Environmental Overview

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The following is the United Nations Development Programmes Environmental overview (initial environmental evaluation) Operational guidelines. It was developed by UNDP as an in-house tool to integrate environmental considerations into its proposed activities at either the project or strategic level.


Environmental Management Tools

Four management tools to be used at each step of UNDP operations are discussed in this section.

In addition, environmental documents and related reference materials are now being produced in copious amounts. As many of these materials could be used to prepare Environmental Overviews and Management Strategies, a library-style reference system on the environment could be set up in each field office. That is, environmental information arriving at UNDP field offices could be categorized and collected in one place for staff members to be able to consult and retrieve.

Field offices that already have libraries could set up sections on the environment and encourage Programme Officers to forward all appropriate documents to this facility. Field office environmental focal points may also assist offices in assuring that environmental management processes are completed as outlined here and that environmental information flowing into the office is disseminated to the appropriate staff members, government counterparts and NGOs. Activities of the Sustainable Development Network and the Global Environment Facility should also be linked to the guidelines.

Tool 1: Environmental Checklist for UNDP Technical Cooperation

To ensure that proper consideration has been given to the environment, a checklist serves as a reminder to those participating in activity implementation (See Box 1 below) These specific questions should be answered to facilitate the process of assessing whether the environmental dimension has been included.

Box 1. Environmental Checklist for UNDP Cooperation
* Has an EOC/EOP been prepared for the programme/project?
* Does the programme/project document include explicit actions to prevent and conserve environment?
* Have the sources of environmental impact (positive and negative) been properly identified programme/project document?
* Does the programme/project document include environmental mitigation measures?
* Have the potential conflicts of interest been properly addressed in the document?

Tool 2: Environmental Overviews

An Environmental Overview (EO) is an assessment tool that forms the basis for an Environmental Management Strategy. The aim of this short document is to provide basic information on the present environmental situation of a country or project. It will also include an assessment of how the environment might be altered if the programme or project is implemented. This tool is the simplest instrument which can be used to determine whether a proposed activity is being designed and implemented within an environmentally sound and sustainable approach. The EOs will be used in designing all UNDP activities.

All Environmental Overviews should:

  • identify the main environmental opportunities and constraints that the implementation of the programme or project could bring about;
  • suggest alternatives to the programme/project design that would take better advantage of potential environmental opportunities and/or mitigate likely environmental disturbances associated with the programme/project; and
  • identify areas of uncertainty regarding modifications to the environment, as well as those potential social and economic conflicts that might arise if environmental changes are introduced in the programme/ project area.

Whether the overview is prepared for a Country Programme or for specific projects and programmes, it should not be longer than seven pages. Sections Preparation of Environmental Overview of Programme (Project) and Management Strategy (EOP/MS) and Criteria for Screening UNDP EOCs and EOPs below, contain annotated outlines of what to include in each type of overview.

The responsibility of preparing EOs belongs to those who are proposing a programme or project and, when appropriate, should be included in the terms of reference. This would include UNDP staff, other UN agency professionals, government or NGO counterparts and outside experts.

For the Country Programme, the EOC should be prepared at the same time the Advisory Note is being drafted. For a project or programme document, the EOP should be done before or while the Project Formulation Framework (PFF) is being drafted but not finalised. This leaves ample time to make revisions if necessary and to incorporate mitigation measures and other environmental considerations throughout the Note or PFF. Once the EO is prepared, some of the information it contains should be incorporated into appropriate sections of the Advisory Note (eventually the Country Programme) or the actual PFF (for example, justification, objectives and so forth). The EO should also be attached as an annex to the programme/project document so that it can be reviewed by the Project/Programme Activity Committee (PAC) and the Action-Committee (AC).

Generally speaking, EOs are not based on original research, although occasionally independent research might be necessary. EOs should be developed mainly from existing information contained in country environmental profiles such as those prepared by other international organizations, academic institutions, bilateral donors and NGOs (for example, those of the World Bank and Interregional Development Banks, or the national reports prepared for the UN Conference on Environment and Development). New information should be generated only if no other details about the characteristics/functions of the local environment are available. Participatory development techniques that take advantage of grass-roots knowledge will help improve the accuracy of EOs.

An EOP should in principle be prepared for all projects from forestry to education to management training. For projects that lack any environmental factors or potential environmental components, the EOP will be limited to one page of outline subheadings with an explanation in each case as to why it is not applicable. For projects that do not have detailed EOPs, the project document chapter on 'Special Considerations' will explain in brief that no EO was created because of the non-applicability of the topic. Very few projects will fall under this category, however.

UNDP staff should use the information contained in the document as an important input to the evaluation of the proposed programmes and projects. The EOC can influence, for example, the drafting of many sections of the Country Programme.

