DSCC Intervention – 3/11/23

Date: 3 November 2023

Delivered intervention OEWG

The debate that began in 2022 on compensation to humankind as a whole, and not simply to contractors, sponsoring states, and the ISA, was an important step forward toward recognizing the obligation of the ISA to act on behalf of, and for the benefit of, humankind as a whole. If the ISA allows for degradation of ecosystems, species depletion, biodiversity loss, or the extinction of species, including rare species or species which have not even yet been discovered – how can the ISA ensure humankind as a whole is compensated for the damage?

These are not hypothetical scenarios. For example, scientists from the Natural History Museum in London found that of the 5,578 species in museum collections worldwide from the Clarion Clipperton Zone, over 90% are unnamed, in effect undescribed and unidentified. Scientists don’t yet know what they are – for example their life history characteristics, how they reproduce, how long they live or their reproductive strategies, what significance they could hold for advancements in marine science and genetic resources, and much less how they interact with other species in the CCZ in forming community and ecosystem structures and functions. Other scientists estimate that up to half of the larger animals discovered to date in the CCZ may be rare or endemic species. The ISA led Sustainable Seabed Knowledge Initiative “aims to describe over one thousand new species from the regions of the Area that are currently being explored for mineral resources and may be targeted for future exploitation” by 2030.  With such a limited knowledge of the benthic environment and even less knowledge of species and ecosystems in the water column, the risk of species depletion, ecosystem degradation and species extinction is very real. And in direct opposition to States’ commitments and obligations to protect and restore ecosystems and to halt and reverse biodiversity loss. 

So what is “adequate” compensation for humankind as a whole? How to value future generations’ right to live in a healthy environment, as highlighted by the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights? Or will the ISA ignore this, and simply externalize these environmental costs to the ocean as well as to humankind as a whole, for both present and future generations?  All so that a few, mainly contractors, make a profit? This would profoundly compromise not just the ocean but the obligation to act on behalf of humankind as a whole, a foundational principle of UNCLOS.

We argue that instead, the ISA should ensure that harm to the marine environment, biodiversity loss, ecosystem degradation and species loss in deep-sea ecosystems be prevented in the first place.  To do this, far more environmental baseline information and knowledge is required before an assessment of risks can be meaningfully conducted and informed decisions can be made on whether harm or damage to the flora and fauna of the marine environment can be prevented, as required under article 145 of the Convention. In July we commented on the Report on the value of ecosystem services and natural capital of the Area which concluded that it is currently not feasible to estimate robust, or even indicative, global values for the Area. We were disappointed that after all of the discussion on this in 2022, the study, completed in May, was neither presented nor discussed at the July meeting. We agree with the comments of Brazil, Germany, Costa Rica, Spain, Chile and our colleagues from Pew that the environmental externalities are an essential element of the discussion and that the authors of the Report present its recommendations on the value of ecosystem services and natural capital of the Area at the next meeting of the OEWG. A thorough recognition by the ISA of the interests of humankind as a whole on the collective stewardship of our global commons is paramount if the ISA is to fulfil its obligations. Unless and until such matters can be satisfactorily resolved, we join our colleagues from Pew in emphasising the need for a moratorium or precautionary pause.

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