In many countries, the information to be included in an EIA report is specified in legislation, procedure or guidance. Alternatively, the format may be established by custom or reference to the World Bankâ€™s sample outline of an EIA report. Typically, the content of an EIA report will be prepared in accordance with specific terms of reference established during the scoping process. It may also include additional issues and other matters that have emerged as a result of EIA studies and need to be taken into account in decision-making.
An EIA report typically includes many or all of the following headings and items:
- executive or non-technical summary (which may be used as a public communication document);
- statement of the need for, and objectives of, the proposal;
- reference to applicable legislative, regulatory and policy frameworks;
- description of the proposal and how it will be implemented (construction, operation and decommissioning);
- comparison of the proposal and the alternatives to it (including the no action alternative);
- description of the project setting, including the relationship to other proposals, current land-uses and relevant policies and plans for the area;
- description of baseline conditions and trends (biophysical, socioeconomic etc), identifying any changes anticipated prior to project implementation;
- review of the public consultation process, the views and concerns expressed by stakeholders and the way these have been taken into account;
- consideration of the main impacts (positive and adverse) that are identified as likely to result from the proposal, their predicted characteristics (e.g. magnitude, occurrence, timing, etc.) proposed mitigation measures, the residual effects and any uncertainties and limitations of data and analysis;
- evaluation of the significance of the residual impacts, preferably for each alternative, with an identification of the best practicable environmental option;
- an environmental management plan that identifies how proposed mitigation and monitoring measures will be translated into specific actions as part of impact management*; and
- appendices containing supporting technical information, description of methods used to collect and analyse data, list of references, etc.
* Note the environmental management plan can be included in or annexed to the report; in some cases it may be a separate document.
Executive or non-technical summary
The executive summary gives a concise description of the main findings and recommendations. It is not meant to summarise all of the contents of the EIA report. Instead the focus is on the key information and options for decision-making. Except for very large proposals, the executive summary should be kept short, no more than seven pages and preferably less. Often, the executive summary is the only part of the report that decision makers and most people will read. It can be written for distribution to the public as an information brochure.
An executive summary should describe:
- the proposal and its setting;
- the terms of reference for the EIA;
- the results of public consultation;
- the alternatives considered;
- major impacts and their significance;
- proposed mitigation measures;
- the environmental management plan; and
- any other critical matters that bear on the decision.
Need and objectives of the proposal
A clear statement of the need for and objectives of the proposal should be given. Typically, need is substantiated by reference to relevant policies and plans. Reference also can be made to the demands and issues that the proposal is intended to address, the purpose that will be achieved, and the benefits that are anticipated.
Legal and policy framework
There is usually a brief description of the legal and policy framework that applies to the proposal being assessed. Relevant aspects of EIA procedure can be cited, together with any other requirements or considerations that need to be mentioned. The Terms of Reference for the EIA should be summarised, explaining the reasons for any variation with them. A copy of the complete Terms of Reference should be appended where appropriate.
Description of the proposal and its alternatives
A description of the proposal and the alternatives indicates the elements and main activities that will take place during project construction, operation and decommissioning. This section of the report draws attention to the major differences between the alternatives, including the no-action alternative. It can also include information on:
- the project setting and the major on-site and off-site features (e.g. access roads, power and water supply, etc.);
- resource use, raw material inputs and emission and waste discharges;
- operational characteristics, processes and products;
- the relationship of the technical, economic, social and environmental features of the proposal; and
- comparison of alternatives and options (such as size, location, technology, layout, energy sources, source of raw materials) within the above context.
The above information is given in only enough detail for impact prediction and mitigation measures to be understood and appreciated. Wherever appropriate, maps, flow diagrams and other visual aids are used to summarise information.
Description of the affected environment
A concise description is needed of the biophysical and socio-economic conditions of the affected environment. Baseline information should include any changes anticipated before the project begins. Current land use and other proposed development activities within the project area should also be taken into account. This indicates how the proposal relates to current policies and plans and whether or not it is consistent with them.
Baseline information is often covered in too much detail in an EIA report. It should provide only the necessary background and baseline against which to understand impact predictions. Key aspects of the affected environment that need to be included for this purpose include:
- spatial and temporal boundaries;
- biophysical, land use and socio-economic conditions;
- major trends and anticipated future conditions should the proposal not go ahead; and
- environmentally-sensitive areas and valued resources that may need special protection.
