While the Council was not able to finalize the regulations under the two-year rule, through its decision, it “reiterated that commercial exploitation of mineral resources in the Area should not be carried out in the absence of RRPs relating to exploitation”.
The Council further noted that it “intends” to continue the elaboration of RRPs, with a view to their adoption at the ISA’s 30th session in 2025.
The second part of the annual session of the International Seabed Authority (ISA), which included meetings of the ISA Council and ISA Assembly, shone a spotlight on the controversy surrounding the commercial exploitation of mineral resources from the deep sea. Amid growing calls for a ban on mining or at least a precautionary pause, given its little-known effects on deep-sea ecosystems, proponents of commercial exploitation point to a sustainable supply of minerals necessary to support a worldwide energy transition.
The Earth Negotiations Bulletin (ENB) summary report of the meeting notes that this debate “has intensified over the last few years.” “In an effort to expedite the development of the regulations and begin commercial exploitation,” in June 2021, Nauru notified the ISA of “its intention to apply for approval of a plan of work for exploitation.” This triggered the so-called “two-year rule,” according to which, having received such a request, the Council “shall complete the adoption of the relevant rules, regulations, and procedures (RRPs) within two years from the submission.” The two-year deadline expired on 9 July 2023. Thus, ENB explains, the discussion on “possible pathways and implications” became “one of the most anticipated deliberations of the summer 2023 sessions of the ISA Council and Assembly.
The Council adopted decisions on:
- the establishment of the position of an interim director general of the Enterprise;
- the understanding and application of section 1, paragraph 15, of the annex to the 1994 Implementing Agreement on the two-year rule; and
- the timeline following the expiration of the two-year period.
While the Council was not able to finalize the regulations under the two-year rule, through its decision, it “reiterated that commercial exploitation of mineral resources in the Area should not be carried out in the absence of RRPs relating to exploitation,” the ENB analysis of the meeting indicates. The Council further noted that it “intends” to continue the elaboration of RRPs, with a view to their adoption at the ISA’s 30th session in 2025.
Meanwhile, consensus on the Assembly meeting’s agenda proved elusive, ENB reports. Informal consultations on the addition of two suggested supplementary agenda items continued throughout the week-long session. These items address: the establishment of a general policy by the Assembly related to the conservation of the marine environment; and terms of reference for the periodic review of the international regime of the Area pursuant to UNCLOS Article 154 (periodic review).
The proponents of a general policy on the protection of the marine environment will resubmit their proposal for consideration at the Assembly’s 29th session. After lengthy negotiations, the Assembly decided to add the periodic review as an agenda item for its 29th session in 2024, “with a view to adopt a decision, and requested the Finance Committee to consider budgetary implications pertaining to the undertaking of the periodic review.” The Assembly also decided to extend its current Strategic Plan 2019-2023 by two years.
The second part of the ISA’s 28th session convened from 28 June to 28 July 2023 in Kingston, Jamaica. The Council met from 10-21 July. The annual session of the Assembly took place from 24-28 July. The meetings were preceded by a meeting of the Legal and Technical Commission (LTC) from 28 June to 7 July and a meeting of the Finance Committee from 5-7 July. [ENB Coverage of Second Part of ISA’s 28th Annual Session]