Yesterday, the International Seabed Authority (ISA) successfully concluded an Expert Scoping Meeting on Advancing Technology to Support the Sustainable Mining of Mineral Resources in the Area organized in collaboration with the UK National Oceanography Centre (NOC). The meeting took place virtually between 2 and 4 November 2021 and involved 120 participants from 41 countries, including representatives from research institutions, contractors, relevant industries and United Nations and other international organizations. Former ISA trainees with relevant expertise were also in attendance.
The purpose of this meeting was to take stock of current and future technologies and key actors in exploration and exploitation of deep-seabed mineral resources and in relation to monitoring of potential environmental impacts of future mining activities. Discussions focused on emerging smart technologies (automation, artificial intelligence, etc.) and efforts towards achieving net-zero carbon emissions throughout the future deep-sea mining value chain. Overall, the meeting highlighted necessary technological development and innovations to support the sustainability path in transitioning from exploration to exploitation. The needs for capacity building and technology transfer were also addressed.
In her opening remarks, Ms. Jihyun Lee, Director of the Office of Environmental Management and Mineral Resources at ISA, reminded participants that, as part of its mandate under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea to administer the mineral resources in the Area, ISA should “take the necessary measures to acquire technology and scientific knowledge relating to activities in the Area, as well as to promote and encourage the transfer of such knowledge to all its Members, especially developing States.”
Leigh Storey, Associate Director of National Marine Facilities at NOC stated: “Everyone is seeking the best way to minimize the impacts that deep-sea mining may have (on the ocean), a commitment to developing sustainable technologies, which should be supported by adequate investment, should be at the forefront of our collective action.”
Participants highlighted that different types of minerals (polymetallic nodules, polymetallic sulphides and cobalt-rich ferromanganese crusts) require different approaches for technology development and innovations. “What became apparent during this meeting is that the different technology needs of the three types of minerals are at different stages of maturity,” commented Alan Evans, Head of Marine Policy at NOC. “Whereas many technologies for monitoring are currently available and emerging, specific approaches for how to use them for monitoring mining activities and their potential impacts on the environment during and after exploitation need to be designed carefully and in a holistic manner,” he added.
Noting that various initiatives relating to technology innovations are being developed within the context of ISA Action Plan in support of the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development endorsed by the ISA Assembly in December 2020, participants emphasized the need for multidisciplinary collaboration. The ISA Secretariat will facilitate such collaboration to continue the dialogue among different groups of stakeholders and experts, including contractors, relevant industries, research institutions and others, about necessary technological advancement to meet environmental sustainability objectives of future exploitation activities. It is anticipated that, building on the ISA Strategic Plan and High-Level Action Plan for 2019-2023 as well as the ISA Action Plan in support of the UN Decade, the ISA approach on capacity development and the outcomes of this Expert Scoping Meeting, consideration will be given to develop a dedicated roadmap to guide the work of the organization and foster collaboration.
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