At the Helm: An Interview with New ISA Secretary-General Michael W. Lodge

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Michael Lodge
Photo by IISD/Mike Muzurakis, enb.iisd.org/oceans/sdg14conference/enb/9jun.html

Last July, the International Seabed Authority (ISA) met for its 22nd Session in Kingston, Jamaica and elected Michael W. Lodge of the United Kingdom as the new Secretary General of the Authority.  Secretary-General Lodge began work on his 4-year term on 1 January 2017 and succeeds Mr. Nii Allotey Odunton of Ghana, who had been Secretary-General since 2009.

No newcomer to the deep seabed mining community, Secretary-General Lodge has been active in the ISA since its inception in 1996, serving as Legal Counsel to the Authority through 2003 and then returning to that post in 2007. Beyond deep seabed mining policy, Mr. Lodge has 28 years of experience as a public international lawyer, a strong background in the field of Law of the Sea and ten years’ judicial experience in the UK and South Pacific.  During his years in the South Pacific, Mr. Lodge served as one of the lead negotiators for the South Pacific Island States on the 1995 UN Fish Stocks Agreement.  He is an expert on fisheries, environmental and international law and has consulted broadly on these topics throughout Europe, Asia, the South Pacific, and Africa.

He most recently served as deputy to the Secretary-General of the Authority since 2011.

DSM Observer sat down with Secretary-General Lodge to discuss his first six months on the job and his views on the on-going development of the Mining Code.

 

How would you describe your six months as the Secretary General of the ISA? What lessons have you learned?

Michael W Lodge
Courtesy Michael W. Lodge, ISA

Extremely busy, but also a lot of fun. I’ve learnt that you can’t change everything overnight (which I knew already, but I keep trying), but I’ve also learnt that the majority of people are open to new challenges and have hidden talents. A lot of energy has gone into reorganizing the secretariat to make it more efficient and to make best use of the talent that we have. There’s been quite a lot of turnover in the staff, but I consider myself fortunate now to have an excellent technical and administrative staff that are well-equipped for the challenges ahead.

 

You’ve been involved with the ISA since the beginning. What is your outlook on it now compared to its inception in 1996?  Has its role or significance changed much?

In 1996 it was touch and go whether ISA would be able to survive as an independent organization. Would countries pay their financial contributions? Would the system for deep seabed mining be accepted by States? Would the

organization be able to establish its credibility and independence? Would we be able to attract good staff and would we be able to establish all the necessary agreements with the UN and other bodies to function effectively. In fact, it was not until 2000 that the initial administrative work was done, rules of procedure for all the governing bodies were agreed and the first set of exploration regulations was agreed. Only then would the existing ‘pioneer investors’ (entities from Japan, France, Russia, China, Korea and Interoceanmetal Joint Organization) come on board and agree to enter into binding contracts with ISA in place of the previous interim arrangements that had applied prior to the entry into force of UNCLOS. Since then ISA has continued to evolve as it begins to implement all the aspects of its broad mandate for marine scientific research, capacity building and regulation of seabed mining. Having said that, there is still a long way to go. In particular, we need to do a better job of communicating ISA’s work to the wider world, including the general public in our host country of Jamaica, most of whom have little concept of what ISA does.

From your perspective, what does the future of deep sea mining look like? What are the opportunities?  The challenges?

