The 24th Session of the International Seabed Authority (ISA) began Monday morning, March 5th with the opening of the Council. The Council will continue to meet 5-9 March, followed by the Legal & Technical Commission (LTC) from 12-23 March. Both meetings will review current ISA contracts and discuss the Draft Exploitation Regulations produced by the Secretariat.

For complete coverage of the proceedings, follow IISD Reporting Services’ Earth Negotiations Bulletin reports.

As delegates prepare to engage in new deliberations, let’s take a quick look at where they left off in 2017.   Highlights and carry-overs from the 23rd Annual Session of the International Seabed Authority – convened 31 July to 18 August 2017 – include:

  • New Timetable. During the 23rd Session the ISA Council approved an ambitious three-year “road map” (see ISBA/23/C/13, annex) that sets deadlines for the Legal and Technical Commission (LTC), the Council, and the Assembly to examine the draft regulations, amend them, and vote final approval at the Annual Session in mid-Summer 2020.
  • Extra Council Meetings. In order to meet the new timetable, the ISA Assembly approved an extra meeting of the Council, right before  the customary semi-annual meeting of the Legal and Technical Commission. A trust fund to defray expenses of Council Members from less-developed nations was also approved.

This month’s convening of the Council will be the first of these extra meetings.

  • Data Management / Data Transparency. The ISA Secretariat introduced a new Data Management System designed to create a uniform, simplified reporting process for ISA contractors. The new system promises to save time for the Legal and Technical Commission and help that body direct adequate attention to the new draft regulations. The Assembly approved a resolution of the Council that the public should have easy access to all contractor-generated data until and unless the contractor meets a burden of proof that some of those data could be withheld for proprietary reasons.  No decisions were taken on the demands of various Observer groups that most LTC meetings should be open to the public and that the LTC should impanel a special Environment Committee to inform its decision-making.
  • Common Heritage. Sparked by several interventions from Chinese delegates, various members of the Council and the Assembly opined on the meaning and application of the “Common Heritage of Mankind” as described in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The definition of Common Heritage — and how its application could inform ISA contractor obligations – will probably become a lively topic of discussion as exploration gives way to exploitation.
  • New Draft Regulations.  The ongoing development of Draft Regulations is a high profile topic that will occupy key discussions in Kingston this month.  During the 2017 session the Secretariat produced a 104-page first draft of regulations to govern ISA exploitation contracts. Instead of issuing separate documents on environment and finance, the new model amalgamated all into a single document. The new unitary draft was “more streamlined and concise” than its various predecessors, Secretary-General Lodge wrote in an accompanying statement. The environmental portions of the new draft broke little new ground, Mr. Lodge said, but the section governing financial terms is “very much a work in progress.”

At that time, Mr. Lodge invited Stakeholder comments on the new draft by December 2017.  These Stakeholder Comments were subsequently released for public review in January 2018.  They have since been analyzed by the Secretariat and fed into a report for consideration by the Council and the Legal and Technical Commission at this month’s meetings in Kingston.

Additional information on the upcoming meeting, along with official documents can be found on the ISA website: https://www.isa.org.jm/sessions/24th-session-2018