The International Seabed Authority (ISA) is a multilateral body responsible for regulating all mining-related activities in international waters beyond national jurisdiction. Given the institution’s mandate to safeguard the marine environment from the impacts of such activities, the ISA is developing several regulatory means to ensure the effective protection of ocean ecosystems. One critical tool is the requirement for mining contractors to prepare an environmental impact assessment (EIA) before any exploitation or even exploration for minerals commences.
A new report evaluates a selection of international and domestic EIA processes to identify institutional structures and legal requirements that might be best suited for EIAs for seabed mining projects. At the center of the paper—which aims to inform ISA practices and regulatory development—is a comparative analysis of 11 EIA systems; four operate in international settings while seven operate in regional or domestic settings. The paper’s conclusions are focused on seabed mining, but they could also have relevance to current United Nations negotiations to develop a new international agreement to protect biodiversity beyond national jurisdictions.
Although EIAs are widely accepted as an essential regulatory tool, both in international and domestic contexts, significant challenges remain in the implementation of EIA requirements. These include concerns over how thoroughly assessments are conducted, the extent and nature of public participation in the process and how the assessments influence decision-making. The most important hurdle, however, involves identifying what the EIA requirements should be for assorted industries and sectors, which often have varying impacts on the natural world and operate in different decision-making environments.
Therefore, a central goal of creating new EIA requirements and processes should be developing practices that are well-suited to the industry and institutional environment in which they are to be implemented.
More information is available in the report, which was co-written by Neil Craik and Kristine Gu.
Craik is a professor at Ontario’s University of Waterloo. Craik has appointments to the Balsillie School of International Affairs and the School of Environment, Enterprise and Development as a teacher and researcher of international and Canadian environmental law.
Gu served as the assistant researcher for this report and is a law student at Alberta’s University of Calgary.