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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Govts reject rushed timeline for ocean mining regulations

Member states attending the International Seabed Authority (ISA) meeting in Kingston, Jamaica, this week have rejected a call by the body’s Secretary-General to adopt regulations for commercial deep-sea mining by 2023.

International Seabed Authority (ISA)
International Seabed Authority (ISA) meeting

At the meeting, the ISA leadership pushed to complete these controversial regulations by July 2023 in response to the triggering of the “two-year rule” in June by Nauru. This clause in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea requires the ISA to consider a country’s application for an exploitation license within two years of the country notifying the ISA of their intentions to begin mining. If exploitation regulations have not been finalised by that deadline, the ISA must still consider the application against the draft text of the regulations.

Germany, Belgium, Costa Rica, Chile, Russia, and Ghana – representing the African Group of nations that are members of the ISA – questioned the legal need to meet the two-year deadline set by Nauru. Some member states went as far as to recommend that the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea be asked to advise on the issue. China stated that the deadline was ‘unrealistic’ amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Other observers challenged the wisdom of finalizing regulations to meet an industry-imposed deadline and expressed concern about the environmental impacts if regulations were rushed through.

Dr. Douglas McCauley, a professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, said: “Member states and observers to the International Seabed Authority have spoken: rushing through regulations for ocean mining is neither desirable nor necessary. It’s encouraging that these governments have stood up against the two-year rule.”

Critics had sounded the alarm that the meeting could push through ocean mining regulations in as little as two years.

Scientists, governments that are party to the ISA, businesses and NGOs have harshly criticised the meeting to take place in Kingston, Jamaica – and have even called for its delay due to the coronavirus pandemic. The two-week hybrid gathering started December 6.

Critics of ocean mining, citing a growing body of evidence, have expressed concern that too little is known about the climate, biodiversity, fishing and other impacts of extracting minerals from the ocean floor to let the regulations move forward. A recent study, for example, showed that areas earmarked for ocean mining overlap with tuna and other lucrative fishing areas critical to local and global food security.

Though the ISA meeting has flown under the radar, its massive global significance is reflected in increasing opposition to the meeting in particular, and ocean mining in general.   

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