Environmental impact assessment

Adelie penguins on an ice berg near Casey Station. © Todor Iolovski


Before an activity commences in the Australian Antarctic Territory, or the Territory of Heard Island and McDonald Islands (HIMI), an environmental impact assessment (EIA) must be submitted and authorised. This also applies to any Australian anywhere in Antarctica (ie outside the AAT).

A preliminary assessment for Antarctic activities may be submitted via this Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) form [Word].

If you plan to submit an EIA, you may seek advice from the AAD Environment Officer (eia@aad.gov.au) during planning to clarify your obligations. The complexity of the EIA process depends on the likely environmental impacts: it may take several weeks, months, or years. As well as the EIA, permits are required for some activities.

Why conduct an EIA?

All activities in Antarctica have the potential to impact on the environment in some way. Australia has endorsed the Environmental Principles of the Madrid Protocol [PDF] which require that 'activities in the Antarctic Treaty area shall be planned and conducted on the basis of information sufficient to allow prior assessments of, and informed judgments about, their possible impacts on the Antarctic environment'.

Annex I of the Protocol [PDF] sets out the agreed approach by Antarctic Treaty Parties to EIA, and this is further elaborated by the Antarctic Treaty Environment Protection (ATEP) Act (1980) and the Australian Government's Antarctic EIA regulations.

All Australian Antarctic activities must also comply with the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC) Act (1999) which applies to all activities concerning Commonwealth lands and waters, including the AAT, Australia's subantarctic islands and the Southern Ocean.

Levels of assessment

Proposed activities are assessed at one of the following levels depending on likely impacts, to determine the likely impacts a PA is always submitted in the first instance:

  1. A Preliminary Assessment (PA) will determine whether the likely impacts of the activity will be less than minor or transitory. If they are, then the activity will be authorised at this level. Please use the EIA form above or email us for directions on how to apply for your PA.
  2. An Initial Environmental Evaluation (IEE) will be required when a PA has determined that the likely impacts of an activity are minor or transitory. An IEE requires a more elaborate consideration of the elements of an activity and the likely environmental impacts. It must consider alternatives to the proposed activity; and must include a public consultation phase. IEEs are made available to other Antarctic Treaty Parties on request. Once a draft IEE is accepted by the Environment Officer, it may take three months to process.
  3. A Comprehensive Environmental Evaluation (CEE) will be required if a PA or an IEE determines that an activity will have impacts that are greater than minor or transitory. As its name implies, the CEE requires a very thorough examination of the activity, its environmental outputs, the receiving environment, and alternatives. It is the highest level of EIA. Draft CEEs are subject to a wide public consultation process, are circulated to other Antarctic Treaty Parties and tabled at a meeting of the Committee for Environment Protection. It may take up to two years to complete the CEE process. Visit the CEP website to see examples of previous CEEs.

The decision to authorise an activity is made after consideration of the EIA by the Minister for the Environment or his AAD delegate. The method of assessment can be found in detail in the Environmental Officer Handbook.

For more information, please email eia@aad.gov.au.