Background: SADC Seminar on the work of the International Seabed Authority
DIRCO HEAD OFFICE, TSHWANE, SOUTH AFRICA, 17 – 19 MARCH 2015
The Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO), in partnership with the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR), the South African Council for Geoscience and the International Seabed Authority, is hosting an important seminar on the work of the Authority.
The subject is: “Exploration and Exploitation of the Deep Seabed Mineral Resources in the Area: Challenges for Africa, and Opportunities for Collaborative Research in the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, Atlantic Indian Ridge and the South-West Indian Ridge”. The seminar will take place at DIRCO’s Head Office in Tshwane.
Since 2007, the Authority, in partnership with Government entities, has convened seminars in various regions of the world, including Indonesia, Brazil, Nigeria, Spain, Mexico, Jamaica (where the Authority is based) and in New York (at the United Nations).
The seminar is designed to provide information on the current and future work of the Authority, opportunities for deep seabed mining for developing countries, the protection and preservation of the marine environment related to deep seabed mining, and related scientific research and regulatory policy issues, as well as the interactive roles of the multilateral institutions that function under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), among others.
The Authority, in consultation with the South African co-hosts, has invited international and local experts to present at the seminar. Experts and participants from the relevant sectors, such as the mining industry, the marine environment and government are being invited to attend the seminar. Participants from all the other Southern African Development Community member states are also being invited.
The Authority’s main responsibility is to administer and further elaborate an international regime and regulations to organise and control mineral exploration and exploitation of the international seabed and ocean floor and its subsoil beyond the limits of national jurisdiction (the “Area” – which has been declared by the UN as a “common heritage of mankind”). Recognising the economic and technological imbalance between developed and developing countries, UNCLOS places emphasis on the equitable sharing of benefits derived from the minerals of the Area. To give effect to the concept of the Common Heritage of Mankind, the Convention especially aims at ensuring equitable participation by developing countries through an element of the regime for the Area (the “parallel system”), whereby an application for mineral exploration in the Area must be sufficiently large and of sufficient value to accommodate two mining operations of “equal estimated commercial value”. One part is to be allocated to the applicant and the other is to become the “reserved area”. The reserved areas are set aside for future activities by developing states or by the Authority through its Enterprise on behalf of developing states.
The Authority’s work also includes promoting marine scientific research, including collaboration between contractors and the international scientific and marine environmental conservation communities and overseeing environmental management in exploration zones, including development of unique databases to obtain a better understanding of the deep ocean environment. Its work excludes fossil fuels, phosphorates and renewable energy (seafloor hot springs).
The world demand for minerals continues to increase and some terrestrial resources are becoming depleted. In addition, deep seabed resources often contain a higher concentration of valuable minerals than their terrestrial alternatives. Many of the metals contained in seabed deposits are considered “technology metals” and are increasingly required by high-technology industries, including electronics and clean technologies, such as hybrid cars and wind turbines. As opposed to the generally well-studied deposits on the land, many of the resources at the bottom of the sea are yet to be discovered.
The Area consists of around 260 million square kilometres, compared to approximately 85 million square kilometres comprising exclusive economic zones (marine area within 200 nautical miles of the coast). With under 0,5 % of international ocean areas fully protected at present, despite the Aichi Target 11 of 2010 (Convention on Biodiversity) for 10% of marine biodiversity to be protected by 2020, the Authority fulfils a crucial role in international oceans governance and marine conservation through its work to establish international rules, regulations and procedures to prevent, reduce and control pollution of the marine environment from activities in the Area, and to adopt measures to protect and conserve the natural resources of the Area and prevent damage to the flora and fauna of the marine environment.
The seminar will also present the opportunity to more effectively pursue opportunities to benefit from the Authority’s responsibilities under UNCLOS to promote marine scientific research in the Area and build the capacity of developing states in deep sea research and technology, i.e. through the training programmes provided by contractors as part of the contracts for exploration in the Area, and through the Endowment Fund for Marine Scientific Research in the Area. Since 2011, the Authority has been a host institution under the UN-Nippon Foundation of Japan Fellowship Programme for Human Resources Development and Advancement of the Legal Order of the World’s Oceans, administered by the Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea of the Office of Legal Affairs of the UN Secretariat. The Endowment Fund is administered by the Authority’s Secretariat and aims to promote and encourage the conduct of marine scientific research in the Area for the benefit of humankind as a whole, in particular by supporting the participation of qualified scientists and technical personnel from developing countries in marine scientific research programmes, including through training, technical assistance and scientific cooperation programmes.
South Africa has a relatively large marine area under national jurisdiction and a large potential extended continental shelf around both its mainland and island territories. Any activities within the Area will therefore have a significant impact on South Africa. It is thus imperative that South Africa, especially as a member of the Authority’s Council, maintains a pro-active and informed involvement in the Authority’s management mineral exploration and exploitation of the oceans and deep sea-bed. As a developing country with a strong mining industry, South Africa also stands to gain economically from mineral exploration and exploitation activities in the Area – both in terms of direct involvement and providing relevant support services. The workshop could also be strategic in complementing the objectives and outcomes of Operation Phakisa – essentially to utilize South Africa’s oceans to assist economic transformation and contribute to achieving the “blue economy” objectives in Vision 2013 – the National Development Plan.
(See: http://www.isa.org.jm/en for the work of the Authority in general, http://www.isa.org.jm/scientific-activities for reports of previous seminars, and http://www.isa.org.jm/news/isa-and-south-africa-co-host-sensitization-seminar for the proposed SADC seminar)