Environmental Impact Assessments
Under UNCLOS, Article 145, ISA is responsible for taking the measures necessary to ensure effective protection of the marine environment from the harmful effects that may arise from activities in the Area. In fulfilling this mandate, the Council and Assembly of ISA are supported by expert advice and recommendations from the Legal and Technical Commission (LTC). Under UNCLOS, Article 165, the LTC is empowered to prepare assessments of the environmental implications of activities in the Area and make recommendations to the Council on the protection of the marine environment, taking into account the views of recognized experts.
The 1994 Agreement relating to the Implementation of UNCLOS, Part XI, reaffirms those responsibilities by stating that between the entry into force of UNCLOS and the approval of the first work plan for exploitation, ISA shall concentrate on, inter alia, the “adoption of rules, regulations and procedures incorporating applicable standards for the protection and preservation of the marine environment.” Procedurally, it requires that an application for approval of a plan of work shall be accompanied by an assessment of the potential environmental impacts of the proposed activities and by a description of a programme for oceanographic and baseline environmental studies in accordance with ISA rules, regulations and procedures.
Based on UNCLOS, Part XI and the 1994 Agreement, ISA has developed detailed and substantive provisions, regulations and recommendations related to the assessment of possible environmental impacts arising from exploration for marine minerals in the Area, which define the sort of activities that require environmental impact assessments (EIAs), the form and content of such EIAs when required, as well as guidance on baseline studies, monitoring and reporting. This guidance (ISBA/25/LTC/6 ) addresses impacts on marine biodiversity on the seabed and in the water column above it.
ISA is also working on draft regulations (ISBA/25/C/WP.1) for the exploitation of mineral resources in the Area, including detailed and sophisticated provisions relating to EIAs. These regulations will be supplemented by a set of environmental standards and guidelines.
EIAs conducted by ISA exploration contractors
As of June 2023, four contractors had conducted EIAs and documented and reported the results of the EIA process in an environmental impact statement (EIS).
- In 2018, BGR and GSR conducted EIAs and respectively submitted EIS to ISA for the joint testing of a pre-prototype nodule collector vehicle in their contract areas in the CCZ.
- In 2020, the Government of India submitted an EIS concerning technical trials of a pre-prototype nodule collector in its contract area for polymetallic nodules in the Indian Ocean after conducting its EIA.
- In 2021, NORI submitted an EIS for the conduct of technical trials of a prototype nodule collector in its contract area in the CCZ. The EIS was later revised and resubmitted in 2022 following additional EIA activities.