2-5 Principles for a Functional EIA System

Legislation should make clear and explicit provision for the EIA process and identify the responsibilities of the various participants. It needs to be framed specifically to achieve the goals or outcomes that have been identified and incorporate provision for periodic review (to allow for the lessons of experience, changing societal expectations and new demands). A functional legal system is needed if EIA legislation is to be implemented effectively.

Sound administration and flexible policy-making

The legal and institutional arrangements for EIA need to be implemented fairly, consistently and efficiently. EIA policy should be developed flexibly and its effectiveness monitored, giving particular attention to the following factors:

  • the reasons for introducing EIA and the problems that it is meant to resolve;
  • the goals of the EIA process and how their achievement can be measured;
  • the most appropriate approaches to implementing, enforcing and monitoring the outcomes of the EIA process; and
  • mechanisms for reviewing and adapting the EIA process to ensure that it continues to meet needs.

Stakeholder perception of the aims and benefits of the process

It is important for all stakeholders to have a realistic understanding of the role that EIA is intended to play in development approvals. Also, in order to ensure continued support for the EIA process, its benefits need to be explicitly recognised and acknowledged, and if necessary, action taken to add value (see above).

Political commitment

The EIA process cannot succeed in its aims without political commitment, public support and adequate resources. Poorer developing countries with weak economies and/or unstable political conditions might need to gradually introduce or strengthen their EIA systems.

Institutional capacity

The successful operation of an EIA system requires the responsible institutions to have the capability to carry out the key functions and activities. Otherwise, even if EIA legislation is in place, its potential benefits will not be delivered. Even where institutional capacity is sufficient, particular care may need to be taken to facilitate good communication, coordination and cooperation between the various government departments responsible for development and environmental management.

Technical capacity, data and information

In particular, the successful operation of the EIA system depends upon the availability of qualified people with the technical skills and expertise to carry out the research, analysis and preparation of an EIA report to the level necessary to inform decision-making. The quality of technical work also reflects upon the availability of baseline data and information on the natural environment, and the research and education system that is in place in a particular country.

Public involvement

Although attention to technical matters is essential, public involvement is crucial to identifying the issues and information that may be of importance in EIA. Local knowledge also may be of considerable benefit to the development and viability of a project. Many projects have failed because they did not take into account local or traditional factors or because they failed to gain public acceptance and support.

Financial support

Part of the political commitment to the EIA process is the provision of adequate funds to administer the process and carry out required activities. Where necessary, this commitment should include funds for EIA capacity building and training. Often, too, there is a need to provide funding for public involvement programmes, especially in cases where major projects result in involuntary resettlement or other types of social dislocation.

Generally, the need for these programmes is greatest where financial resources are scarcest. Realistically, in many cases progress will be limited without international assistance. In the long term, adequate funding will depend upon the recognition of the benefits that the EIA process brings to a country. These benefits need to be recorded (such as in case studies) so that they are available for later use.

The UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) has developed a number of guidelines related to the provision of legal, policy and institutional arrangements in the EIA systems of member countries (see UNECE Principles for Implementation of EIA in the EIA Wiki). If appropriate, review or provide a copy of these to the participants and adapt or add to them to meet the needs of the local situation. Criteria for choosing and customising an EIA system to suit are also available (see Criteria for Choice of EIA Process in the EIA Wiki).

Getting ready

The development or modification of a country’s EIA procedures requires:

  • gaining the support of government;
  • establishing the pre-conditions noted in the previous section;
  • understanding other planning and regulatory processes and their relationship with the EIA system so as to avoid duplication of requirements and functions;
  • consideration of the relative strengths and weaknesses of legal, policy and institutional arrangements; 
  • identification of appropriate means of implementing them; and
  • taking account of key trends and directions for EIA development and their relevance to the political, social and economic circumstances.

Steps towards establishing an EIA system

A number of steps can be taken in adopting or adapting a national EIA system to meet the needs of a particular country, including the following:

  • establish the goals and objectives of the EIA process;
  • review EIA systems established in neighbouring and other countries, especially those that are similar in nature and level of development;
  • identify, and cater for, international obligations and commitments such as those arising from ratifying the Conventions on Biological Diversity and Climate Change;
  • learn from the experience of others (consider international reviews such as the effectiveness study but also look for regional examples);
  • incorporate features that will facilitate the move towards sustainability;
  • identify appropriate standards and procedures;
  • develop trial guidelines to test the system in practice;
  • draft or revise the legislation necessary to implement the necessary changes; and
  • incorporate measures to appropriately monitor and review the EIA process to ensure that it is working as intended, and, where necessary, adapt it to meet new requirements and needs of the country.

Experience with the operation of EIA systems has generated a number of ‘rules of thumb’ that may be generally applicable or useful when adopting or adapting legal, policy and institutional arrangements.

Developing ‘Rules of Thumb’

Consider the following in developing the list:

  • Without a clear legal and institutional framework, EIA is ad hoc and the benefits are lost or reduced.
  • EIA relies on and is assisted by other environmental policy and regulatory systems which set objectives and standards (e.g. for ambient air quality, emission and discharge limits etc.)
  • Other EIA systems always need to be adapted to the ‘political culture’ of a specific country, particularly in the area of public involvement.
  • EIA should apply equally to private and publicly funded projects; their environmental significance is what matters.
  • In order to achieve maximum effectiveness, the EIA process should be integrated with the project cycle at the earliest pre-feasibility stage.
  • A quick start up to gain ‘hands on’ experience with EIA arrangements is usually preferable to lengthy preparatory studies. 
  • This approach will pay most dividends when it is part of an explicit attempt to ‘learn and adapt as you go’. 
  • Even though institutional capability may be at an early stage, EIA can still lead to substantial benefits in the form of better environmental protection. 
  • When proponents, the government and the public are experienced in the process they are more likely to have realistic expectations of the process and its outcomes.


July 26, 2006 Uncategorized — @ 12:45 pm

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