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Seabed Mining, International Seabed Authority, Standards and Guidelines, Mining Code, United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea


The oceans are home to a rich diversity of plant and animal life and a source of food and marine resources that drive economies. Climate change and pollution are changing ocean dynamics and the ability to support life. Seabed mining in areas beyond national jurisdiction will add to the ocean's stressors and could cause severe environmental damage. The International Seabed Authority (“ISA”) is mandated to manage access to and benefits from the seabed, its subsoil and mineral resources in areas beyond national jurisdiction (the “Area”). Although the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea sets out the legal framework for developing the Area and its resources, it does so in broad terms and leaves substantial gaps. These gaps include the scope of activities in the Area, the interrelationship of international obligations, the division of responsibilities between the ISA and sponsoring states, and the regulation of the mining system in situ. To partially fill these gaps, the ISA has drafted a set of “Phase 1” Standards and Guidelines under the Draft Regulations on Exploitation of Mineral Resources in the Area. This paper investigates and critiques five environmental Draft Standards from a precautionary and comparative law perspective. Phase 1 standards and guidelines should adopt a more rigorous interpretation of the precautionary principle. Additional recommendations include creating enhanced governance processes and incorporating an ecosystem-based framework for regional environmental assessments and management plans not present in Draft Standards. This research will assist academics, practitioners, governments, and the ISA with policies and strategies to enhance environmental and social protections from seabed mining.


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