Developing International Seabed Authority Environmental Regulations

First report of the code project

Plans for deep-sea mining on ocean floors within international jurisdiction are likely to be approved in the next four years. Actual mining operations are likely to begin within the next six or seven years. The United Nations body charged with writing the rules that will govern seabed mining – which will then set the template for rules governing seabed mining within coastal zones as well – is the International Seabed Authority (ISA).

In January 2017, the ISA published a “Discussion Paper” on the environmental protection regulations for mining contractors. The Pew Charitable Trusts helped to support the creation of an ad hoc international team of scientists and legal scholars to review the ISA’s Discussion Paper, annotate its suggested regulations, and analyze the options available to the ISA for environmental protections that could be built into mining contracts.

This ad hoc international team of experts calls itself the Code Project. Its first report was released July 19, 2017, in time for the ISA Annual Session in Kingston, Jamaica, Aug. 7-18.

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Development of Seabed Mining Regulations

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The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) established the International Seabed Authority (ISA) and invested it with the sole power to govern seabed mining in areas beyond national jurisdiction. Mining on the international ocean floor cannot take place until the ISA approves exploitation regulations, and drafts of those regulations are now under consideration. Final approval is expected in 2020 or 2021. For perhaps the first time in history, a governing body and its member governments have the chance to establish rules for an extractive industry before it begins.