The aim of the Environmental Protocol is to ensure ‘the comprehensive protection of the Antarctic environment’. One of its guiding principles is that an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) be carried out before any activity is allowed to proceed. Activities should be planned and conducted on the basis of ‘information sufficient to allow prior assessments of, and informed judgements about, their possible impacts on the Antarctic environment’ ( Article 3, Environmental Protocol).
BAS has been at the forefront of the practical application of EIA in Antarctica, and considers the EIA process to be valuable as it aids decision-making by incorporating environmental information at an early stage.
Annex I of the Environmental Protocol sets out the detailed regulations for EIA in Antarctica, and establishes a three-stage procedure based on different levels of impact. The levels are:
Initial Environmental Evaluation (IEE); and
Comprehensive Environmental Evaluation (CEE).
(1) Preliminary Assessment is for activities, which are likely to have less than a minor or transitory impact on the environment. For example:
- small scientific field projects using tents for temporary accommodation
- science projects operated from permanent research stations
- aircraft operations using unprepared ice and snow skiways
- small adventure expeditions using tents for temporary accommodation
- small vessel (yacht) operations
- the clean-up and removal of waste from abandoned research stations
- the conservation of historic sites
(2) Initial Environmental Evaluation (IEE) is for activities, which are likely to have a minor or transitory impact on the Antarctic environment. For example:
- the construction of new or replacement facilities at established research stations
- the abandonment or removal of research stations
- major deep ice core drilling projects using drilling fluids
The information given in the IEE must be sufficient to allow an assessment of the scale of the impact which the proposed activity may have on the environment and whether it may have a cumulative impact. Also, alternative ways of carrying out the proposed activity, which might prevent or reduce the environmental effects, should be considered. The IEE is subject to review by the relevant national authority, which also makes the final decision on whether the activity should proceed.
(3) Comprehensive Environmental Evaluation (CEE) is for activities, which are likely to have more than a minor or transitory impact on the Antarctic environment. For example:
- the construction and operation of a new research station
- the construction and operation of a new crushed rock airstrip or runway
- major rock or sediment drilling projects, using drilling fluids or muds
The information given in the CEE should allow the assessment of possible alternatives, including the alternative of not proceeding with it. It should also include the nature, extent, duration and intensity of the impacts and likely cumulative impacts, measures which could be taken to minimise or mitigate impacts and to deal with accidents, monitoring activities and whether there may be unavoidable impacts. The draft CEE must be made publicly available and circulated to all the Treaty Parties. The draft CEE must also be submitted to the Committee on Environmental Protection for consideration prior to the annual Antarctic Treaty meeting. The final CEE must address or include the comments received on the draft version, and must be circulated to all Parties before the activity starts in Antarctica. The final decision on whether to proceed with an activity remains with the relevant national authority. Appropriate procedures, including monitoring of key environmental indicators, must be put in place to assess and verify the impact of any activity that proceeds.
BAS has carried out a number of IEE’s and CEE’s as listed at EIAs for proposed activities in Antarctica prepared by the UK. The CEEs were produced for the construction and operation of the crushed rock airstrip at Rothera Research Station, Adelaide Island, and for the proposed Halley VI station.
Further information on EIA in Antarctica can be obtained from the Polar Regions Department at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office