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IASS says a new approach to financial distribution of benefits from deep seabed mining is required

The International Seabed Authority is currently developing regulations to govern the exploration and exploitation of the mineral resources of the international seabed (known as “the Area”). This governance framework will include a financial mechanism for the distribution of any benefits that might arise from seafloor mineral exploitation, as required by the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

The current proposal for this mechanism focuses substantially on the financial burden facing contractors and fails to consider the potential environmental and socio-economic harms adequately, according to the Institute For Advanced Sustainability Studies E.V. (IASS).

IASS has issued a policy brief arguing that a fundamentally different and comprehensive approach is required.

Drawing on concepts of sustainability, climate change, biodiversity, and circular economics, this approach emphasizes the importance of safeguarding the natural capital of the deep ocean. The social, cultural, and environmental impacts of seabed mining in the Area need to be fully reflected in economic assessments of proposed mining activities. This would enable any potential benefits to be adequately identified and—should the activities proceed—equitably shared. The payment mechanism is a means to ensure that all humankind, including future generations, enjoys the benefits of its shared stewardship of the Area. The mechanism must accordingly reflect the wider aspirations of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS).

—IASS Policy Brief

The new IASS Policy Brief, “A Comprehensive Approach to the Payment Mechanism for Deep Seabed Mining”, published in cooperation with the German Federal Environment Agency (UBA), presents three recommendations to ensure that future deep seabed mining would be to the common benefit all humankind, as required by international law.

  1. Reflect the risks to the deep-sea environment. The deep ocean is a complex environment that provides numerous ecosystem services. A holistic accounting system based on true cost and natural wealth is needed to capture impacts on ecosystem resilience and identify any potential financial benefits. The financial mechanism should reflect all costs and risks associated with mining in the Area.

  2. Be inclusive of stakeholder interests. The payment regime must be designed with foresight and be sufficiently responsive to the concerns and priorities of diverse stakeholders, including indigenous and civil society actors as well as future generations.

  3. Deliver optimal returns to Humankind. The payment regime needs to be designed with the interests of Humankind, and in particular of developing countries rather than contractors at its center. Ensuring optimal returns requires a financial model that delivers best possible cost structures and timing.

The authors propose that the financial mechanism can and should be developed further so that it reflects the risks to the deep-sea environment, is inclusive of all stakeholder interests, and can deliver optimal returns to humankind as a whole. This would enable stakeholders to assess the costs and benefits of potential seabed mining activities fully and impartially before engaging in this endeavour.

—IASS Policy Brief


  • Thiele T., Damian H.-P., Singh P. (2021) “A Comprehensive Approach to the Payment Mechanism for Deep Seabed Mining,” IASS Policy Brief, Potsdam, doi: 10.48440/iass.2021.004


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