Tool 3: Environmental Screening of UNDP Activities Using EOPs

EOPs contain the necessary basic information to allow those who are designing or responsible for the proposed programme/activity to decide whether the activity deserves further environmental consideration. To facilitate this, the section Criteria for Screening UNDP EOCs and EOPs provides five main reference points to screen UNDP proposed activities. These criteria are not comprehensive, but mainly serve as a reminder for the environmental reviewer. EOCs will also be annexed to the Country Programme, and this will provide the basis for assessing the environmental performance of the programme or project over time.

After UNDP screens the EOPs, the following choices of action exist:

  • Given potential environmental opportunities and/or the absence of negative environmental impacts, write the final document (incorporating the EOP) and submit it to the PAC and, if necessary, the Action Committee.
  • Do not pursue the proposal further due to its potential negative impact on the environment.
  • Request additional information/clarification regarding the environmental characteristics of the area where the proposed activity is expected to take place; demand elaboration of some aspects of the EOP or expansion of information regarding potential environmental impacts prior to drafting the final document.
  • Introduce changes to the design presented in the PFF to eliminate or mitigate potential negative environmental impacts, or to make better use of opportunities.
  • Recommend preparing an in-depth Environmental Management Strategy for the project document that would be referred to throughout the implementation of the activity.

If the screening process leads to a choice to provide UNDP support for the programme/project under consideration, the EOP should be annexed to the project document.

Tool 4: Environmental Management Strategies

An Environmental Management Strategy (EMS) is a detailed action oriented plan prepared for UNDP projects. Environmental Overviews answer the question 'what' is happening or might happen to the environment with a proposed action. Environmental Management Strategies answer the questions:

  • 'how' (to improve the environment or mitigate its disturbance);
  • 'when' (at what time, through the life of a project, this will be done);
  • 'who' (will be accountable for implementing and monitoring environmental activities);
  • 'how long' (before the results will be seen); and
  • 'what is required' (in terms of experts, information, institutional and financial support) for integrating environmentally sound and sustainable development principles within a proposed development activity.

Preparation of Environmental Overview of Programme (Project) and Management Strategy (EOP/MS)

Although the text of this EOP/MS refers to projects, it can also be used for programmes. This outline contains a 'menu' of possible topics that might assist staff members to develop EOPs. Thus the sections included here should be completed only when applicable. Information can be presented sectorally rather then geographically if necessary. Linkages between sections should be identified.

Brief Description of the EOP/MS Environment of the Area of the Project

In general, this section is intended to provide all those who are participating in the development of a UNDP Project with basic general information on the physical characteristics of the environment in the area (1 page maximum). The idea is to highlight any important aspects of the natural environment that might be a determinant in the design, appraisal, extension, approval and assessment of a proposed UNDP regional, national or local project.

Land and water ecosystems

Describes those types of land and water ecosystems that characterize the project area (such as plains, valleys, mountain ecosystems, rivers, lakes) and whether any of these are known to represent untapped environmental opportunities or areas of particular environmental concern. Includes information on climate if appropriate, such as when the project relates to specific types of agricultural production. In urban areas, describes briefly the relevant geographical features.

Living resources

Describes (1) the biological species (fauna and flora) in the project area that represent particular concerns and/or opportunities for the environment (for example, the unexploited potential of certain resources such as medicines that could be obtained from tropical forest species), (2) the sociocultural context in the project area (population size, ethnicity, poverty and gender indicators etc.).

Main Environmental Issues in the Project Area

This section covers the three environmental issues that are most important in the area where the project will be implemented—whether, for example, the area is prone to flooding, there is an ongoing process of desertification, or the sustainable fish catch potential is smaller than present exploitation (1 page maximum). Topics to consider might include quality of life of the local population, natural hazards, fragile ecosystems, role of children and women and over-crowding. Consultations with local population groups will improve the accuracy of this section.

Economics and the Environment in the Project Area (1 page maximum)

This section generally discusses whether the prevailing economic situation in the project area will affect the environment. Lists any prevailing national or local economic policies and regulations in the project area that affect the quality of the environment. Any enforcement mechanisms that prevail in the project area to protect the local environment should also be included. General statements about the population's socio-economic situation may be added if not listed under 1 above.

Environmental Management in the Project Area

This section should describe the capacity of the people and institutions working in the project area to cope with their environmental problems, achieve appropriate environmental management and promote sustainable development(1 page maximum).

Legal and regulatory

Describes whether there are explicit environmental policies and regulations in the project area and, if so, whether they have the enforcement mechanisms and appropriate technical and financial support to be effective.

