Under Article 145 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), ISA is responsible for taking the measures necessary to ensure effective protection of the marine environment from the harmful effects that may arise from activities in the Area. In fulfilling this mandate, the Council and Assembly of ISA is supported by expert advice and the recommendations from the Legal and Technical Commission (LTC). Under Article 165 of UNCLOS, the LTC is empowered to prepare assessments of the environmental implications of activities in the Area and make recommendations to the Council on the protection of the marine environment, taking into account the views of recognized experts.
The 1994 Agreement relating to the Implementation of Part XI of UNCLOS reaffirms those responsibilities by stating that between the entry into force of UNCLOS and the approval of the first workplan for exploitation, ISA shall concentrate on, inter alia, the “adoption of rules, regulations and procedures incorporating applicable standards for the protection and preservation of the marine environment”. Procedurally, it requires that an application for approval of a plan of work shall be accompanied by an assessment of the potential environmental impacts of the proposed activities and by a description of a programme for oceanographic and baseline environmental studies in accordance with ISA rules, regulations and procedures.
Based on Part XI of UNCLOS and the 1994 Agreement, ISA has developed detailed and substantive provisions, regulations and recommendations related to the assessment of possible environmental impacts arising from exploration for marine minerals in the Area which define the sort of activities that require Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs), the form and content of such EIAs when required, as well as guidance on baseline studies, monitoring and reporting. This guidance (ISBA/25/LTC/6 ) addresses impacts on marine biodiversity on the seabed as well as in the water column above it.
ISA is also working on draft regulations (ISBA/25/C/WP.1) for exploitation of mineral resources in the Area, which also include detailed and sophisticated provisions relating to EIAs. These regulations will be supplemented by a set of environmental standards and guidelines.