HomePoliticsLeader of the International Seabed Mining Agency reprimanded by diplomats

Leader of the International Seabed Mining Agency reprimanded by diplomats

Michael Lodge, head of the United Nations-affiliated agency with jurisdiction over international ocean waters, has pressed diplomats to speed up the start of industrial-scale mining of the Pacific Ocean floor, council members said in interviews. government of the International Seabed Authority. .

The criticism of Mr Lodge, who has served as the authority’s secretary-general since 2016, comes as diplomats struggle to decide how to respond when the authority receives a request for commercial mining of the seabed in international waters, which it is expected to happen later. year.

It would be the first such request by the 28-year-old authority, and the first time in history that an entity has requested permission to mine the bottom of an ocean on an industrial scale. The authority is still drafting the regulations that would govern the process.

Diplomats from Germany, Costa Rica and elsewhere say they believe Lodge, who is supposed to be a neutral facilitator, has gone too far in resisting efforts by some council members that could delay approval of the first mining proposal. .

Mr Lodge called the complaints “a bold and unsubstantiated accusation, without facts or evidence”. in a letter sent to the German government on Friday.

The dispute is not simply a bureaucratic spat between diplomats; it is an expression of heightened tensions over who controls the agency and how quickly it should open up one of the world’s last remaining virgin places to the metals extraction industry.

the metal company, a publicly traded Canadian start-up company sponsored by the Pacific nation of Nauru, wants to plunge an excavator-shaped drone roughly 2.5 miles to the bottom of the ocean, where it would suck up rocks embedded with cobalt, nickel and copper. and manganese. Those metals are key ingredients in electric vehicle batteries.

The Metals Company expects to extract 1.3 million tons of wet rocks starting next year, before expanding to 12 million tons a year, collecting a total of about 240 million tons more than two decades and generating an estimate $30 billion in profit. He have an agreement with a Japanese company that, at least initially, will extract the metals from the rocks.

Mr Lodge, a British lawyer, has in the past scoffed at concerns about potential environmental damage, arguing that ocean mining is no more damaging than the same activity carried out over centuries on land.

“They see an opportunity to exert power over governments and potentially shut down new ocean activity before it starts,” Lodge said of environmental groups during a 2021 interview with The New York Times. “Turtles with straws in their noses and dolphins are very, very easy to win over to the public.”

Most recently, Lodge challenged some of the 36-member International Seabed Authority governing council, several diplomats said in interviews, after they questioned how quickly the agency would finalize mining regulations or suggested changes to the way the agency would manage mining. Applications

“This goes beyond what should be a decision of the secretariat,” said Gina Guillén Grillo, Costa Rica’s representative to the seabed authority, during a meeting on March 8. “The council is made up of the member states and we are in charge and the secretary general has administrative functions.”

The council represents 167 nations that have ratified the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seaas well as observer nations such as the United States that have not ratified the law but are still participating in the debate.

Mr. Lodge has held a variety of positions with the International Seabed Authority since 1996. He is currently serving his second four-year secretary-general termending in 2024. He was elected to office for members of authority.

Last week, the German government sent its concerns to Mr. Lodge in a letter.

“It is not the job of the secretariat to interfere in decision-making,” Franziska Brantner, Germany’s minister for Economic Affairs and Climate Action, said at the March 16 letter to Mr. Lodge, a copy of which was provided to The Times. “In the past, he has actively opposed the positions and decision-making proposals of individual delegations.” Ms Brantner added that the German government “is seriously concerned about this approach.”

Mr. Lodge responded to Ms. Brantner the next day, saying his job was to make sure the authority respected the “legal framework” of the law of the sea. He added that it was false to suggest that he had opposed the positions taken by delegations from individual nations. And he reminded the German delegation to respect him and his staff and “not seek to influence them in the performance of their responsibilities.”

In a statement to The Times, Mr Lodge’s office added that it attaches “great importance to the preservation and protection of the marine environment” and that it is working “to ensure that decision-making processes around economic activity in the deep of the sea are based on the best available scientific knowledge”.

But a growing number of nations, including Germany, Costa Rica, Chile, New Zealand, Spain, the Netherlands, France and several Pacific island nations, have said in recent months that they do not believe enough data has been collected to assess the impact. mining would have on aquatic life. As a result, they have called for a “cautionary pause” or a formal moratorium on any mining activity in international waters.

The debate has intensified in the last year because La Metalera has made it clear that it intends to apply for approval this year to start mining from 2024.

Nauru, the small Pacific nation that sponsors the Metals Company, invoked a legal provision in 2021 that it believes requires the International Seabed Authority to accept a commercial mining application by July. The authority, according to Nauru and the Metals Company, would then be required to review the application and allow mining to commence, even if the environmental regulations had not been finalized.

“The council will ‘however provisionally consider and approve’ a plan of work for exploitation,” Nauru wrote in a note to authority this month.

The Metals Company effectively controls three of 30 “exploratory” contracts has been approved by the seabed authority, any of which can be switched to “exploitation” mode, which means industrial mining. China controls five of those contracts, more than any other nation, with others sponsored by Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, India, Japan, Korea, Poland, Russia, Singapore and several other island nations. But Metals Company has been by far the most aggressive in starting mining.

Some members of the authority maintain that the agency is not required to approve an application from Metals Company and Nauru until the regulations are complete.

“There can be no exploitation of the deep seabed without agreeing on a set of rules and regulations that ensure high environmental standards and sound scientific knowledge”, Hugo Verbist, the Belgian representative on the council of the seabed authority, said thursday when the authority began debating how to proceed.

The Times reported last year that, according to documents dating back more than a decade, the International Seabed Authority shared internal data with a Metals Company executive that helped the company choose one of the most valuable locations in the Pacific to begin its mining efforts. A lawyer for Lodge said there was no rule breaking with the data sharing.

In it March 8 meeting Where diplomats met virtually to discuss how to handle a mining application if it is received this year, some delegates suggested revisions to the permitting process that would strengthen the council’s ability to block the start of mining. Mr. Lodge warned delegates not to change established procedures.

“It would be dangerous to upset this balance,” said Mr. Lodge, based on a copy of your prepared comments. “We should let the system work the way it’s supposed to.”

Mr. Lodge said that he did not intend to question any delegation’s proposals. But his comments were interpreted that way by several nations, including Germany, France and Costa Rica.

“It is crucial that the authority’s secretariat fully respect its duty of neutrality,” Olivier Poivre d’Arvor, French ambassador for the oceans, said in a statement to The Times when asked about Lodge’s comments.

metal company, in a three-page statement to the Timeshe said he agreed with Mr. Lodge. “The general secretary is working to ensure that the ISA and its member states comply with their legal obligations,” the company said.

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