The One Ocean Hub submits inputs into the International Seabed Authority’s Stakeholder Engagement Strategy

The One Ocean Hub made a written submission to the International Seabed Authority (ISA) on its Communications and Stakeholder Engagement Strategy (Zero Draft) in January 2021.
International Seabed Authority Logo

The submission emphasised the importance of the ISA’s obligations on transparency and consideration of human rights in protecting the marine environment, ensuring fair and equitable benefit sharing, and promoting and encouraging marine scientific research.

The ISA’s Zero Draft outlines the Authority’s commitment and its rules, mechanisms, and practices to ensure meaningful and informed engagement with all stakeholders in the work of its different organs and in the advancement of its mandate. This post will highlight six aspects of the Zero Draft that were addressed in the Hub’s written submission:

  • transparency around the role of the ISA to protect the marine environment;
  • stakeholder identification and engagement with other actors; and
  • fair and equitable benefit-sharing.

Transparency around the role of the ISA in protecting the marine environment

Given the relevance of the ISA’s mandate to protect the marine environment and its impacts on the realization of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Hub’s submission underlined that the ISA’s Stakeholder Engagement Strategy should be aligned with States’ international human rights and environmental obligations and best-practice standards on public access to information and public participation in decision-making, including:

  • Aarhus Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters, which places an obligation on these States to promote the application of the principles of the Convention within the framework of international organizations in matters relating to the environment (Art. 4.7 and Almaty Guidelines on Promoting the Application of the Principles of the Aarhus Convention in International Forums).
  • the Escazu Regional Agreement on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters, which places on them an obligation to promote public participation in international forums and negotiations on environmental matters or with an environmental impact (Art. 7.12).
  • UN Framework Principles on Human Rights and the Environment call upon States to cooperate with each other to establish, maintain and enforce effective international legal frameworks in order to prevent, reduce and remedy transboundary and global environmental harm that interferes with the full enjoyment of human rights (Principles 13), among others.

To that end, the ISA should outline its commitments for data transparency in line with the UN Decade of Ocean Science’s criterion “to provide all data and resulting knowledge in an open access, shared, discoverable manner and appropriately deposited in recognized data repositories consistent with the IOC Oceanographic Data Exchange Policy or the relevant United Nations (UN) subordinate body data policy.”

In addition, with regards to the ISA’s proposed strategic direction “to build a stakeholder communications and consultation strategy and platform which facilitates open, meaningful and constructive dialogue,” the Hub suggested developing a more concrete procedure to clarify timelines and modalities to engage relevant stakeholders, notably with regard to the type of engagement expected from stakeholders.

Stakeholder identification

The Hub’s submission underscored that stakeholder identification is key to ensure that engagement serves to develop fair partnerships between the ISA and stakeholders, for all to contribute to the realization of the ISA’s mandate and its contributions to the SDGs and other relevant international obligations (including at the intersection of international biodiversity and human rights law). To that end, the Hub underscored the need to raise the awareness of the role of the ISA at local and national levels, as decisions taken at the ISA could have implications on the livelihoods and well-being of stakeholders at the local level, including coastal communities and indigenous peoples.

So, the Hub recommend that the ISA build communication and consultation strategies to raise awareness about ISA’s works across multiple scales of ocean governance: local, national, and international. In addition, the Hub recommended that the ISA mention recognition of different knowledge systems and the role of indigenous knowledge holders in contributing to environmental decision-making process, in line with other global science-policy processes such as the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services.

On guidelines for observer status for non-governmental organisations, the One Ocean Hub recommend including organisations that can contribute to the integration of traditional knowledge into marine spatial planning across scales, the promotion of fair and equitable benefits sharing, and improved understanding of the relevance of stakeholders’ right to a healthy environment in the context of the mandate of the ISA. To these ends, the Hub recommended that the ISA engage with research institutions and academia from varied and relevant disciplines both marine science and social sciences. This is in line with the UN Decade of Ocean Science’s Implementation Plan 2.0, which emphasises that the term ‘ocean science’ encompasses natural and social science disciplines, including interdisciplinary research endeavours.

With regards to cooperation with other international organisations, the Hub’s submission pointed to the need for cooperation and coordination between the ISA and biodiversity-related conventions and regional seas organizations, as well as regional fisheries management organisations. This was considered necessary to support mutual learning for more integrated and effective ocean governance across sectors and scales.

Fair and equitable benefit-sharing starts with stakeholder engagement

The Hub’s submission emphasized that stakeholder engagement process should aim to give a voice to different representatives of humankind, so that they can express their views on the benefits arising from the work of the ISA. To that end, the submission argued that a stakeholder-engagement approach should be based on fair and equitable benefit-sharing as a partnership-building process. The “sharing” in benefit-sharing principally conveys the idea of beneficiaries’ agency, as opposed to the passive enjoyment of benefits. It therefore entails a shift away from unidirectional (likely, top-down) or one-off flows of benefits, it was recommended that benefit-sharing discussions should allow beneficiaries to express their needs, values, and priorities (Morgera, 2015: 809).

To focus on beneficiaries’ agency, the Hub suggested envisaging stakeholder engagement as a continuous dialogue for learning across disciplines and sectors, integrating: scientists from different disciplines (notably social sciences as well as natural sciences), geographies and capacities; other knowledge holders and experts from different sectors; and representatives of those whose human rights may be affected by decisions made by the ISA (indigenous peoples, children).

The key benefits of this approach would be the following:

  • Joined-up thinking on the implementation of various international obligations on scientific cooperation and information-sharing, and capacity building, on the basis of co-identified needs;
  • enhanced collaboration across sectors, areas of ocean-related science, and stakeholders to contribute to the achievement of UNCLOS objectives and the SDGs, promoting mutual learning and consideration of benefits to the most vulnerable;
  • transparency about the distribution of benefits, as well as to discuss good practices and lessons learnt in ensuring fairness and equity in benefit-sharing (drawn from Morgera, 2018-2019).


Morgera, E. (2018-19) “Fair and equitable benefit-sharing in a new international
instrument on marine biodiversity: A principled approach towards partnership building?” 5 Maritime Safety and Security Law Journal 48-77

Morgera, E. (2015). “Fair and Equitable Benefit-Sharing at the Cross-Roads of
the Human Right to Science and International Biodiversity Law.” Laws 4: 803-831.