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On 29 June 2022, the International Seabed Authority (ISA) convened a high-level side event in partnership with France, Canada, the Cook Islands, Senegal, Singapore, Norway, Tonga, and India. The event, held on the margins of the 2022 UN Ocean Conference in Lisbon, Portugal, highlighted the role of strategic partnerships and multilateralism in ensuring the sustainable management of the deep seabed and its resources and how this contributes towards achieving the goals and targets of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
The event featured the participation of distinguished dignitaries, including the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Tourism of the Kingdom of Tonga, Hon. Fekitamoeloa ‘Utoikamanu; the Minister of Fisheries and Ocean Policy of Norway, Hon. Bjørnar Selnes Skjæan; the Secretary of the Ministry of Earth Sciences of India, Dr. M Ravichandran; the Ambassador for Oceans and Law of the Sea Issues of Singapore, H.E. Ms. Rena Lee; the Seabed Minerals Commissioner of the Cook Islands, Ms. Alex Herman; the Ambassador of Senegal to Portugal, H.E. Ms. Fatou Binetou Rassoul Correa; the Special Envoy of France for the Poles and the Ocean, H.E. Mr. Olivier Poivre d’Arvor; and the Legal Counsel of the United Nations, Mr. Miguel de Serpa Soares.
The discussions built on the findings of a report commissioned in 2021 by the Secretary-General of ISA, Mr. Michael W. Lodge, on the contributions of ISA to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and touched upon issues discussed in the Interactive Dialogues 6, 7 and 8 of the Conference.
“This independent report found that, through implementing its mandate under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the voluntary commitments registered at the UN Ocean Conference in 2017, ISA contributes in a meaningful way to 12 of the 17 SDGs, including, of course, SDG 14,” Secretary-General Lodge said as he opened the event.
The deep seabed and its mineral resources are designated as common heritage of humankind by UNCLOS and constitute the only example of a global commons that has been set aside to be managed internationally for the common good.
“It is no exaggeration to say that how well we – collectively – manage this space and its resources is one of the greatest tests for multilateralism we will face in the coming years. Fortunately, we have a platform for doing so. That platform is the International Seabed Authority, which was created with the mandate to provide a neutral space for collective deliberation and related trade-offs over the common heritage leading to joint decision-making based on consensus building,” he added.
H.E. Ms. Rena Lee of Singapore reaffirmed the important role of ISA in the context of the effective implementation of UNCLOS. “Strengthening the rule of law and advancing deep-sea research and science are important aspects of the work of the Authority. Collective decision-making, a hallmark of multilateralism, that is based on solid science, will be crucial in the development of a robust regulatory framework,” she said in her opening remarks.
The Hon. Fekitamoeloa ‘Utoikamanu, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Tourism of the Kingdom of Tonga underscored the fundamental role played by UNCLOS in ensuring the peaceful use and the sustainable management of the ocean and of the Area. “The unique role and mandate of the Authority allow it to contribute to all Goals of the 2030 Agenda, including the rule of law, promoting gender equality, access to capacity building, and transfer of marine technology and partnerships. Strengthening the rule of law, particularly as it relates to the Area, is only possible with the existence of the Authority, and the involvement of all stakeholders. We must ensure a robust and future-proof mining code is in place for the sustainable management of the Area even beyond 2030,” she said.
Invited panelists highlighted the role of multilateralism and international cooperation - through ISA and the implementation of the mandate assigned to it - in successfully realizing the visionary common goal of ensuring the sound management and sustainable use of the Area and its resources for the benefit of humankind.
Hon. Bjørnar Selnes Skjæan, Minister of Fisheries and Ocean Policy of Norway underscored: “UNCLOS sets out the legal framework for all ocean activities, including the management of the resources in the Area. Norway remains a dedicated supporter of the International Seabed Authority’s work to ensure sustainable management of the marine minerals as well as the protection of the marine environment in the Area for the collective benefit of humankind.”
H.E. Ms. Fatou Binetou Rassoul Correa of Senegal emphasized “(...) the crucial role of ISA and its Council in elaborating norms and guidelines for a reasonable and sustainable exploitation of the resources within the Area beyond national jurisdiction of States, to the benefit of all countries and with a view to respect the marine environment,” and commended ISA “(...) for its continuous efforts, especially for taking developing countries’ concerns into account.”
Addressing the importance of deep-sea research in this endeavour, Mr. Francois Houillier, President of Ifremer (France), highlighted that “scientific knowledge of the deep sea is critical: all the more because ‘we can't manage what we can’t measure’ and ‘we can’t protect what we don’t know’. But little is known, and the deep sea remains very difficult to access. This is the reason why France has included an axis devoted to deep-sea exploration and research in ‘France 2030’, the recently launched massive investment plan for the ecological transition.”
“Deep-sea research and exploration undertaken in the Area act as a catalyst for major discoveries contributing to advancing scientific knowledge for the benefit of humankind,” he added.
On that topic, Dr. M Ravichandran, Secretary, Ministry of Earth Sciences of India, noted: “As a ‘pioneer investor’, India stands committed to UNCLOS and to harnessing ocean resources in an environmentally sustainable manner, ensuring that biodiversity remains intact. Ocean research and innovation are imperative to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, whereas ocean technology is necessary for sustainable utilization of ocean resources.”
Finally, panelists discussed the importance of strategic partnerships to support common goals and enable the stewardship of the deep seabed and its resources on behalf of all humankind.
Mr. Richard Vaughan, Policy Advisor at Fisheries and Oceans of Canada, who was talking on behalf of Mr. Lawrence Hanson, Associate Deputy Minister for Fisheries and Oceans of Canada, reaffirmed that his country remained committed to the work of ISA as part of its responsibilities under UNCLOS. “We will continue to push for the precautionary approach so that any activity related to seabed mining is informed by science and is ecologically sustainable,” Mr. Vaughan said.
Mr. Sturla Henriksen, Special Advisor for the Ocean at the UN Global Compact stressed that “we need an informed discussion about the ‘dilemmas’ not only the ‘solutions’, to be addressed in the green transition. ISA is working at the intersection of the nature-climate-people nexus, dealing with the frontiers, challenges and dilemmas of a complex and unique international regime. ISA cannot be expected to do this alone, it needs and deserves to be backed by responsible business and multi-stakeholder participation.”
Ms. Alex Herman of the Cook Islands also underscored the need for all stakeholders to understand and appreciate as well as respect divergent views. “It is difficult work. But the example of the Pacific uniting as one ocean people, moving forward as a collective, has proven time and again that we can resolve the most complex issues, through open and frank discussions, and always with respect and sound appreciation of our differences – achieving positive outcomes which benefit us all,” she said.
As he concluded the event, Secretary-General Lodge said: “UNCLOS, and the institutions established by it, face significant challenges. They need the continued support and commitment of Member States as they implement the mandates that have been conferred on them. I hope today’s event will demonstrate how that sense of commitment is being manifested in relation to the work of the Authority.”
The recording of the event is available on UN Web TV.
Statements delivered at the event as well as photos are available here.
For media enquiries, please contact:
Ms. Stefanie Neno, Communications Specialist, ISA, firstname.lastname@example.org