DSM offers a fantastic opportunity for the world to meet increased long-term demand for minerals in a sustainable manner. Sustainable development is all about turning natural capital (deep sea minerals) into sustainable financial, human and physical capital that can lead to sustainable consumption and well-being for future generations. The [Common Heritage of Mankind] CHM principle in the [United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea] UNCLOS allows us to do this in a way that ensures access for all and equitable distribution of the benefits. The challenge for ISA of course is to implement the principles in a way that ensures intra-temporal and inter-temporal equity, and protects environmental resources from harmful effects. This means adopting regulations that ensure that environmental impacts are controlled and minimized. It also means that we need to establish mechanisms for long-term monitoring of environmental impacts as well as to establish ‘no mining’ zones at an appropriate scale. As mining comes closer to reality, there is more interest and the ocean conservation lobby has become very active. There is also a great deal of legitimate concern about environmental impact.  However, I do think we need to keep matters in proportion. Only a very, very small fraction of the seabed is ever likely to be exploited for minerals and then under conditions that minimize the environmental impact. In this regard, some of the lurid and attention-seeking headlines that I have seen recently – phrases such as an ‘invisible land grab’, ‘machines the size of buildings literally destroying the systems that keep us alive’, ‘clear-cutting the ocean floor’ and so on, are not helpful. In fact, they are blatant misstatements. Similarly, comparisons to disasters such as the Deepwater Horizon incident, which involved a volatile compound totally different in character to deep sea minerals, are wholly misleading and inappropriate. The discussion needs to become better informed and more mature. As a starting point, I think we need to make a realistic assessment of the likely scale of impacts from deep seabed mining during, say, the first 15 years of industrial operations. How many operations are realistically likely? What will be the actual spatial and temporal impact of mining at project level and at regional level? What disasters may happen at sea? Is the anticipated impact of the loss of a mining ship or a nodule collector any different to the loss of a container ship? And then we also need to start looking at the other major piece of the puzzle, which is how the benefits from DSM can be shared for the benefit of the developing countries.

 

What lessons might deep sea mining in the Area learn from policies applied to national jurisdictions?

I am not sure there are many national jurisdictions that have comprehensive rules in place for DSM. It is, after all, a very new endeavour. But there is much we can learn from policies applied to other offshore activities. Neither land-

Michael W Lodge
Courtesy United Nations Department of Public Information via the ISA.

based mining or offshore oil and gas development are new activities. There is plenty of good industry and environmental practice to draw from in these and other industrial sectors, such as dredging, which has been carried out for centuries. We should study best practice flowing from these regimes and, where there are gaps, ISA should bridge those gaps by developing deep seabed mining-specific technical standards based on sound scientific evidence, but taking account of appropriate technical and economic constraints.

 

What is your vision for The Mining Code? What might it look like once implemented?

People tend to over-complicate the question of the Mining Code. Actually, most of the fundamental rules and procedures are already built into UNCLOS and the 1994 Part XI Agreement. A lot of valuable work was also done by the Preparatory Commission prior to entry into force of the Convention. What we are dealing with are subsidiary regulations that allow us to implement the system prescribed in UNCLOS. In the short term, the Mining Code will be a set of regulations that establish the process for applying for exploitation rights, including the process for environmental impact assessment, the content of the contract between ISA and deep sea miners and the respective rights and duties of each party to the contract. Over time, the Code will be supplemented by detailed technical guidelines, recommendations and processes covering every aspect of the industrial process. In this regard, it will be a living document and will continue to evolve as we gain more experience.

 

You were recently in Uganda, a land-locked nation. What was your message there and what significance does the Mining Code have for any developing nation without a significant interest in seabed mining?  What reception did your message receive in Uganda?

We were in Uganda and we were regally entertained by Ambassador Duncan Laki and his colleagues. Ambassador Laki has been a long-time supporter of ISA’s work and we were delighted to hold the first ever ISA event in a landlocked developing country. The main reason we went to Uganda was to emphasize that UNCLOS also benefits landlocked countries, by guaranteeing them access to the sea, amongst other things, and that the Part XI regime [the DSM regime] contains provisions that are specifically designed to benefit landlocked developing countries. This includes preferential rights to financial benefits from DSM, rights to a share in the proceeds from continental shelf exploitation under Article 82 of UNCLOS, and equal rights as any other coastal State to acquire a contract from ISA for DSM in the international seabed Area.

