This topic introduces the concept of EIA and outlines its history, placing it within the current framework of sustainable development. Reference is made to:
- the purpose and aims of EIA;
- the nature and scope of environmental issues and impacts;
- the principles of EIA administration and practice;
- the concept of integrated assessment;
- the key elements of the EIA process;
- the costs and benefits of undertaking EIA; and
- the role of capacity building in improving EIA practice.
Learning Outcomes of this Section
On successful completion of this Section, you will be able to:
- Demonstrate an introductory understanding of EIA and why it is necessary;
- Appreciate the worldwide influence of EIA practice.
Structure of these EIA learning materials
In this module, the EIA process is discussed in 11 Sections. Following this introductory section, Background (Section 1), are the following 10 Sections in order, with a brief description of the purpose of each stage in the EIA process:
- Law, Policy and Institutional Arrangements (Section 2): To provide regulatory and legislative governance structures and requirements of EIA processes for project proponents, EIA practitioners and stakeholders.
- Public involvement (Section 3): To inform the public about the proposal and to gain the inputs of those directly affected by or interested in the proposal. Public involvement in some form may occur throughout the EIA process, although it tends to be focused on scoping and review phases of EIA.
- Screening (Section 4): To decide whether or not a proposal should be subject to the EIA process and, if so, at what level of detail.
- Scoping (Section 5): To identify the key issues and impacts that are likely to require further investigation, and to prepare the terms of reference for the EIA study.
- Impact analysis (Section 6): To identify and predict the likely environmental and social effects of the proposal and evaluate their significance.
- Mitigation and impact management (Section 7): To develop measures to avoid, reduce or compensate for impacts, making good any environmental damage.
- Reporting (Section 8 ): To describe the results of the EIA for decision-makers and other interested parties.
- Review of EIA quality (Section 9): To examine the adequacy of the EIA report to see if it meets the terms of reference and provides the information necessary for decision-making.
- Decision-making (Section 10): To approve or reject the proposal and set the terms and conditions under which it can proceed. The decision-maker also has the option to defer approval (e.g. until certain conditions are met or to require a proponent to redesign the project so that the environmental effects are minimised).
- Implementation and follow up (Section 11): To check on the implementation of the terms and conditions of approval during the construction and operation phases; to monitor the impacts of the project and the effectiveness of mitigation measures; to take any actions necessary to ameliorate problems; and, as required, to undertake audit and evaluation to strengthen future EIA applications.
In this module you will be looking only at EIA. However, it is important to recognise that there is a general principle of assessment that applies to EIA, and to other assessment processes. There are several other processes that relate closely to the review of environmental impacts that may result from a proposed project. The following are well recognised processes:
- Social Impact Assessment
- Risk Assessment
- Life Cycle Analysis
- Energy Analysis
- Health Impact Assessment
- Regulatory Impact Assessment
- Species Impact Assessment
- Technology Assessment
- Economic Assessment
- Cumulative Impact Assessment
- Strategic Environmental Assessment
- Integrated Impact Assessment
Some, like Energy Analysis, focus on a particular part of the environment. Others, like Life Cycle Analysis, enable the consideration of all those parts of the environment that are relevant to the assessment. Also, depending on how the terms, like health, are defined for the study you may find that it is covering most of the issues that would be found in an EIA. For example a Technology Assessment could include review of the impacts on ecosystems, air quality and the like. Similarly, if the definition of â€˜environmentâ€™ is taken broadly for an EIA, then the EIA may cover the issues of the other assessment processes; for example:
- social aspects (such as impacts on employment, community interaction);
- risks (such as threats to native animals, water supplies);
- life cycle (such as the impacts at each stage of the project â€“ design through to operation and closure); and
- energy (such as use of non-renewable energy sources, Greenhouse gas emissions), etc
So there is the potential for a lot of connections between the different forms of assessment. The essential difference between them is how the terms, or scope of assessment, are defined â€“ narrowly, or broadly. Otherwise they all follow the same general principle.
Principle of Assessment
With all the assessment approaches noted above, they are designed to identify potential impacts of a development, action or project. To do this the assessor needs to use personal experience and the experiences of others (including available knowledge) to think broadly about the changes that are possible, and whether those impacts will be positive or negative.
Particular approaches emphasis specific types of impacts (i.e. on health, on social groups). All have basically the same approach, although each may have its own individual language and detailed techniques.
Most of the assessment processes also include a second step. After identifying the impacts, they also consider what may be needed to avoid or reduce adverse impacts.
In this module you will be looking at the EIA processes that are required by governments, or by organisations that provides funds for projects (such as the Work Bank). An EIA conducted under these processes can be thought of as a â€˜formalâ€™ EIA, as it is required by formal legislation or other agreement.
However, in addition there are many possibilities of conducting â€˜informalâ€™ EIAs. This is especially the case where assessment is incorporated in internal processes of corporations. Informal EIA, such as the environment assessment associated with an Environmental Management Systems, requires identification and documentation of potential impacts, plus the reporting of how those impacts would be managed. No matter whether the assessment process is formal or informal, or what terms are used, the same principle (above) is involved.
Social and political nature of EIA
While EIA has been viewed as a technical process, it is inherently a political process. EIA evolved from the politics surrounding the impacts that development projects were having on the environment. Once established it became dominated by technocratic approaches, which may lead to people ignoring social, political and economic conditions. However, EIA is political in terms of the way in which governments legislate for EIA, and the ways in which value judgments and political decisions, at the level of the individual, permeate virtually every element of EIA. A significant political issue is the choice of proposals to which EIA is applied (this is at the â€˜screeningâ€˜ stage; Section 4). This can be a value judgement where one type of project requires an EIA, while others do not. Other value judgements come into decisions about what environmental issues should be covered in the EIA (scoping; Section 5), which pieces of information are included in the EIA Report (Section 8), and how the information is presented to the decision-makers.
There are â€˜checks and balancesâ€™ in the EIA process to moderate some of these influences, especially where the public has the chance to be involved (see Section 3). However, there are few opportunities through the stages in the EIA process for the public to be involved. Even when they have the opportunity, the public’s ability to be involved in the EIA process has been limited by the resources available (especially time and expertise).
Overview of issues
This module provides you with an introduction to the way in which EIA operates. As a result the module focuses on the technical aspects of EIA to help you understand how to conduct an EIA.
The module spends only very limited time discussing other assessment types, or the political nature of EIA. However, when you are engaged in the technical side of EIA you are encouraged to remember these issues as they may have an effect on the way your EIA is undertaken, and its outcomes.