2-2 About EIA Systems

EIA is an evolving process. When establishing or strengthening an EIA system, there is an opportunity to build upon the experience of others and to move towards legal and policy frameworks that support environmental sustainability.

EIA systems have become progressively more broadly based, encompassing a wider range of impacts, higher levels of decision-making and new areas of emphasis (as described in Section 1 – Introduction and overview of EIA). In particular, there are trends toward:

  • more systematic procedures for EIA implementation, quality control, compliance and enforcement;
  • integrated consideration of biophysical, social, risk, health and other impacts;
  • extended temporal and spatial frameworks, which include cumulative, trans-boundary and ecosystem-level effects and, to a lesser extent, global change;
  • increasing provision for strategic environmental assessment (SEA) of policy, plan and programme proposals;
  • incorporation of sustainability perspectives and principles into EIA and SEA processes; and
  • greater linkage of EIA systems with other planning, regulatory and management regimes.

These trends are identified in the International Study of EA Effectiveness. This study also illustrates how EIA has become institutionalised and looks at the strengths and weaknesses of current practice in relation to different legal policy and institutional arrangements. Other recent and relevant sources of information include the Handbook of Environmental Impact Assessment and the Environmental Assessment Sourcebook Updates issued by the World Bank (see references).

Many lessons can be drawn from these materials by those who are responsible for introducing or modifying EIA systems, or are amending particular legal, policy and institutional arrangements to international standards. Not all aspects may be appropriate or replicable in certain developing countries without further EIA capacity development. However, there is a general trend toward strengthening the foundations and key features of EIA systems in both developed and developing countries. Key institutional milestones are summarised in the table below.

Key international developments in EIA law, policy and institutional arrangements – the last decade
Key Instrument/Event Requirements/Outcome
Updated and amended from Sadler, 1996
Rio Declaration on Environment and Development Calls for use of EIA as an instrument of national decision-making (Principle 17); other principles also relevant to EIA practice (e.g. Principle 15 on the application of the precautionary approach).
UN Conventions on Climate Change and Biological Diversity (1992) Cite EIA as an implementing mechanism (Articles 4 and 14 respectively refer)
Comprehensive reform of long-established EIA systems e.g. New Zealand (1991), Canada (1995), Australia (1999).
New or revised EIA legislation enacted by many developing and transitional countries e.g. Vietnam (1993), Uganda (1994), Ecuador (1997).
EIA requirements and procedures applied by international financial and aid agencies Providing loans and implementing projects in developing countries.
Amendment of EC Directive on EIA (1997) Required all member states to be in compliance by 1999; also being transposed into the EIA laws of certain countries in transition, which are in the process of accession to the European Union.
EC Directive on SEA of certain plans and programmes (2001) To be implemented by member states by 2004.
UNECE (or Espoo) Convention on EIA in a Transboundary Context (1991) Entered into force in 1997 as the first EIA-specific international treaty.
Doha Ministerial Declaration Encourages countries to share expertise and experience with Members wishing to perform environmental reviews at the national level (November 2001).
UNECE (or Aarhus) Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (1998) Covers the decisions at the level of projects and plans, programmes and policies and, by extension, applies to EIA and SEA (Articles 6 and 7 respectively refer).

Every EIA system is distinctive to some degree, reflecting the political system of a country. An EIA framework or components from one country (or international organisation) may not be readily imported into another, at least without significant adaptation. The information gathered during the Training Needs Analysis should help in identifying current and needed activities in the development of an EIA system (see UNEP EIA Training Resource Manual).

What are the key features to look for, and how do they differ? The table below provides a framework for examining EIA systems. It can be used to develop a profile of the key provisions that apply, including:

  • the designation of an authority responsible for overseeing the implementation of EIA procedure;
  • the requirement for public participation, and whether it is a mandatory or discretionary procedure; and
  • procedural checks and balances for EIA quality control, comprising key stages of the EIA process (outlined in the EIA flow chart from the previous section).

The matrix will be most useful when used to compare the EIA systems of countries in the same region. When completed, the table can be used to identify directions in which legal, policy and institutional arrangements might be strengthened. In some developing countries for example the arrangements for public participation made by individual countries may vary significantly, reflecting different traditions and styles of governance. Some countries have established a separate EIA authority; in others the EIA process is administered by the environment department or by the planning authority. No single EIA model is appropriate for all countries.

Analysing legal, policy and institutional arrangements
Country Type of EIA Authority Legal provision Yes/No Mandatory compliance Yes/No Requirement for public participation Yes/No Procedural checks and balances Yes/No identify types*
*Refer to stages of the flow chart on the verso of the Topic Divider

Finally, consideration also can be given to the extent to which SEA or a near equivalent process is in place. An increasing number of developed countries and countries in transition now make formal provision for SEA of policies, plans and programmes. Many developing countries also have planning systems that include elements of SEA. The legal, policy and institutional arrangements for SEA are more varied than those for project EIA (see SEA Open Educational Resources).

Two main types of legal provision are made for EIA:

  • general environmental or resource management law, which incorporates EIA requirements and procedure; and
  • an EIA specific law, which can either be comprehensive or take the form of a framework or enabling statute.

Selected examples of national and international EIA systems are given below to illustrate legal, policy and institutional arrangements that are of particular interest. These include the EIA components and responsibilities that apply internationally under certain treaties or as result of the lending requirements of the major development banks. Their geographical scope of application varies and not all aspects will be relevant to particular countries.

July 26, 2006 Uncategorized — @ 12:40 pm


  1. It is really an interesting course and indeed helpful for my Master in Sustainable Environmental Management. Can’t it be accessible in one zip file which could be downloaded and saved.

    Thanks again for making the course accessible

    Comment by Rani — April 17, 2007 @ 4:32 am

  2. Hi Rani.

    Yes indeed, we are looking into how best to create a downloadable version for those persons who do not have regular access to the Internet.

    Brendan Barrett

    Comment by brendan — April 24, 2007 @ 10:21 pm

  3. The course is content is excellent for revision with good structure and references. Very useful.

    Comment by susan evans — May 31, 2008 @ 12:04 am

  4. Excellent course material, the content is approached in a very clear and defined manner which is excellent for revision. It identifies key points which are valuable for essay type questions. I am currently doing my Masster in Energy and one of the module is Environmental Impact Assessment. Would appreciate a downloadable copy.

    Comment by Ayaz Bauhal — April 5, 2009 @ 10:28 pm

  5. excellent learning resource, provides detailed, up to date information and a reference guide.

    Comment by aduh ufuoma — July 13, 2011 @ 9:28 pm

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