Major environmental actors

Includes a brief description of the main environmental actors in the project area (government authorities, international organizations, private sector, NGOs, individuals) and their objectives and strategies. Identifies possible conflicts among the actors if the proposed project is implemented. Consider whether women play an active role in all these groups and are able to make the necessary contributions, explain their role.

Technical and managerial capacity to deal with environmental issues

Describes generally the existing educational, technical and managerial capacity in the project area (within the public, private, NGO and academic sectors) to deal with the environmental issues relevant to the project. Special emphasis should be given to the presence and activities of grass-roots organizations working on environmental protection. The strength and resources of environmental institutions in the project area should be briefly assessed.

Major Natural and Socio-Economic Impacts and Opportunities Associated with the Project Implementation

Both these sections should incorporate the views of the affected population groups; participatory development techniques should therefore be used whenever possible (1 page maximum).

Potential impacts on the natural environment

Identifies the potential impacts, both positive and negative, that the implementation of the project may have upon the natural environment. Identifies the three most important environmental impacts that the implementation of the project might bring about, and describes how the project will address them. If the project is on agroforestry, for example, indicates whether soil conservation, watershed management and appropriate selection of pesticides and fertilizers have been envisaged.

Potential socio-economic impacts

Lists the three most important potential benefits and costs to the socio-economic impacts environment that may result from the implementation of the project.

Alternatives for Project Design

This section will discuss the possibility of altering the project design (technology, project objectives and methodology of implementation) to take better advantage of the opportunities offered by the environment in the project area, and to mitigate and eliminate the environmental disadvantages that the project might create (1/2 page maximum).

Identification of Environmental Objectives of the Proposed Activity

The EOP/MS should state clearly and succinctly the environmental objectives of the alternative (1/2 page). These must conform with the broader development objectives of the country and therefore might go beyond the particular activity's goals. If a proposed activity does not explicitly indicate any environmental objectives, UNDP staff should request that such objectives be identified .

For example, a project on animal-husbandry might identify production targets but not explicitly include environmental objectives. If the proposed activity will introduce new technologies or exotic animal and plant varieties, relocate people or introduce new chemical products, the local environment will be affected. The strategy, in this case, will help identify and clearly design the environmental objectives of such an animal-husbandry project. Environmental objectives could include soil protection, plant conservation and integrated agricultural development.

Identification of Conflicts of Interest

Some of the objectives pursued by different environmental actors might conflict. For example, the interests of companies that commercialize chemical fertilizers will conflict with activities aiming to promote organic fertilization. The EOP/MS must identify such conflicts of interest and devise possible alternatives to avoid them. In the previous example, an incentive might be proposed for the commercial chemical enterprise to sell other fertilizers (including organic) that will promote soil fertility without damaging the environment.

Formulation of an Operational Strategy

The most important action-oriented part of the EOP/MS is the formulation of an operational strategy that will allow the achievement of the environmental objectives and goals proposed by the EOP/MS.

The strategy must be formulated by the staff proposing, designing or evaluating the activity in consultation with project participants.

Specific environmental targets to be achieved

Identifies specific environmental targets in addition to the main environmental policy objectives identified in Section 2. If the proposed activity entails manufacturing processes (such as tanneries or food processing) which generate waste, for example, specific environmental targets would be set such as reducing all waste emissions by 15% over a period of three years and installing interim measures.

Participants in environmental management

Identifies the objectives and strategies of the major actors related to the environment in the area where the proposed activity will take place.

Plan of activities and timetable

Identifies a number of activities that will lead to the implementation of the strategy. A timetable must also be formulated indicating when such activities are expected to occur, and who will be responsible for them. As the EOP/MS will eventually become part of either the programme or project document, the proposed environmental activities and timetable should be compatible with the overall activities and timetable of the Programme or Project. Relevant national and local activities and timetables should also be considered.

Environmental information

Provides reliable and accurate environmental information as the basis for sustainable decision making, while acknowledging that accurate environmental information is difficult to obtain, especially in developing countries. The EOP/MS might include efforts to obtain the most accurate environmental information relevant to the proposed activity or to initiate work that will generate the necessary information over an identified period.

Supporting needs

Identifies the specific needs required for the successful implementation of the strategy. The needs to be identified include:

  • Education and training
  • Technical and managerial skills
  • Access to environmental data banks
  • Institutional support
  • Financial aspect

The development and implementation of the EOP/MS requires technical and financial resources. Technical assistance might be needed from UNDP in order to develop the strategy and identify the resources required to carry it out.

Assigning implementation responsibilities

States clearly who will be accountable for implementing each one of the activities proposed within the strategy.

Decision making

Analyzes the environmental chain of command and responsibilities in the area where an activity is being considered. This analysis should not be restricted to the chain of command in the environmental field (ministry of the environment, forestry sector) but should include the other sectors of the economy that are intimately related to the environment such as industry, trade, health, and so on. The objective is to identify to whom suggestions and recommendations—indeed, the entire EOP/MS—would be addressed. It should also include what would be the most efficient way to influence the decision-making process to protect and enhance the environment.

