The Council of the International Seabed Authority (ISA) advanced the negotiations on the draft exploitation regulations. It also adopted a decision on the understanding of the so-called “two-year rule,” which was triggered by Nauru in June 2021. According to the rule, if a state applies, or indicates it intends to apply, for approval of a plan of work for exploitation, the Council shall complete the adoption of the relevant rules and regulations within two years of the request.

According to the Earth Negotiations Bulletin (ENB) summary report of the meeting, the ISA is mandated to organize, regulate, and control all mineral-related activities around “the seabed and ocean floor and subsoil thereof, beyond the limits of national jurisdiction,” for “the benefit of mankind as a whole.” The process has been attracting increasing attention due to a growing interest in ocean governance and the ongoing debate over commercial exploitation of mineral resources from the deep sea.

The ENB notes that proponents of mining “point towards a sustainable supply of nickel, manganese, cobalt, or copper necessary for a worldwide energy transition,” while those against it highlight “the need to protect the ocean, which is already facing numerous challenges including pollution, biodiversity loss, and climate change, and to study these little-known deep-sea ecosystems, prior to authorizing potential extractive activities.”

In June 2021, Nauru submitted to the ISA its “intention to apply for approval of a plan of work for exploitation.” According to the two-year rule triggered by this submission, the deadline for completing the development of exploitation regulations will expire on 9 July 2023, “making the discussion on possible pathways and implications one of the most anticipated deliberations for this Council session.” The ENB analysis of the meeting indicates that many expressed “concern over potential provisional approval of a plan of work for exploitation without the necessary holistic regulatory framework in place.”

The Council agreed to undertake further intersessional work on the draft exploitation regulations, including the establishment of several informal groups and deadlines for the submission of comments: 15 May 2023 on the revised draft text; and 1 June 2023 on the outcomes from the intersessional working groups.

The Council adopted decisions on: the establishment of the position of an interim director general of the Enterprise – the Authority’s commercial arm; and the understanding and application of section 1, paragraph 15, of the annex to the Agreement relating to the Implementation of Part XI of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), on the two-year rule.

The first part of the 28th session of the ISA Council convened from 16-31 March 2023, in Kingston, Jamaica. It was preceded by a meeting of the Legal and Technical Commission (LTC) from 7-15 March. The second part of the ISA Council’s 28th session will meet from 10-21 July, back-to-back with the ISA Assembly, which will convene from 24-28 July. The third part of the ISA Council’s 28th session will meet from 30 October to 8 November. [ENB Coverage of First Part of ISA’s 28th Annual Session]