Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Feuding over High Seas Law

 The ink is barely dry on the new treaty to protect the high seas and already there are complaints that the treaty is being broached.

Michael Lodge, a British lawyer and the head of the UN-affiliated body responsible for governing mining in the high seas, has been criticised by diplomats who claim he has been pushing them to accelerate the start of deep-sea mining.

A German diplomat said Lodge – the secretary-general of the International Seabed Authority (ISA) – has a duty of neutrality and has overstepped his role in resisting measures put forward by some council members that could slow down approval of the first mining proposals. Franziska Brantner, Germany’s minister for economic affairs and climate action, said: “It is not the task of the secretariat to interfere in the decision making. In the past, you have actively taken a stand against positions and decision-making proposals from individual delegations.” Brantner added that the German government “is seriously concerned about this approach”.

The criticism of Lodge comes at a crucial juncture as the body is expected to receive an application for commercial seabed mining later this year. The authority, which is meeting in Jamaica this week, is still writing regulations that would govern the process.

 Gina Guillén Grillo, Costa Rica’s representative to the seabed authority, said: “Member states should drive the International Seabed Authority. Decisions must come from them & must not be pushed by those who have only administrative duties. Mining the seabed cannot be rushed [because] of the economic interests of a few.”

The row is a measure of growing tensions over who controls the agency, amid pressure from some UN nations to slow down ocean mining, while others want it to go ahead. Germany and Costa Rica are among the increasing number of countries – including France, Spain, Chile, New Zealand and several Pacific nations – that have recently said they do not believe there is enough available data to evaluate the impact of mining on marine life. They have called for a “precautionary pause” or a ban on mining in the high seas.

Duncan Currie, an international legal adviser to the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition and an official observer at the 8 March meeting, told the Guardian: “This is not just a row between diplomats. It is very significant. The executive organ is the council. It is not for the administrative body to be telling the council what decisions they should be making.”

 The Metals Company, a Canadian mining startup, has said it intends to request approval this year to start mining as soon as 2024.

The small Pacific island country of Nauru is one of three states sponsoring The Metals Company, along with the Kingdom of Tonga and the Republic of Kiribati. In 2021, Nauru triggered a two-year rule that obliges the ISA to finalise and adopt regulations for commercial mining by July 2023. According to the Republic of Nauru, if the ISA has not finalised regulations within the time frame, and a mining application has been submitted, then the authority should “nonetheless consider and provisionally approve” it, allowing for extraction to go ahead. However, some authority members believe the agency is under no obligation to approve an application from The Metals Company and Nauru until the regulations are complete.

A spokesperson for the ISA told the Guardian: “The role of the secretariat is not to pass judgment on the position of member states, but to facilitate negotiations and ensure that discussions are informed by the best available science and in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the 1994 agreement. The secretariat carries out this mission carefully, deliberately and to the best of its abilities.”

The spokesperson added: “The regulations will only be approved should ISA’s members reach a consensus on its content. In the meantime, only exploration activities will be permitted.”

Row erupts over deep-sea mining as world races to finalise vital regulations | Environment | The Guardian

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