Laura E. Lallier's speech at the Wuhan Polar Conference
(17-19 March 2017)
While the world's ocean is facing extreme pressure from anthropogenic activities, the Polar Regions are still relatively pristine. Nevertheless, marine ecosystems in the Polar Regions are experiencing significant changes. There is an urgent need for an effective governance framework for marine living resources in the Polar Regions to avoid a ‘Tragedy of the Commons'. On the other hand, there is hope that a well-developed governance structure in the Polar Regions could provide lessons for sustainable management of marine living resources in other parts of the world.
Climate change and the need for the conservation of marine biodiversity have brought much attention to the Polar Regions. At the international level, the United Nations General Assembly is working on the development of an international legally-binding instrument under the Law of the Sea Convention for the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction. At the same time, discussions and debates concerning the establishment of marine protected areas in Antarctica have been going on for years within the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR). In the Arctic, two Meetings on High Sea Fisheries in the Central Arctic Ocean were held in Washington D.C.
Against this backdrop, the Conference brought together scholars from relevant disciplines such as international law, political science and marine biology as well as NGOs, and representatives from international organizations to discuss how to achieve effective conservation of marine living resources in the Polar Regions at the national, regional and international level. Interactions between science, politics and law were particularly examined. The Conference also addressed China's role in the Polar Regions.
Laura's presentation analysed the environmental impact assessment (EIA) mechanisms in two distinct but comparable international legal frameworks: the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention (LOSC) that declared the international area of the deep seabed as the "Common Heritage of Mankind", and for which it sets a comprehensive regime to regulate mining activities; and the 1959 Antarctic Treaty together with its related instruments, that recognises the "interest of all mankind" to safeguard this continent where human activities can only occur within a strict environmental protection framework.
While the International Seabed Authority is currently in the process of drafting regulations to implement the seabed mining regime, including its EIA component, the Antarctic Treaty has a well established and operational EIA system in place, in particular through the provisions of the 1991 Protocol on environmental protection. The Protocol provides for different levels of assessment depending on the potential impacts of each activity. The likeliness and amplitude of an impact triggers the most comprehensive EIA process foreseen through a thoroughly articulated review procedure. The EIA documents are public and are considered by the Committee for Environmental Protection, which advises the Consultative Meeting of the Parties, which in turn will discuss it with experts and observers before any decision is taken by the relevant State party as to the activity in question.
The Antarctica Treaty System has found a way to conduct appropriate EIAs even though the reviewing body is made of State parties. Interestingly, the International Seabed Authority is currently facing the issue of setting up an EIA review procedure for seabed mining projects, taking into account the nature of this international organisation where ultimately States parties are the decision-makers. While this entails its lot of consensus mechanisms, rules of procedure and meting cycles to conciliate with a more administrative reviewing system, this seems to have been overcome in Antarctica.
This timely comparative study is an attempt to draw lessons from the Antarctic Treaty System and investigate whether elements of its EIA process could be applied to the international area of the deep seabed, taking into consideration the similarities and differences between both regimes.