It is always pleasing to tell students that no activity can take place in Antarctica until an environmental impact assessment (EIA) has been undertaken and approved. Without doubt such a high standard of environmental protection for a whole continent is globally unique and an impressive feather in the cap of the Antarctic Treaty Parties.
The requirements for undertaking a prior assessment of potential environmental impacts of an activity are often referred to as the ‘cornerstone’ of the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty (the Protocol), which was agreed by the Antarctic Treaty Parties in 1991 and entered into force in 1998.
The Committee for Environmental Protection, which advises the Antarctic Treaty Parties on environmental issues, has spent a considerable amount of time since 1998 on developing guidelines for conducting EIAs and its own procedures for assessing them when they are circulated internationally.
Constantia Consulting has prepared and reviewed many EIAs for a range of scientific and logistical activities and for governmental as well as non-governmental clients.
But it is important to see an EIA is a process, and not just as a document. Antarctic EIAs should not be regarded as simply an exercise in documentation for submission to a national authorising agency. The real benefit of any EIA is the contribution it can make to planning an activity. Building EIA concepts into the processes and procedures for organising an activity from the very beginning, helps to increase the rigour of the planning process and greatly improves the identification of alternative, more environmentally friendly options.