Home News Battle for leadership of Seabed Authority intensifies

Battle for leadership of Seabed Authority intensifies


Allegations that votes may have been bought through bribery. Allegations that senior diplomats misused agency funds. Possible inducement to drop out of the race by offering jobs.

These are not the machinations of a corrupt election in a volatile country. Rather, they are efforts in the deceptively genteel drawing room of a United Nations subsidiary to influence decisions about starting seabed mining for metals used in electric cars.

It’s all part of a fierce battle over the next leader of the International Seabed Authority, the body that controls mining in international waters around the world.

The fraud allegations highlight the controversial nature of the agency’s future agenda and the billions of dollars at stake. Some countries strongly oppose the idea of ​​drilling in the world’s deepest waters, while others see it as a much-needed economic opportunity. Whoever holds the top job at the agency in the coming years will have considerable influence over those decisions.

Michael LodgeHe, who has served as secretary-general of the International Seabed Authority since 2016, urged the agency’s diplomats 168 Members States re-elected him to a third four-year term, an opportunity he hopes to use to help the agency finalize environmental rules as it prepares to accept the first application for industrial-scale mining to begin as early as this fall in the Pacific Ocean between Hawaii and Mexico.

His opponent Leticia CarvalhoAn oceanographer and former oil industry regulator from Brazil, she called for a more cautious approach, arguing that it could take several more years to finalize the rules. Her position is that no mining applications should be approved until that process is complete.

Amid the already intense campaign, a former senior executive of the Seabed Authority filed a complaint with the United Nations in May, accusing Mr. Lodge and his deputies of misusing agency funds.

Supporters of both candidates have accused the other of trying to gain influence by paying for delegates’ travel or Payment of overdue delegation dues Countries that are in arrears with their dues are generally barred from voting. 38 countries As of May, no payment had been received.

Each country pays Different Amounts This year, up to $1.8 million will be provided to China and as little as $831 million to Rwanda — depending on the size of the economy — to support the agency’s Annual Budget.

Of further interest is the fact that the ambassador of the tiny Pacific island nation of Kiribati, which supports Mr. Lodge’s nomination, tried late last month to persuade Ms. Carvalho to withdraw from the race in exchange for a possible senior staff position at the Seabed Authority.

If the covert operation worked, Mr. Lodge would face no backlash. When his office was asked in writing about the operation, he did not respond. But in a six-page statement, Mr. Lodge and his office refuted any suggestion that he misused agency funds or otherwise tried to improperly influence the election.

“You have collected a collection of vague, unverified, unfounded and anonymous rumors, gossip and hearsay that are patently untrue, lack any factual or evidentiary basis and do not withstand any objective scrutiny.” Mr. Lodge said in a statementHe added that he and the Seabed Authority “follow the highest international standards of good governance and management”.

The attempt to lure Ms. Carvalho out drew an angry reaction from her and the Brazilian delegation.“We have an excellent candidate, she already has a lot of support and we will win this election,” said Bruno Imparato, a Brazilian diplomat who helped organize Ms. Carvalho’s campaign.

Kiribati Ambassador Tebroro Tito, who had urged Carvalho to withdraw from the race, confirmed the job offer in an interview with The New York Times. He added that Mr. Lodge had signed the proposed agreement as part of a strategy to ensure his re-election at the next meeting of the Seabed Authority, which will be held at its headquarters in Kingston, Jamaica, in late July and early August.

“We don’t want someone to come in and ruin ISA’s plans,” Tito recalled telling Ms. Carvalho in an interview. “I come from an island nation. We always believe in reconciliation. We don’t want too much fighting in the village.”

Mr. Lodge said in a statement that he was “not aware of the discussions referred to and was not a party to the proposal referred to.” The agency said all vacancies were posted through official channels and recruited competitively.

The Seabed Authority is governed by the 168 member States that have ratified the Convention. United Nations Convention on the Law of the SeaIt also declares that any seabed metal in international waters is the “common heritage of mankind” and its mining rights are fully managed by the Seabed Authority.

In the decades since, the Seabed Authority has approved 31 Exploration Contract Approving mapping and other preparatory work in the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans as the agency prepares to consider applications for industrial-scale mining, which would use bulldozer-like machines to drop materials on the seafloor miles below sea level.

