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The International Seabed Authority (ISA) Assembly meeting concludes today, ending three weeks of intense deep-sea mining negotiations in which no mining code was agreed or adopted in a fresh blow to prospective deep-sea mining companies. Since the beginning of the negotiations, momentum to defend the deep has continued to grow with another five countries announcing their support for a moratorium or pause on deep-sea mining. The Deep Sea Conservation Coalition (DSCC) has been present throughout the negotiations in Kingston. 

On 21 July, the ISA Council Meeting ended with no deep-sea mining regulations adopted. The mining industry was banking on the ISA opening the gates to commercial-scale deep-sea mining this July, but Member States of the Council did not green light the destructive industry.

However, the legal loophole that would allow a company to apply for a contract to mine, even in the absence of regulations, remains open. The failure to close this loophole leaves one of our planet’s most critical and pristine environments vulnerable to permanent environmental destruction.

The ISA Assembly, the supreme body of the ISA that represents all 168 ISA Member States,  has the power to establish a pause or moratorium on deep-sea mining. A discussion on the protection of the marine environment, including a pause or moratorium on deep-sea mining was on the agenda for the first time in the ISA’s history, but the debate was blocked by China, in a move that brought to the forefront the governance deficiencies of the body that is meant to safeguard the deep sea for the common heritage of humankind. The movement for a pause or moratorium on deep-sea mining is real and growing, and therefore needs to be formally recognised in all ISA processes. It is crucial that this matter is addressed at the ISA Assembly under its own agenda item, where all member States can have a voice.

“For years the ISA has been operating in its own bubble but the resounding call to protect the deep has disrupted the business as usual approach of the ISA Secretariat, mining industry, and the handful of pro-mining States. The need to protect the ocean from the impacts of mining took center stage inside and outside of the ISA during these weeks, despite efforts to silence the debate.

The race to defend the deep is on. We applaud the ocean champions spearheading the efforts to safeguard our fragile deep sea and urge all States to join the commitment to defending the deep.

The DSCC’S Global Deep-Sea Mining Campaign Lead, Sofia Tsenikli.

Since the meetings began, the wave of resistance to the deep-sea mining industry across a broad spectrum of society reached an unprecedented high. Over the past month, the UN High Commission on Human Rightsthe global seafood sector, 37 global financial institutionsscores of parliamentariansleading scientistsIndigenous groups and youth groups, have all called for a halt to deep-sea mining. Twenty-one  forward-thinking governments, including countries such as Brazil, Costa Rica, Chile, Palau, Vanuatu, France, Germany, Switzerland, among others, have now taken positions against deep-sea mining in international waters, calling for a precautionary pause, moratorium or ban and championed discussions at the ISA over the past three weeks.

At the Council meeting, a small handful of governments and delegations, namely Norway, Mexico, UK, and Nauru, did not succeed in pushing for the mining code to be adopted as soon as possible.

With no mining code agreed and resistance mounting, prospective deep-sea miners have had their plans foiled. As the atmosphere gets increasingly tense at the ISA, the industry’s future is starting to look shaky. Investors, industry stakeholders, battery manufacturers, and tech companies are clearly becoming increasingly concerned about the viability of future deep-sea mining projects and are joining growing calls for a pause or moratorium.”

The DSCC’s Policy Officer, Emma Wilson.

Issues concerning the poor governance and lack of transparency of the ISA continued to beset both the Council and Assembly meetings. Significant restrictions were placed on the media and NGO and scientist observers attending the meetings and key negotiations took place behind closed doors. Furthermore, concerns continued to grow regarding the influence of prospective mining companies on the Secretariat’s decision-making process and the Authority’s ability to act independently and in the best interests of the global community. The last three weeks saw proposals and requests for agenda items being sidelined and a stalemate that lasted all week about whether the Assembly will be permitted to discuss conservation of the marine environment.

There urgently needs to be an institutional overhaul at the ISA that empowers states and stakeholders concerned about protecting the deep sea, opens deep-sea mining negotiations to scrutiny and shifts the focus of the ISA to open and independent deep-sea scientific investigation and research. The stalemate over whether to debate the conservation of the marine environment is a travesty. It is clear that some States simply do not want the world, represented by the 168 States in the Assembly, to debate in public the implications of deep-sea mining for the marine environment.” 

The DSCC’s Legal Advisor Duncan Currie.

“The clear divide amongst the member countries of the ISA and between the institutional structures of the organization that have emerged over these past few weeks have made it abundantly clear that the ISA is at a crossroads. To mine or not to mine the global ocean commons, that is the question the international community of nations now faces. In the 1970s, the negotiators of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea thought that deep-sea mining could be done without harm to the marine environment. Today however, an increasing number of nations now recognize that that is not the case and that there is a need for a moratorium and a rethink of the assumptions of the past.”

Matthew Gianni, Political and Policy Adviser to the DSCC.

ENDS

Reported as of 12:00 PM Eastern on Friday, July 28 2023.

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MEMBER QUOTES:

“The narrative that deep seabed mining is needed to combat climate change is misleading, and simply greenwashing. The science is very clear. We must not repeat the mistakes of the past. A functioning ocean is the best buffer, best mitigation and adaptation tool we have for addressing the impacts of climate change. We need to focus our efforts towards a circular economy – addressing both the dual biodiversity and climate crises together, or we risk solving neither.”

WWF’s No Deep Seabed Mining Lead and DSCC Member, Jessica Batte.

We have concerns with the positioning by the Secretary General of the ISA of deep seabed mining as potentially sustainable, or as part of a blue economy in support of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The removal of a finite resource that has taken millions of years to form is not sustainable – by definition. The United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initiative has concluded that financing DSM is not compatible with a sustainable blue economy, and the High-Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy has found that DSM “raises …possible conflicts with the UN Sustainable Development Goals.”

The Ocean Foundation’s Legal Officer and DSM Focal Point, Bobbi-Jo Dobush.

Over the course of the Council and Assembly meetings, we have voiced concerns over a lack of transparency and stakeholder engagement at the International Seabed Authority. The ISA is responsible for governing the seabed, for the benefit of all humankind, and ensuring the effective protection of the marine environment. This is relevant to all people, and yet the ISA closes its doors to journalists, limits civil society engagement, and is facing increasing scrutiny of its close relationship with contractors. For a potential industry targeting huge swaths of the ocean, transparency and openness is critical. All voices need to be heard at the ISA and their perspectives considered – the fate of the Common Heritage of Humankind is at stake.”

Oceans North’s International Policy Advisor, Nicole Zanesco.

We must not repeat the mistakes we have made in the past, where priceless, irreplaceable wildlife, in many cases with great potential importance for humans, has been indiscriminately wiped out for the profit of a few. More states need to add their voice to ensure the protection of the deep sea, for the benefit of all humankind.”

Environmental Justice Foundation’s Stop Deep Sea Mining Campaign Lead, Martin Webeler.

This week’s stalling of any meaningful discussion on the protection of the deep-sea emphasizes once again that the ISA is not fit for purpose. It must be reformed to meet the challenges of the 21st century. We are living in a time of a triple crisis: The climate crisis, unprecedented biodiversity loss and global pollution. We cannot afford to add to these crises by destroying the deep-sea. Now more than ever nations must agree to a moratorium on deep-sea mining. 

Founder and Director of Women4Oceans, Farah Obaidullah.

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