing session, the council will discuss several important issues, including the report on intersessional dialogue and working group discussions that have taken place since the end of Part I of the 28th session in March 2023, the report from the Legal and Technical Commission and Finance Committee, and the operationalisation of the Enterprise and Economic Planning Commission.

In his opening remarks, the Secretary-General of ISA, HE Mr. Michael W. Lodge, said, “The agenda for the meeting is fully packed, and it guarantees to be a working session for the Council with substantive discussions and advances on the negotiations of the draft regulations, carrying out the mandate of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the 1994 Agreement with a view to establishing a robust legal framework for the activities in the Area, while ensuring the effective protection of the marine environment.”

Concerns over deep-sea mining are on the rise

Many investors and environmentalists have been awaiting the ISA’s regulations due to concerns over deep-sea mining; for example, some UK banks have barred deep-sea miners from accessing UK capital markets.

Many governments have called for a “precautionary pause” or moratorium on deep-sea mining until more in-depth research has been conducted. France, on the other hand, has condemned the practice outright.

While environmental campaigners and marine biologists have cautioned against the gold rush that could have profound implications for marine life and habitats, supporters of deep sea mining argue that mineral deposits found on the sea floor will facilitate the development of future technologies.

The President of the Council for the 28th session, Ambassador González Mijares (Mexico), during his speech, said, “I am looking forward to our continued efforts of creating a robust, comprehensive, sustainable, and workable code of exploitation. This will be the best guarantor for the protection of the deep-sea marine environment and to fulfill benefit sharing to all countries.”

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