For two weeks in July the International Seabed Authority (ISA) held its annual session in in Kingston, Jamaica. The Council and Legal and Technical Commission met first, before 168 member countries gathered for a week-long Assembly meeting. They discussed draft exploitation regulations, methods to calculate financial payment systems and benefit-sharing, and the 2019-2023 strategic plan, among others. The request by Seas At Risk and 50 other NGOs to discuss whether or not there is an objective need for deep sea mining was omitted entirely.

Seas At Risk, together with 50 NGOs, made a joint submission on the ISA strategic plan debated during the session, calling on the ISA to establish a process to debate fundamental questions about the real need for deep seabed mining and its long-term consequences for the planet and humankind, and the assessment of more sustainable alternatives as part of an open and transparent debate. The Assembly largely ignored this call from civil society. The Deep Sea Conservation Coalition repeatedly called for environmental protection, transparency and public participation to be included in the regulations.

One of the strongest statements in defence of the oceans came from the representative for the Holy See. In his statement, H.E. Archbishop Bernardito Auza said ‘In order to address best the substantial risks of deep sea mineral exploitation, the protection of human life and the marine environment must be assured before economic and commercial considerations.’

The gap between that vision and current reality was all the more evident during the presentation of an MIT method for establishing ‘financial payment systems’, which would form the basis for future benefit-sharing across all member countries. Incredibly, the proposed method failed to include or account in any way for environmental costs due to impacts of deep sea mining.

A positive note came from ISA’s steps to open up its discussions, with the Assembly and Council meetings livestreamed around the world for the first time. The key session of the Legal and Technical Commission, however, remained behind closed doors.

Throughout September, the ISA will engage in stakeholder consultation on its draft exploitation regulations, which affords civil society an important opportunity to voice its concerns.

A full report of the ISA annual session 2018 can be found here.