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Renewable Natural Resources Foundation

RNRF Round Table: The Governance Challenge of Deep Seabed Mineral Mining

Conn Nugent, senior fellow at The Ocean Foundation, spoke at a virtual meeting of the RNRF Washington Round Table on Public Policy on July 22, 2020. His talk was titled, “Recent developments in rulemaking and rule enforcement that govern mining of the ocean floor beyond national jurisdictions.”

Nugent began his presentation with a brief history of the international governance structures for deep seabed mineral mining. The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, first conceived in the 1970s and revised in the 1990s, provided the first legal framework for the eventual exploitation of seabed minerals in international waters. The treaty contemplates and encourages the mineral exploitation of the international seabed, or the area of the ocean floor outside of any country’s exclusive economic zone, an area that constitutes about half of the area of the world’s ocean floor. The organization created under UNCLOS to regulate the exploration and exploitation of mineral resources in international waters is called the International Seabed Authority (ISA). All 160 states which have ratified UNCLOS are members of the ISA. This does not include the United States, which has not yet ratified the treaty.

Under UNCLOS, the international ocean floor and the minerals found there are considered the “common heritage of mankind.” This means that any activity to exploit the assets in this area must simultaneously protect the marine environment. It also dictates that the operation of mining and the production of metals from the international seabed shall not harm the financial interests of developing countries. These requirements create a need for balance in the execution of the treaty. If minerals are to be mined from the deep seabed to embody the common heritage of mankind, it should be done in an equitable way that does minimal harm to the marine environment. The proceedings of the ISA can be described as attempts to achieve this balance while planning for the commencement of mining activity.

ISA functions are contracted to the ISA secretariat, the Legal and Technical Commission (LTC), and the ISA Council, which collectively try to ensure that all relevant national and international interests are represented in decision making. There are 30 exploration contracts currently in force at the ISA, 18 of which are for exploration in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone, a vast area of the middle Pacific which houses a large supply of polymetallic nodules. The other 12 contracts give license to explore either hydrothermal vent zones or cobalt-rich crusts on sea mounts. These exploration contracts allow contractors to prospect and gather data about mineral resources on the deep seabed, but do not allow for the commencement of mining activity. The deep seabed mining activity that is most likely to commence first is the removal of polymetallic nodules from the Clarion-Clipperton Zone. It is not clear to what extent the environmental regulations developed for nodule removal will apply to other types of mining activity.

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Renewable Resources Journal Selected by Library of Congress for Inclusion in “Digital Collections"

The United States Library of Congress has selected Renewable Resources Journal for inclusion in the Library's collection of digital materials. "We believe this publication is an important and valuable addition to our collections and to the historical record. The Library of Congress preserves cultural artifacts and provides enduring access to them in order to serve the needs of Congress and to support education and the creation of new scholarship. The Library's traditional functions of acquiring, cataloging, preserving, and serving collection materials of historical importance extend to digital materials." For more information about the Library of Congress's digital collections, please visit its website https://www.loc.gov/collections

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Renewable Resources Report

New Marine Plastic Pollution Report

Marine Plastic

Pew and SYSTEMIQ, with the help of their thought partners University of Oxford, University of Leeds, The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, and Common Seas, recently released a report titled “Breaking the Plastic Wave” that focuses on ways to prevent plastic pollution in the world’s oceans. The report provides a global analysis of marine plastic pollution and proposes a way to cut plastic pollution by approximately 80 percent by 2040 through implementing existing solutions and technologies. Breaking the plastic wave will take ambitious, immediate, and concerted efforts worldwide.

Approximately 11 million metric tons of plastic waste ends up in the ocean every year and without drastic changes this pollution is predicted to triple by 2040. There is no single solution or “silver bullet” to curbing plastic pollution but the report creates a path for achievable change. Namely, we must reduce plastic use, find plastic substitutions, improve recycling practices, expand waste collection, and make sure disposal facilities stop plastic leakage.

Achieving the goal of reducing plastic waste in the ocean by approximately 80 percent by 2040 will require significant shifts in economic and investment sectors as well as considerable policy changes from governments.

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Paris Agreement Updates

glasgow

Glasgow, Scotland, the site of COP26

The 2020 United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as COP26, was originally scheduled to be hosted by the United Kingdom in Glasgow, Scotland from the 9th to 20th of November, 2020. This was supposed to be the first “global stocktake” on the progress of the Paris Agreement’s implementation, an important step in the timeline of global climate action and the first meeting where nations were expected to submit enhanced Nationally Determined Contributions. On April 1, 2020, it was announced that the conference would be postponed until 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was later revealed that it will be delayed a full year, and will now take place from the 1st to 12th of November, 2021.

The 2020 meeting would have been an opportunity to revisit failed negotiations from the previous year, as well as for countries to increase their commitments under the agreement. Its delay is a setback for climate diplomacy. However, UN leadership is framing the crisis as an opportunity. UN Climate Change Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa said that nations will have the chance to “recover better, to include the most vulnerable in those plans, and a chance to shape the 21st century economy in ways that are clean, green, healthy, just, safe, and more resilient.”

Before the postponement of COP26, the UK presidency was experiencing problems finding a public official to act as president of the conference. Former UK Minister for Energy and Clean Growth Claire Perry O’Neil was the original appointee for the position, but was abruptly removed on January 31, 2020, stating that the position would become a “ministerial role.” After other officials including former Prime Minister David Cameron and former Foreign Secretary William Hague turned down the role, it was announced that it would be filled by conservative minister Alok Sharma. While some criticized Sharma’s record on environmental issues, the stability of having a president in place for the meeting was welcome.

Read more on RNRF's blog, the Renewable Resources Report, by clicking here.

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