Scoping is a critical, early step in the preparation of an EIA. The scoping process identifies the issues that are likely to be of most importance during the EIA and eliminates those that are of little concern. Typically, this process concludes with the establishment of Terms of Reference for the preparation of an EIA. In this way, scoping ensures that EIA studies are focused on the significant effects and time and money are not wasted on unnecessary investigations.
Scoping refers to the early, open and interactive process of determining the major issues and impacts that will be important in decision-making on the proposal, and need to be addressed in an EIA. The requirements and procedures established for this purpose differ from country to country. In many EIA systems, the involvement of the public, as well as the competent authority and other responsible government agencies, is an integral part of the scoping process. Public input helps to ensure that important issues are not overlooked when preparing Terms of Reference and/or initiating the EIA study.
The purpose of scoping is to identify:
- the important issues to be considered in an EIA;
- the appropriate time and space boundaries of the EIA study;
- the information necessary for decision-making; and
- the significant effects and factors to be studied in detail.
In addition, the scoping process can be used to help define the feasible alternatives to a proposed action. Not all EIA systems make provision for the generation or review of alternatives during scoping. These may follow, instead, from the issues that are identified as important. However, consideration of alternatives during scoping is becoming accepted internationally, as an EIA â€˜good practiceâ€™.
Typically, scoping begins after the completion of the screening process. However, these stages may overlap to some degree. Essentially, scoping takes forward the preliminary determination of significance made in screening to the next stage of resolution â€“ determining which issues and impacts are significant and require further study. In doing so, the scoping process places limits on the information to be gathered and analysed in an EIA and focuses the approach to be taken.
Scoping is completed when the detailed studies required in the EIA have been specified â€“ often this involves preparing Terms of Reference (ToR) or an equivalent document. This document sets out what the EIA is to cover, the type of information to be submitted and the depth of analysis that is required. It provides guidance to the proponent on how the study should be conducted and managed. Experience shows that the ToR should be a flexible document. The terms may need alteration as further information becomes available, and new issues emerge or others are reduced in importance.
Scoping provides the foundations for an effective and efficient EIA process. When systematically carried out, scoping highlights the issues that matter and results in Terms of Reference for an EIA that provide clear direction to the proponent on what is required. This increases the likelihood of an adequately prepared EIA report. It helps to avoid the problem of unfocused, voluminous reports and the attendant delay while their deficiencies are addressed and corrected. Scoping thereby helps to make sure that resources are targeted on collecting the information necessary for decision-making and not wasted on undertaking excessive analysis.
The scoping process itself can vary in scope, complexity and time taken. A comprehensive approach to scoping may be needed for large-scale proposals, which have a range of impacts that are potentially significant. In other cases, scoping will be a more limited and restricted exercise. Depending on the circumstances, the scoping process can be tailored to include some or all of the aims listed below.
Key objectives of scoping are to:
- inform the public about the proposal;
- identify the main stakeholders and their concerns and values;
- define the reasonable and practical alternatives to the proposal;
- focus the important issues and significant impacts to be addressed by an EIA;
- define the boundaries for an EIA in time, space and subject matter;
- set requirements for the collection of baseline and other information; and
- establish the Terms of Reference for an EIA study.
Guiding principles for carrying out the scoping process include the following:
- recognise scoping is a process rather than a discrete activity or event;
- design the scoping process for each proposal, taking into account the environment and people affected;
- start scoping as soon as you have sufficient information available;
- prepare an information package or circular explaining the proposal and the process;
- specify the role and contribution of the stakeholders and the public;
- take a systematic approach but implement flexibly;
- document the results to guide preparation of an EIA; and
- respond to new information and further issues raised by stakeholders.
The elements of scoping differ to some degree with the EIA requirements established by different countries and international agencies. A comprehensive scoping process will include all or a combination of the following functions:
- identify the range of community and scientific concerns about a proposed project or action;
- evaluate these concerns to identify the significant issues (and to eliminate those issues which are not important); and
- organize and prioritise these issues to focus the information that is critical for decision making, and that will be studied in detail in the next phase of EIA.