The tragedy of common heritage: environmental conservations and the exploitation of the resources of the deep seabed

The deep seabed, some 4,000 meters below the ocean’s surface, hides the last untouched reservoirs of mineral resources on Earth, a part of the global commons to be shared by all. It also harbours fascinating creatures, whole ecosystems, and natural processes that connect with to us in ways that we do not yet fully understand.

Efforts to regulate and allow for commercial exploitation of that area are underway at the International Seabed Authority. As an intergovernmental organization set up with a mandate to balance the pursuit of the activity with care for the environment, avoiding any serious harm, its negotiations on the mining code are an example of how international law is made.

Representatives from states, prospective miners, environmental advocates, and the bureaucracy of the Authority itself all play their roles in shaping the negotiations, defending their interest, and relying on scientific advice to come up with environmental rules that will fulfil the mandate.

How that scientific knowledge is incorporated in the negotiations and into the resulting legal texts is the main question of this project. The particular challenge is to identify how knowledge is produced to support those decisions and how the very absence of such knowledge (ignorance) may also support certain stances and end up shaping law.
Its relevance goes the beyond the confines of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), as the most pressing current environmental issues, such as climate change and energy production, all face similar challenges. And it touches the SDGs as we seek ways to move beyond simple extraction chains, while remaining to rely on established industries and practices.

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