Public consultation and inputs
A concise, yet complete, statement of the nature, scope and results of public consultation is an important section of the report. These particulars are sometimes overlooked or aspects are insufficiently described. Depending on the provision made for public consultation, some or all of the following points can be included:
- identification of the interested and affected public;
- the method(s) used to inform and involve stakeholders;
- analysis of the views and concerns expressed;
- how these have been taken into account; and
- outstanding issues and matters that need to be resolved.
Environmental impacts and their evaluation
This section of the EIA report evaluates the potential positive and adverse impacts for both the proposal and its alternatives and for each component of the environment identified as important in the terms of reference. Impact characteristics are described as predictions of magnitude, severity, occurrence, duration, etc. The significance of residual impacts that cannot be mitigated should be explicitly stated.
Information contained in this section includes:
- prediction of each major impact, its characteristics and likely consequences;
- consideration of their compliance with environmental standards and policy objectives;
- recommended measures for avoiding, minimising and remedying the impact;
- evaluation of significance of the residual impacts (stating the standards or criteria used); and
- limitations associated with impact prediction and evaluation, as indicated by the assumptions made, gaps in knowledge and uncertainties encountered.
The section can also indicate how environmental data was gathered, the predictive methods used and the criteria used to judge significance. It is helpful to present information in summary form to give readers an overview of the impact characteristics of the proposal and the alternatives to it. One possible way to do this is to display the information in tables (see below) as suggested in Section 6 â€“ Impact analysis. Both direct and indirect impacts, including potential cumulative effects, should be highlighted.
|IMPACT CHARACTERISTIC||Air quality||Health||etc.|
Comparative evaluation of alternatives and identification of the environmentally preferred option
In this section, the proposal and the alternatives are systematically compared in terms of adverse and beneficial impacts and effectiveness of mitigation measures. As far as possible, the trade-offs should be clarified and a clear basis for choice established. The environmentally preferred option should be identified and reasons given for the selection made.
Topic 7.1 covered the issue of ensuring that the costs, and other impacts, of mitigation measures should be taken into account as part of the comparison of alternatives. So at this point of the EIA Report the evaluation should include information (especially costs) about the mitigation measures for the main alternatives, so that the evaluation can be conducted on a reasonably consistent basis. This will help to ensure that the best alternative, across all the environmental and social criteria, is selected.
A comparative evaluation can be undertaken by reference to:
- adverse and beneficial impacts;
- effectiveness of mitigation measures;
- distribution of benefits and costs, locally and regionally; and
- any other opportunities for community and environmental enhancement.
As with the identification and evaluation of the impacts the presentation of the comparison of alternatives can follow many forms. Evaluation methods have been developed to bring together the various environmental effects (and impacts) associated with a proposal and its alternatives. The methods enable comparisons of impacts and alternatives to be made. They also lead directly to an output which summarises all the environmental impacts and provides the basis for the evaluation of the proposal (and alternatives) by decision-makers. Methods can be classified into eight main types, although this is obviously arbitrary and not necessarily consistent for different researchers. The categories which cover the vast majority of methods are, according to Thomas and Elliott (2005):
- ad hoc methods
- systems diagrams
- quantitative or index methods
- mathematical models
Ad hoc methods are commonly used. A simple form being similar to the following table for a road proposal:
|Assessment Criteria||Alternative 1<||Alternative 2||Alternative 3||Alternative 4||Source: RMIT University|
|TRANSPORT ECONOMIC EVALUATION|
|Project Total Estimated Cost ($ Million)||103||104||105||115|
|Benefit Cost Ratio (BCR)||0.75||1.11||0.86||0.78|
|Net Present Value (NPV) ($ Million)||-18.9||8.2||-10.4||-17.7|
|Land Required (ha)||299||265||305||290|
|No. of Houses Acquired (within right-of-way)||2||6||3||6|
|Road Safety (reduction in accidents in first year of operation)||2.7||3.4||3.0||2.9|
|Business and Tourism||+||0||0||0|
|Land Use Planning||+||0||+||0|
|Flora and Fauna||0||0||0||+|
|Archaeology and Heritage||+||0||0||0|
In this case qualitative information has been used for the issues that were difficult to measure (business and tourism, etc). Instead of shading, some other representation could be used (words, descriptions, dots).
When used, formal methods of analysing alternatives should be briefly described and their assumptions and limitations noted.