Monitoring the EOP/MS

Every UNDP-sponsored activity is monitored regularly to ensure that its stated objectives are being achieved in the time framework envisaged. As the EOP/MS will probably be incorporated into the programme or project document that describes the proposed activity, it should be monitored according to the procedures presented. Constant, cautious monitoring on an as frequent a basis as possible, using specific success indicators for the points raised in the strategy, will help guarantee that the objectives are achieved.

The main difference between an EO and an EMS is that the latter is an ongoing effort demanding close UNDP monitoring throughout the activity while the former is a more static undertaking completed during project formulation. The EMS should be prepared by those proposing the implementation of a project: mainly government officials, NGOs, academic institutions and UN agencies responsible for implementation. Terms of reference will need to refer to the EMS preparation.

The EMS, as part of the EOP/MS, steps 7 to 10, will be prepared according to the specifications provided in the section below - Criteria for Screening UNDP EOCs and EOPs, using participatory development techniques to the greatest extent possible. The length of an EMS can vary greatly, so guidelines on the length of each section are not included. UNDP staff are responsible for ensuring that the EMS is prepared according to these guidelines. It is recommended that the proposed project executer undertake the technical coordinating responsibilities, using, as necessary, appropriate UN agencies and/or other affiliated agencies or NGOs.

The ideas expressed in the EMS eventually need to be incorporated into the objectives, activities, inputs, work plan and so on of the project or programme document. Special references should also be made to the EMS and, if necessary, a specific section summarizing the EMS should be added. The EMS should also be attached as an annex to these documents to assist in monitoring the activities over time.

Criteria for Screening UNDP EOCs and EOPs

It is recommended that the programmes/projects that fall within any of the following categories be subject to further environmental consideration:

Environmentally Sensitive Areas or Activities

  • Activities leading to encroachments on tropical rain forests, wetlands, mangrove forests, coral reefs, coastal zones or other vulnerable areas
  • Activities changing natural vegetation and/or the habitats of wildlife species, or in areas inhabited by endangered species
  • Activities in legally declared protected areas
  • Ecologically fragile areas (including those identified as such by NGOs)
  • Areas subject to desertification, arid and semi-arid zones, drylands
  • Ecotourism activities
  • Areas of unique conservation, historical, cultural, archaeological or aesthetic interest
  • Areas of particular social significance (habitats for nomadic people or indigenous populations)
  • Areas where pre-established pollution limits have been exceeded or where activities would lead to air, water, soil, radioactive or noise pollution

Livestock, Farming and Fishing Practices

  • Sustainable agriculture
  • Activities leading to soil erosion or in soil-conservation areas
  • Integrated pest control or pesticide use/management
  • Agroforestry
  • Afforestation
  • Activities leading to increased grazing
  • Introduction or modifications of new crops or livestock
  • Introduction of new species where there is limited knowledge of the ecological functions of the local ecosystem
  • Biotechnology
  • Activities with the possibility of exceeding carrying capacity (eg. catching larger quantities of fish than can be replaced by natural rate of growth)
  • Controlled breeding and exploitation of fish or shellfish carried out in marine or inland waters or in artificial ponds

Activities Dealing with Water Resources

  • Water management
  • Irrigation and flood control
  • Hydroelectric
  • Ground water
  • Management of inland wetland ecosystems
  • Health and sanitation

Infrastructure and Industrial Strengthening

  • Large infrastructure and urbanization activities (eg. port development, airports and railway systems)
  • Energy generation
  • Mining (land and water)
  • Activities leading to conflicts over use of resources (eg. port development and tourism)
  • All industrial development
  • Activities causing emissions to soil, water and air and/or that may endanger the environment
  • Activities demanding considerable increases in consumption of raw materials (water, land, fossil fuels)
  • Activities creating major changes in landscape
  • Activities creating risks of accidents that could have serious consequences for local people or the natural environment
  • Occupational safety and training
  • Activities that introduce immigrant labour and change local social fabric

Urbanisation, Land Development and Waste Management

  • Human settlements (housing, office, commercial buildings)
  • Land-use planning or road building
  • Activities leading to accumulation of waste and creation of unwanted disposal sites
  • Production, transport or storage of hazardous wastes.
  • UNDP Environmental Overview
  • ADB Checklist of Environmental Parameters for Major Dam/Reservoir/Hydropower Projects


UNDP (1992) Handbook and Guidelines for Environmental Management and Sustainable Development. Part II, pages 30-39. Environment and Natural Resources Group, UNDP, New York.