Lisa Speer, Director of International Oceans Program at NRDC, dives deeper into Environmental Impact Assessments and why they are important to ensuring the proper protection of the ocean.

If you’d like to learn more about Environmental Impact Assessments, read the blog below from Duncan Currie, legal advisor for the High Seas Alliance:

An environmental impact assessment (EIA) is a process of evaluating the likely environmental impacts, including cumulative impacts, of a proposed project or development. There is international law requiring States to conduct an EIA “When States have reasonable grounds for believing that planned activities under their jurisdiction or control may cause substantial pollution of or significant and harmful changes to the marine environment” but in practice this seldom happens – and moreover, they are required to “communicate reports of the results of such assessments in the manner provided”  – but there is no manner provided.

So, one of the crucial ‘building blocks’ of the Implementing Agreement being negotiated at the United Nations is to put flesh onto the bones of those legal requirements: minimum and uniform standards for EIAs, procedures such as public comment and review procedures, and, critically, ways to control the planned activities, or stop them from going ahead at all, if they would cause significant harmful changes, or, to use modern terminology, cause significant adverse effects.

EIAs are essential to avoid damaging marine biodiversity through activities in the high seas and the deep seabed area. Particularly new and emerging activities, such as geoengineering, could have the potential to cause harm far beyond that envisaged in the 1970s when the Law of the Sea Convention was negotiated, so it is important to take its provisions and make them operational, or fit for purpose, for coming decades. Scientists have warned of the consequences of climate change, ocean acidification, de-oxygenation, plastics and other impacts in the ocean, and what this will mean for biodiversity. Seabed mining and deep sea fishing also have the potential of destroying biodiversity, or life, even before we have even learned of its existence. And all this while scientist are rapidly learning more and more about the potential of marine genetic resources for applications ranging from medical or pharmaceutical through to industrial applications. Those very resources, which may hold the key to as-yet unknown benefits for humankind and the planet as a whole, could be destroyed by the stressors put on them before they are discovered.

That is why it is so important to put into place the rules and procedures for EIAs now before it is too late. Many States in this meeting have highlighted the need for institutions such as a Conference of the Parties, Scientific Committee and Clearing-House Mechanism to enable these rules, procedures and mechanisms to be put into place, as well as the coordination and reporting that is so important in a complex and ever-changing world.


*Blogs are written in an individual capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of the High Seas Alliance