Michael W Lodge
Michael Lodge (center) among colleagues at the Marine Mineral Resources of Africa meeting, Kampala, Uganda, 2-4 May 2017.
Photo: ISA

There are 32 landlocked developing countries (LLDCs), most of them disadvantaged in some way, and they are therefore an important constituency for the sake of the integrity of UNCLOS. In general, attendance of LLDCs at ISA events is poor, and we were therefore working with the African Minerals Development Centre (AMDC), based in Addis Ababa, and GRID Arendal, a technical agency based in Norway, to raise awareness of the opportunities for LLDCs, including Uganda. The workshop was well received, but also demonstrated that there is a tremendous need for capacity building in Africa, and that there is a general lack of awareness at all levels about the offshore resources of the continental shelf and the international seabed. As a direct result of this workshop we were able, together with AMDC, to register a Voluntary Commitment with the UN Conference on implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 14 to undertake a focused programme of capacity-building in Africa. We now have to go out and look for funding for this much-needed initiative.

 

From your perspective, what role does the ISA play in the broader development of high seas policy? Will the development of The Mining Code play an important role in influencing the outcome of parallel UN process such as the development of a governance framework for ABNJ?

The ISA must play a role in the broader development of high seas policy because the seabed, for which there is a comprehensive legal regime in place, lies beneath the high seas. Therefore, any new measures that might be introduced for the high seas must be considered in terms of their impact, if any, on the legal regime for the seabed. In particular, new high seas measures must not conflict with rules applicable to the seabed and (to use an unfortunate pun) must not undermine the measures adopted by ISA. The bottom line is that there already is a rather comprehensive governance framework for one of the areas beyond national jurisdiction and we need to consider rather carefully the extent to which new measures add value to what we already have.

What’s your biggest challenge moving forward as Secretary General? What would you most like to achieve?

My goal is to see the Mining Code come to fruition. Whether or not mining takes place is beyond my control, as it is influenced by so many external conditions, but I would like to think that our task is to put the rules in place so that contractors can move to exploitation if commercial and economic conditions are right. I would also like to see us put in place regional management plans for the areas of interest

Photo by IISD/Francis Dejon

for mineral exploitation, including those ‘no mining’ zones that I mentioned earlier. I think the biggest challenge in the coming years is likely to be resourcing the secretariat sufficiently to manage DSM going forward. We are very small, and there is going to be a clear need for more technical expertise going forward, particularly in terms of environmental planning and management. Also, to develop regional management plans, we need broad buy-in from all the countries in a particular region, as well as the best available science, and all that requires considerable financial support.

What advice do you have for contractors in terms of their engagement in the ISA process?

I think the only advice I need to give to contractors is to continue their good level of cooperation with the Authority and to continue to work closely with the secretariat and Legal and Technical Commission in particular as we move forward with developing our new data management strategy. The contractors are doing very important work as far as improving our understanding of deep sea resources, processes and ecosystems is concerned and they need to be supported in this. You have to bear in mind that most of this work, which is extremely expensive to perform, would not be taking place at all if not for the existence of exploration contracts with the ISA, so this work, and ISA’s efforts to organize the data and make it available to the outside world, is an important contribution to marine science. I am very pleased that our member countries have given us the financial support to build a global database for deep seabed resources and environmental data – indeed, this is going to be our flagship project for 2017-2018 – and I look forward to contractors’ support in helping us populate the database for everyone’s benefit.

Who is the Michael Lodge outside the ISA? What are your passions and interests?  How do you spend your free time?

What free time? With 3 college kids and ISA to manage I hardly have any.  But in all seriousness, I’m a Chelsea FC supporter, a music lover (everything, but currently exploring Miles Davis electric period and Beethoven late quartets), a home baker, a tennis player and I’m currently trying to read the Dream of the Red Chamber and get through the pile of books on my nightstand, as well as keep up with the New York Review of Books every two weeks.  I also like watching all sports except motor racing, golf, basketball and anything with American in the title. Ok, I guess that means I like to watch cricket, rugby and football. I would really like to support the West Indies at cricket, but they don’t make it easy for me!

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