While some countries are eager to move forward, at least 25 Suspension proposed or a “precautionary pause,” arguing that there is not enough data to ensure that mining will not cause harm.

China has the most such contracts — five in total. But exploratory contracts are spread across a variety of countries, including Russia, Poland, India, France, Germany, Japan and several Pacific island nations. The United States never ratified the treaty, but it participated in its negotiations.

Member countries can conduct exploration work themselves or hire contractors, such as the Nasdaq-based Canadian mining company The Metals Company, which hopes to start extracting millions of tons of metal-bearing nodules from the Pacific Ocean floor. As early as 2026.

The company estimates that in just one of its contract areas— 46,000 square miles Part of the Pacific Ocean – will produce Net profit of $31 billion The company has more than 25 years of mining experience. The company claims that its contract area has enough nickel, cobalt and manganese to Supply all U.S. demand for automotive battery metals.

Explaining his opposition to the moratorium proposal, Mr. Tito said: “The resources of the Earth were created for human beings.”

Metals relies on Mr. Lodge to push member states of the Seabed Authority to complete regulation. $6.8 million As of the end of last year, the company’s cash reserves were only a fraction of what it needed to carry out its mining operations as some investors held back while the company waited for the green light.

Gerard BarronBaron, the company’s chief executive, said he did not lobby for Lodge’s reelection because he knew it would draw criticism from environmentalists. “Such a move could have a huge backlash,” Baron said in an interview.

But Kiribati is one of three small Pacific island nations (the others are Nauru and Tonga) with which The Metals Company has struck deals to secure mining rights in the Pacific Ocean area governed by the Seabed Authority, so it is a good thing for The Metals Company that Kiribati helped Mr. Lodge get a third term.

Tito said he first met Lodge decades ago when he was a young lawyer in Kiribati and Lodge helped Tito’s family with a case in which his sister died from improper sedation during childbirth. Tito later became president of Kiribati, a nation of about 120,000 people, and now serves as the country’s U.N. ambassador.

Mr. Lodge is British and was nominated by Britain for his first two terms. But Mr. Tito said the government only supports two consecutive terms for the head of an international organization, which explains why Kiribati nominated Mr. Lodge this time. The secretary-general’s salary is about213,000 A Year.

Mr. Lodge has been traveling to China, Cameroon, Japan, Egypt, Italy and Caribbean countries Antigua and Barbudaand other sites — visits that Mr. Lodge and his staff describe as educational and outreach missions, but that critics say are inadequate.

“He was clearly campaigning – using the SEBA machinery as part of his campaign,” Ms Carvalho said.

Mr Lodge responded that office travel was a necessary part of his job and had nothing to do with the election. Added “As secretary general and candidate, Mr. Lodge condemns any effort to influence the vote by paying for delegations to attend conferences.”

The German government, which backed Carvalho’s election, has announced plans to call for an investigation into the seabed authority’s questionable financial activities. Emails obtained by The New York Times.

In a recent speech, Mr. Lodge said the Seabed Authority needed to finish its work on developing regulations. “It has taken us decades to get to where we are today and there seems to be no reason to deviate from an evolutionary approach now,” Mr. Lodge said. Last month said At the United Nations.

A former human resources official at the SAFE accused Mr. Lodge, his deputies and others of misusing SAFE funds. The complaint, a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times, alleges that Mr. Lodge collected $67,000 in excessive expenses since 2016 related to housing and other expenses in Jamaica and New York.

The complaint was sent to the United Nations Office of Internal Oversight Services. But emails obtained by The New York Times show that office referred the complaint back to the Seabed Authority, meaning Mr. Lodge was asked to deal with the allegations of misconduct.

In its response, the agency said it already had robust, independent processes in place to deal with employee grievances and complaints.

Carvalho, who currently heads the oceans division at the United Nations Environment Programme, said her backers had not tried to pay for other delegations. She said her management style was different from that of Lodge, who has been accused of Arrange too closely It has strained relations with the mining industry and has failed to provide adequate transparency into the operations of the Seabed Authority.

Although Brazil has approved a 10-year ban on seabed mining, Carvalho said she did not support that position. But she added that if the Seabed Authority approved mining before its environmental standards were finalized, it would trigger legal challenges.

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