30 March 2016, New York – Statement on behalf of the European Union and its Member States at the First Session of the Preparatory Committee established by General Assembly resolution 69/292: Development of an international legally binding instrument under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction on Item 7: Development of substantive recommendations on the elements of a draft text of an international legally binding instrument under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea: Consideration of Environmental Impact Assessments
– As delivered –
I am honored to speak on behalf of the EU and its 28 Member States.
Environmental assessments are an important tool for integrating environmental considerations in the decision-making process prior to engaging in or authorizing activities that may cause significant and harmful changes to the marine environment in areas beyond national jurisdiction. These assessments ensure that the effects of carrying out such activities are taken into account.
The EU and its Member States would like to refer to the increasing practice to undertake environmental assessments in terrestrial as well as in coastal and marine areas within national jurisdiction. This applies to assessments both at the level of policies, plans and programmes, known as strategic environmental assessment, in short: SEA, and assessments at the level of projects, known as environmental impact assessment, in short: EIA. The SEA covers a wider range of activities or a wider area and often over a longer time span than the EIA of projects. SEA might be applied to an entire sector or to a geographical area. SEA does not replace or reduce the need for project-level EIA, but it can help to streamline and focus the incorporation of environmental concerns into the decision-making process, often making project-level EIA a more effective process. It is our understanding of Resolution 69/292 that the reference to environmental impact assessments covers both project-level EIA as SEA at the level of policies, plans and programmes.
The EU and its Member States would like to recall that the relevant obligations under the UNCLOS and other international commitments in relation to activities that may cause significant and harmful changes to the marine environment already apply to areas beyond national jurisdiction. However, we note with concern that, in the absence of a holistic framework, currently no globally agreed procedure to implement the relevant obligations of the UNCLOS exists. As a result, it is currently difficult to assess the potential effects of relevant activities in areas beyond national jurisdiction, in particular in relation to the cumulative effects of activities.
In addition, Mr. Chairman, the EU and its Member States are of the opinion that EIAs and SEAs can also provide information that is relevant for the designation and management of MPAs under the Implementing Agreement. We do emphasize that environmental assessments should, however, be carried out independent of an area’s potential protected status and the possible subsequent designation of an MPA.
The Implementing Agreement should establish general rules and procedures for the conduct by States Parties of EIAs and SEAs of planned activities under their jurisdiction or control, and for reporting on the outcomes of those assessments. This way, we would give effect to the requirements of Articles 206, 205 and 204 of the UNCLOS to assess, report on and monitor the potential effects of scheduled plans or activities that may cause significant and harmful changes to the marine environment in areas beyond national jurisdiction. This would also give effect to the requirements under customary international law as the International Court of Justice and the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea established in their case law.
The Implementing Agreement should include criteria for the undertaking of an EIA or SEA, in particular thresholds or criteria for the screening of activities to be assessed and on the type and amount of information to be included in the assessment reports. The Agreement could further provide for a process to develop and update lists of activities that should always be subject to prior environmental assessments before being authorized by the competent national authorities.
Environmental impact assessments and strategic environmental assessments should be based on the best available science, be based on information gathered during prior public consultation, and be in line with international best practice. Reports on such assessments should include a description of the assessed activities’ likely significant impacts on the marine environment and its biodiversity; and of the measures envisaged to avoid, prevent, mitigate and redress any such impacts.
Therefore, Mr. Chairman, States Parties to the Implementing Agreement should be required, first, to ensure that EIAs and/or SEAs are carried out prior to engaging in or authorising activities that may cause significant and harmful changes to the marine environment; second, to provide that any such changes are identified and taken into account in a decision-making process; third, to monitor the effects of assessed activities; and, fourth, to make reports on environmental assessments, subsequent measures and make the monitoring results publically available.
Finally, Mr. Chairman,
We believe that the Implementing Agreement should provide for a follow-up procedure in order to review compliance with the agreed rules and procedures for completed EIAs and SEAs.
The EU and its Member States look forward to engaging with other delegations on this issue and the ideas just put forward.
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