EIA is one of a number of policy tools that are used to evaluate project proposals. It is also a relatively recent development when compared to use of economic appraisal methods. A number of factors led to the introduction of EIA in the US National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA, 1969), including public concern about the quality of the environment and the increasing effects of new technologies and ever-larger development schemes. In addition, then available economic appraisal techniques, such as benefit cost analysis, did not take account of the environmental and social impacts of major projects.
The architects of NEPA intended the environmental impact statement to be the â€˜action-forcingâ€™ mechanism, which would change the way government decisions were made in the USA. However, they probably did not foresee the extent to which EIA would be adopted internationally, culminating in Principle 17 of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development. Today, EIA is applied in more than 100 countries, and by all development banks and most international aid agencies. EIA has also evolved significantly, driven by improvements in law, procedure and methodology. Major trends in EIA process development are summarised in table below. Except for the early pioneers, the phases and timescales identified in the table below do not necessarily correspond to the development of EIA in particular countries. In all countries more strategic, sustainability- based approaches are still at a relatively early stage.
|Phase||Time||Key Events||Source: updated and amended from Sadler, 1996|
|Introduction and early development||1970-1975||Mandate and foundations of EIA established in the USA; then adopted by a few other countries (e.g. Australia, Canada, New Zealand); basic concept, procedure and methodology still apply.|
|Increasing scope and sophistication||mid â€™70s to early â€™80s||More advanced techniques (e.g. risk assessment); guidance on process implementation (e.g. screening and scoping); social impacts considered; public inquiries and reviews drive innovations in leading countries; take up of EIA still limited but includes developing countries (e.g. China, Thailand and the Philippines).|
|Process strengthening and integration||early â€˜80â€™s to early â€™90s||Review of EIA practice and experience; scientific and institutional frameworks of EIA updated; coordination of EIA with other processes, (e.g. project appraisal, land use planning); ecosystem- level changes and cumulative effects begin to be addressed; attention given to monitoring and other follow-up mechanisms. Many more countries adopt EIA; the European Community and the World Bank respectively establish supra-national and international lending requirements.|
|Strategic and sustainability orientation||early â€™90s to date||EIA aspects enshrined in international agreements (see Section 2 â€“ Law, policy and institutional arrangements); marked increase in international training, capacity & building and networking activities; development of strategic environmental assessment (SEA) of policies and plans; inclusion of sustainability concepts and criteria in EIA and SEA practice; EIA applied in all OECD countries and large number of developing and transitional countries.|
To date, EIA has been applied primarily at the project-level. This â€˜first generationâ€™ process is now complemented by SEA of policies, plans and programmes, and both EIA and SEA are being adapted to bring a greater measure of â€˜sustainability assuranceâ€™ to development decision making. These trends have brought new perspectives on what constitutes EIA good practice and effective performance.
Recently, a number of reviews of these issues have been undertaken, including the International Study of the Effectiveness of Environmental Assessment (see Section A). It described basic and operational principles for the main steps and activities undertaken in the EIA process. The International Association for Impact Assessment (IAIA) and the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA) have drawn on these to prepare a statement of EIA Best Practice (see EIA Wiki) for reference and use by their members . The Effectiveness Study identified three core values on which the EIA process is based:
- integrityâ€“ the EIA process should meet internationally accepted requirements and standards of practice;
- utilityâ€“ the EIA process should provide the information which is sufficient and relevant for decision-making; and
- sustainabilityâ€“ the EIA process should result in the implementation of environmental safeguards which are sufficient to mitigate serious adverse effects and avoid irreversible loss of resource and ecosystem functions.
Basic or guiding principles of EIA good practice are listed in the table below. These are applicable to all types of proposals and by all EIA systems. When applying or referring to them, it is important to consider the principles as a single package, recognising their varying interrelationships. For example, some principles overlap (e.g., transparent and participative); others may be counteracting if considered without reference to the broader framework (e.g. rigour and efficiency). The principles should be applied as part of a systematic and balanced approach, having regard to the context and circumstances.
|Principles||Practical application||Source: Sadler, 1996; IAIA and IEMA, 1999.|
|Purposive||EIA should meet its aims of informing decision making and ensuring an appropriate level of environmental protection and human health.|
|Focused||EIA should concentrate on significant environmental effects, taking into account the issues that matter.|
|Adaptive||EIA should be adjusted to the realities, issues and circumstances of the proposals under review.|
|Participative||EIA should provide appropriate opportunities to inform and involve the interested and affected publics, and their inputs and concerns should be addressed explicitly.|
|Transparent||EIA should be a clear, easily understood and open process, with early notification procedure, access to documentation, and a public record of decisions taken and reasons for them.|
|Rigorous||EIA should apply the â€˜best practicableâ€™ methodologies to address the impacts and issues being investigated.|
|Practical||EIA should identify measures for impact mitigation that work and can be implemented.|
|Credible||EIA should be carried out with professionalism, rigor, fairness, objectivity, impartiality and balance.|
|Efficient||EIA should impose the minimum cost burden on proponents consistent with meeting process requirements and objectives.|
Operating principles describe how the basic principles of EIA good practice should be implemented. The EIA Operating Principles (see EIA Wiki) provide initial guidance on how to undertake EIA and what results practitioners should aim to deliver. When applying these operating principles, reference should be made to the framework of EIA legislation, procedure and guidance that is in force in a country or jurisdiction. In certain countries, the relatively early stage of EIA process development or limited resources may constrain the application of some of the operating principles.