Regulation News

ISA Council Closes Part I of Its 28th Session

ISA Council Closes Part I of Its 28th Session
image credit: ISA

The Council of the International Seabed Authority (ISA) closed Part I of its meetings for the 28th Session on Friday, 31 March 2023. The Council met in person for twelve days. A total of 30 of the 36 Members of the Council were in attendance, along with 22 ISA Members (non-Council Members) and 15 observers.

The main item on the agenda was the draft regulations on the exploitation of mineral resources in the Area prepared by the Legal and Technical Commission (LTC) and submitted to the Council in March 2019 (ISBA/25/C/WP.1). The Council also discussed other important matters, including the operationalization of the Enterprise and the Economic Planning Commission as well as the report of the Chair of the LTC on the work of the Commission at its March meetings. As per the roadmap agreed by Council Members in 2022, the Council will hold the second part of its meetings for the 28th session from 10 to 21 July 2023 (ISBA/27/C/Add.2).

Closing the meeting, H.E. Mr. Juan Jose Gonzalez Mijares, President of the Council for the 28th session commented: “The progress made by the Council in drafting the regulations on future seabed activities and its global responsibility are the best guarantees for self-sustaining use of resources for the benefit of humanity with the highest standards for the protection of the marine environment”.

Reflecting on the two and a half -week meetings of the Council, H.E. Mrs. Alison Stone-Roofe, Permanent Representative of Jamaica to ISA expressed satisfaction at the progress made. “Countries remain committed to the discussions and to these negotiations that are so central to any rule making on the sustainable use of the oceans. Some useful progress has been made and we look forward to further movement on the draft regulations in particular. We strive to remain consultative and to always balance the views of all interested parties”, she said.

Mr. Andreas Motzfeldt Kravik, Head of the Norwegian delegation also expressed satisfaction. “We are very satisfied at this first meeting. States and stakeholders have engaged in productive and constructive discussions and advanced the regulatory framework on many fronts”, he noted. “We are especially happy that we completed another reading of the regulations that pertain to the protection of the environment as well as compliance issues, bot core priorities of Norway. We are looking forward to coming back in July to continue the progress”, he added.

Mr. Bartosz Jasinski, Head of the Polish delegation underscored the efforts of delegations in engaging in constructive discussions despite difficulties and difference of views. “The 2.5 weeks meeting of the Council under Part I of the 28th session brought the expected acceleration of work on the exploitation regulations although at the same time, it revealed some differences of opinion in the approach to activities in the Area”, he said. “It is noteworthy that the delegations managed to find a common language on the issue of the ‘2-year rule’. We appreciate that the agreement fully complies with the provisions of UNCLOS and we are pleased that the Council was able to discuss all regulations, as planned”, he added. “We also appreciate all efforts to prepare the best possible, transparent and robust regulations for the protection and preservation of the marine environment. We see the need for special protection of sensitive marine ecosystems, as well as to ensure the equitable sharing of benefits derived from activities in the Area in accordance with UNCLOS. We thank the facilitators who made this possible, as well as the work done by the Secretariat. We are happy to note continuation of constructive cooperation and discussions in order to both satisfy environmental concerns and achieve meaningful progress towards the realization of ISA’s full mandate”, he concluded.

Progress on the draft exploitation regulations

The Council progressed the negotiations on the draft exploitation regulations for mineral resources in the Area in the four working groups it created on i) a financial model and payment mechanism for deep-sea mining, ii) the protection and preservation of the marine environment, iii) inspection, compliance and enforcement and iv) institutional matters. Council members agreed to consolidate progress thorough intersessional work before resuming discussions in July 2023.

Discussions pertaining to implementation of section 1, paragraph 15 of the annex to the 1994 Agreement

Building on the outcomes of the intersessional dialogue led by Ambassador Hugo Verbist (Belgium) and Mr. Tan Soo Tet (Singapore), the Council adopted a decision through which it decided to continue the discussion to further build consensus concerning the possible scenarios foreseen in the context of the implementation of section 1, paragraph 15 of the annex to the 1994 Agreement relating to the implementation of Part XI of the Convention and on any other pertinent legal considerations. Emerging consensus was noted on the following issues: (a) there is no obligation for the Council to automatically approve a pending application for a plan of work. The Council can decide to disapprove a plan of work after having considered it; (b) there is a role for both the Council and the LTC as its subsidiary body in the consideration of a pending application for a plan of work. Article 145 and other provisions of UNCLOS form part of the legal sources and criteria, based on which the Council shall consider and provisionally approve a plan of work; (c) provisional approval of a plan of work is not the same as, and does not amount to, final approval. Further, a provisionally approved plan of work does not equate to a contract for exploitation.

It was also noted that several differences of views remain on several issues the Council agreed to continue the informal intersessional dialogue which will be co-facilitated again by Belgium and Singapore with the aim of presenting a new briefing note to the Council at its next meeting, in July 2023, for further consideration. Emphasis will be placed on discussing the remaining areas of divergence, particularly as it relates to (d) a potential legal basis and circumstances under which the Council could postpone the consideration and/or the provisional approval of a pending application for a plan of work, (e) the role of the LTC in reviewing a plan of work and submitting recommendations to the Council, (f) the role of the Council in providing guidelines or directives as well as criteria to the LTC for its review of a plan of work, and (g) the considerations and procedures that apply after a plan of work for exploitation has been provisionally approved, leading up to the conclusion of a contract for exploitation.

Operationalization of the Enterprise

The Council also adopted a decision relating to the operationalization of the Enterprise through the establishment of the position of an interim director general. To that end, the Secretary-General of ISA has been requested to provide job classifications in conformity with the job classification standards of the United Nations International Civil Service Commission and to explore options to cover the position and related costs from the existing budget of ISA for the period 2023-2024 approved by the Assembly during the 27th session. The decision also provides that a supplementary budget could be presented for the consideration of the Finance Committee for recommendation to the Council in July 2023. In the meantime, members of the Council agreed to extend the contract of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the Enterprise until the end of July 2023.

Other decisions

Upon recommendation of the LTC, the Council decided to defer the schedule of the second and final relinquishment of at least 75 per cent of the contract area allocated to the Government of the Republic of Korea under its contract for exploration for polymetallic sulphides signed with ISA on 24 June 2014. The Council also agreed that the reasons presented by the Government of the Republic of Korea and related to the COVID-19 pandemic qualify as “unforeseen exceptional circumstances arising in connection with the operational activities of the contractor”. The relinquishment is deferred from 24 June 2024 to 31 December 2026.

Intersessional work

Members of the Council agreed to continue to advance their discussions on key issues under consideration through different intersessional working groups.

Gr. no.Draft regulation/ associated relevant working groupFocusCoordinator(s)
1   Standardized approach for Stakeholder consultation United Kingdom
2   Coastal State obligations Mexico
3   Underwater Cultural Heritage Micronesia
4 DR 44 Streamlining and structuring Spain
5 DR 45, 1(a) Streamlining and structuring Germany
6 DR 46-46.bis (alt) and Annex IV Scoping and steps in the environmental impact assessment process and structuring of Annex IV Norway/Germany
7 DR 48bis Test Mining Belgium/Germany
8 DR 59-61 Closure plan Fiji
9 Informal working group on Inspection Compliance and Enforcement Formulation of an appropriate inspection mechanism Norway
10 Informal working group on financial terms Meeting proposing a mechanism to develop equalization measures South Africa and Australia (supported by MIT)
11 Informal working group on financial terms Webinar on tax or levies on transfer of rights under a contract Canada and IGF
12   Development of a timeline/roadmap of the full regulatory framework Jamaica/United Kingdom


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