The 23rd Annual Session of the International Seabed Authority – and the first Annual Session under new Secretary General Michael Lodge – convened 31 July 2017 at the ISA headquarters in Kingston, Jamaica. By the time of the final gavel on 18 August, the ISA had made a series of decisions with major implications both short-term and long.
- New Draft Regulations. 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 amalgamates all into a single document. The new unitary draft is “more streamlined and concise” than its various predecessors, Mr. Lodge wrote in an an accompanying statement. The environmental portions of the new draft break little new ground, the Secretary General said, but the section governing financial terms is “very much a work in progress.”
Mr. Lodge invited Stakeholder comments on the new draft, but asked submitters to confine their first round to remarks that “will help the Secretariat and the (Legal and Technical) Commission to determine whether the structure and content of the recommendations are moving in the right direction.” The deadline for submissions is 20 December 2017.
- New Timetable. 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.
- 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.