10. Decision-making

This topic focuses on the relationship of EIA and decision-making. A broad view is presented of decision-making as an on ongoing process extending from project inception to implementation. In that context, particular emphasis will be given to the stage of final approval and authorisation of a proposal.

Decision-making is the process of choosing between alternative courses of action. This process is essentially political in nature. It involves weighing the benefits and costs and making trade-offs among a range of considerations. Often, the views of interested parties are represented directly and decisions are made through an incremental process of negotiation, bargaining and compromise. For major proposals, a number of formal instruments can be used to develop the information necessary for sound decision-making.

In this context, EIA is an information gathering process, which is intended to facilitate environmentally sound decision-making. This process culminates in a final decision on whether or not a proposal is acceptable, and under what conditions. When the term ‘decision-making’ is used in EIA it is usually taken to mean the final approval of a proposal. However, a series of ‘interim’ decisions about the proposal are made throughout the EIA process; examples include the selection of a preferred alternative and making planning and design modifications to the initial proposal.

Depending upon the EIA arrangements that are in place, these interim decisions may be made by different parties. For example, at the screening and scoping stages, the responsible authority usually decides the disposition of the proposal. During EIA preparation, the proponent often modifies the proposal to make it more environmentally and socially acceptable. The final approval of the major proposal is normally a political decision, often taken by the national government , planning authority or other equivalent body. In some EIA systems, the approval is a pre-requisite to gaining other necessary authorisations, such as licenses and permits, which are issued by regulatory agencies.

Decision-makers at all levels now have well understood environmental responsibilities. At a general level, these responsibilities are outlined in the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development and Agenda 21, the principles and programme of action to which all countries that attended the Earth Summit are politically committed (see Topic 1 – Introduction and overview of EIA). EIA is identified as a key instrument to integrate environmental and social considerations into development decision-making. Its application is strengthened when used with the precautionary principle and other key guidelines for decision-making endorsed at Rio.

However, too many decision makers still regard EIA negatively, as an imposition or even an impediment rather than an opportunity to add value to development proposals and to safeguard critical resources and environmental functions. Meanwhile, UNEP, the World Bank and other international organisations have warned that global environmental change may be reaching critical thresholds, and report increasing pressures on land and water resources in many parts of the world. Often these issues affect the poor and impoverished most, undermining the resource base upon which they depend and reducing their prospects for secure and sustainable livelihoods.

Learning Outcomes of this Section

On successful completion of this Section, you will be able to:

  • Demonstrate an understanding of EIA decision making and the role of decision makers;
  • Appreciate and explain the responsibilities of EIA decision makers.

June 12, 2006 Uncategorized — brendan @ 4:27 pm


  1. You offer a lot of vital information on EIA. I always learn something new whenever I visit you website. Kindly tell me how to cite your materials.

    Comment by Narh E. D. — November 1, 2008 @ 3:51 am

  2. Hi Narth,

    The best way to cite this material is:

    Environmental Impact Assessment Open Educational Resource, developed by United Nations University, RMIT University, and the United Nations Environment Programme, 2007, accessible at: http://eia.unu.edu

    Hope that this is clear.


    Brendan Barrett
    United Nations University

    Comment by brendan — November 10, 2008 @ 5:04 pm

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