Inevitably there will be several decision-makers involved in complex, or even relatively simple, projects. The number and type of decision-makers will depend on the EIA procedures and legislation operating in the country of the project, and if there are organisations outside the country involved. For example, the construction of an electricity generating facility using funds loaned by an international financial organisation is likely to have the following decision-makers:
- the international financial organisation â€“ to ensure that the project complies with its own EIA requirements, that environmental impacts will be acceptable, so that any adverse criticism about the project will not reflect badly on the organisation;
- the government, or government representatives, such as ministers, who are responsible for granting permission â€“ such as permission to conduct land clearing, import foreign capital, or relocate people living on the site;
- the chief executive officer, or manager of the business proposing to construct the generation facility.
In addition, there may be other government officials who are required to grant permission for aspects of the project â€“ such as planning permission.
It is important for decision-makers to be aware of their responsibility to implement the EIA process and use its results to better manage the environmental impacts and risks of a proposal. At a minimum, decision-makers need to understand:
- the basic concept and purpose of EIA (and SEA);
- EIA requirements, principles and guidelines that are applicable;
- the effectiveness of their implementation and the implications for decision-making;
- limitations that may need to be placed on information and advice contained in an EIA report;
- how EIA process and practice measure up to internationally accepted standards and to those in place in comparable countries; and
- the issues associated with public consultation in decision-making, including third party and legal challenges to the authorisation of proposals subject to EIA.
The sustainability agenda places further obligations on decision-makers. In order to meet them, decision-makers need to have the requisite knowledge and tools to take fuller advantage of EIA as a sustainability instrument.
Decision-makers should be encouraged to:
- implement the sustainability commitments made at Rio;
- broaden their perspectives of the environment and its values;
- better communicate information and reasons for decisions;
- apply the precautionary principle when addressing the environmental impacts of development proposals;
- look for improved ways of making trade-offs among environmental, economic and social factors;
- adopt more open and participatory approaches to decision-making; and
- use strategic tools to aid decision-making, including SEA for proposed policies and plans and environmental accounting to gain a realistic measure of macro-economic progress.
The discussion should review the chain of decisions culminating in a final approval of the proposal, including:
- screening â€“ to decide if and at what level EIA should be applied;
- scoping â€“ to identify the important issues and prepare terms of reference;
- impact analysis â€“ focusing attention on the consideration and choice of alternatives;
- mitigation â€“ to identify measures to avoid, minimise or compensate for impacts; and
- review â€“ to determine the quality and adequacy of the EIA report as a basis for approval of the proposal.
At each stage, an implicit or explicit decision will be made on whether or not the proposal is acceptable and can be justified environmentally. In practice, this is invariably favourable, unless a proposal has a â€˜fatal flawâ€™ or proves highly controversial and unacceptable to a large majority of people. This process of decision-making is iterative, whereby the conclusions reached at each stage narrow down the choices to be made at the next one. It raises a number of issues about the difference EIA information actually makes to interim decision-making and final approval of proposals.
What aspects and issues apply to EIA decision-making locally? For example, consider:
- What type of precedent is set by each stage of decision-making for the next one?
- How do the range of options and considerations become narrowed?
- To what extent does momentum build up in favour of approval as the decision-making process continues?
- What are the circumstances and conditions under which a proposal might not be approved?
- Are the conditions established by the approval and authorisation of a proposal enforced during the implementation phase?