The 20th Session of the International Seabed Authority (ISA) took place between the 14 and 25 July in Kingston, Jamaica.
Seven new applications for exploration were approved at this session, raising the total number of contracts for exploration for polymetallic nodules, polymetallic sulphides and cobalt-rich ferromanganese crusts to 26. For now, the locations of the exploration areas are: 1) the Clarion-Clipperton Fracture Zone in the Pacific Ocean, 2) the Indian Ocean, 3) the mid-Atlantic Ridge and 4) the Western Pacific Ocean.
The ISA is an autonomous international organisation, established under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the 1994 Agreement relating to the Implementation of Part XI of UNCLOS. Under UNCLOS, the international seabed Area and its mineral resources were designated as the “Common Heritage of Mankind.”
The ISA is the UN organization through which States Parties to the Convention are to organize and control activities in the Area, particularly with a view to administering the resources of the Area for the benefit of mankind.During the last two weeks, IUCN’s delegation participated in the Council and Assembly meetings of the ISA as well as a rare open meeting of the Legal and Technical Commission (LTC), the body responsible for advising on whether to approve new contractors, reviewing the performance of existing contractors and developing draft regulations. Traditionally the Legal and Technical Commission has met in closed session but there is increasing pressure from States Parties and conservation organizations such as IUCN to increase the transparency of these deliberations, when not considering proprietary information.
Several of the first 15-year exploration contracts will be ending in 2016-2017, and, whereas it is viewed that most of these contracts will be extended and the exploration phase will continue, the ISA faces the hugely important task of developing the regulations for exploitation of mineral resources in the Area. To this end, the LTC has launched a stakeholder survey earlier this year as the first stage of a consultative process. It is aimed at a broad stakeholder base and seeks initial inputs into the development of regulations for the exploitation of the seabed mineral resources.
[N.B. Please note that it is still possible to make a contribution to this process and send a response to the survey questionnaire. More information can be found here: http://www.isa.org.jm/en/sessions/2014/survey
The development of a scientifically-sound environmental database, the need for improved reporting and standardization of data from contractors, the questions of liability of the sponsoring States in case of damages caused to the environment, the potential for monopolization of the activities in the Area by a limited number of contractors and the absolute need for transparency in the work of the ISA are some of the key points that were raised by the observers at this session and will be under the scrutiny of IUCN and other organisations experts.