All About Impact Assessment-GS Paper-3

What is Impact Assessment?

Impact assessments are carried out to assess the consequences of individual projects — Environmental Impact Assessment — or of policies and programmes — Strategic Environmental Assessment.

Environmental Impact Assessment

Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is a process of evaluating the likely environmental impacts of a proposed project or development, taking into account inter-related socio-economic, cultural and human-health impacts, both beneficial and adverse. UNEP defines Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) as a tool used to identify the environmental, social and economic impacts of a project prior to decision-making. It aims to predict environmental impacts at an early stage in project planning and design, find ways and means to reduce adverse impacts, shape projects to suit the local environment and present the predictions and options to decision-makers. By using EIA both environmental and economic benefits can be achieved, such as reduced cost and time of project implementation and design, avoided treatment/clean-up costs and impacts of laws and regulations.Although legislation and practice vary around the world, the fundamental components of an EIA would necessarily involve the following stages:

  1. Screening to determine which projects or developments require a full or partial impact assessment study;
  2. Scoping to identify which potential impacts are relevant to assess (based on legislative requirements, international conventions, expert knowledge and public involvement), to identify alternative solutions that avoid, mitigate or compensate adverse impacts on biodiversity (including the option of not proceeding with the development, finding alternative designs or sites which avoid the impacts, incorporating safeguards in the design of the project, or providing compensation for adverse impacts), and finally to derive terms of reference for the impact assessment;
  3. Assessment and evaluation of impacts and development of alternatives, to predict and identify the likely environmental impacts of a proposed project or development, including the detailed elaboration of alternatives;
  4. Reporting the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) or EIA report, including an environmental management plan (EMP), and a non-technical summary for the general audience.
  5. Review of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), based on the terms of reference (scoping) and public (including authority) participation.
  6. Decision-making on whether to approve the project or not, and under what conditions; and
  7. Monitoring, compliance, enforcement and environmental auditing. Monitor whether the predicted impacts and proposed mitigation measures occur as defined in the EMP. Verify the compliance of proponent with the EMP, to ensure that unpredicted impacts or failed mitigation measures are identified and addressed in a timely fashion.

Strategic Environmental Assessment

Sadler and Verheem (1996) define Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) as the formalized, systematic and comprehensive process of identifying and evaluating the environmental consequences of proposed policies, plans or programmes to ensure that they are fully included and appropriately addressed at the earliest possible stage of decision-making on a par with economic and social considerations. 
Since this early definition the field of SEA has rapidly developed and expanded, and the number of definitions of SEA has multiplied accordingly. SEA, by its nature, covers a wider range of activities or a wider area and often over a longer time span than the environmental impact assessment of projects. 

SEA might be applied to an entire sector (such as a national policy on energy for example) or to a geographical area (for example, in the context of a regional development scheme). SEA does not replace or reduce the need for project-level EIA (although in some cases it can), but it can help to streamline and focus the incorporation of environmental concerns (including biodiversity) into the decision-making process, often making project-level EIA a more effective process. 
SEA is commonly described as being proactive and ‘sustainability driven’, whilst EIA is often described as being largely reactive.

Why is it Important?

  • The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the Ramsar Convention and the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) recognize impact assessment as an important tool for helping ensure that development is planned and implemented with biodiversity in mind.
  • The CBD requests Parties to apply impact assessment to projects, programmes, plans and policies with a potential negative impact on biodiversity.
  • Biodiversity is relevant to all types of impact assessment and should be addressed at all levels, from environmental impact assessment carried out for individual projects (EIA) to the strategic environmental assessment of policies, plans and programmes (SEA).
  • Its values should be addressed in social impact assessment; health impact assessment may need to consider the role of biodiversity in disease transmission or biological control.
  • Finally, biodiversity provides commodities for international trade that may be the subject of study in trade impact assessment (sometimes referred to as sustainability impact assessment).

What’s the Problem?

  • Impact assessment processes are in place and applied in many countries, yet biodiversity is often inadequately addressed.
  • There is a growing recognition of the need to better reflect biodiversity considerations in environmental impact assessments and in strategic environmental assessments.
  • Important barriers to the incorporation of biodiversity in impact assessment include low priority for biodiversity and limitations in one or more of the following areas: capacity to carry out the assessments; awareness of biodiversity values; adequate data; and post-project monitoring.
  • Strategic environmental assessments have high potential for addressing biodiversity in planning and decision-making, but there are challenges to their application.

Positive outcomes of implementing Article 14.1

Countries reported on several positive outcomes of implementing Article 14.1, including:

  • The reinforcement of impact assessment legislation and institutional framework;
  • A growing number of environmentally sound projects;
  • Greater awareness of environmental legislation;
  • Greater awareness of the importance of impact assessment as tools for environmental and biodiversity protection;
  • Introduction of the assessment of the environmental consequences of national policies and programmes;
  • Bilateral collaboration on impact assessment;
  • Introduction of independent impact assessment review committees;
  • Publication of guidance material on incorporating biodiversity issues into EIA and SEA, including sector-related (e.g. trade; forestry) and issue-related (e.g. wetlands; migratory species; protected areas) guidance.

Obstacles to the implementation of Article 14.1

Countries reported on a number of obstacles hampering the full application of impact assessment tools. These include:

  • Inadequate human and financial capacity;
  • Lack of quality and availability of environmental data and of information necessary for fully identifying the impacts of development activities, including limited knowledge and scientific basis to develop biodiversity evaluation criteria, particularly with regard to genetic diversity, and insufficient exchange of knowledge, technology and experience;
  • Narrowness of project inclusion lists;
  • Weak institutional structures and limited intersectoral coordination often coupled with a lack of political will and leadership and a lack of transparency and accountability;
  • Inadequate monitoring and enforcement of impact assessment regulations and of mitigation measures, reported largely as a consequence of lack of institutional structures and financial and human resources;
  • Lack of ongoing qualification and certification process for environmental service providers;
  • Limited resources to review, monitor and enforce impact assessment decisions leading to delays in decision-making and project approval;
  • Lack of meaningful public and stakeholder participation in environmental planning and management often linked to poverty, low levels of education, lack of awareness of environmental and biodiversity issues;
  • Limited commitment to biodiversity conservation, including on the part of the private sector, and prioritization of economic objectives and needs.

What Needs to be Done?

Article 14 of the Convention on Biological Diversity addresses Impact Assessment and Minimizing Adverse ImpactsIn accordance with this Article:1. Each Contracting Party, as far as possible and as appropriate, shall:

  1. Introduce appropriate procedures requiring environmental impact assessment of its proposed projects that are likely to have significant adverse effects on biological diversity with a view to avoiding or minimizing such effects and, where appropriate, allow for public participation in such procedures;
  2. Introduce appropriate arrangements to ensure that the environmental consequences of its programmes and policies that are likely to have significant adverse impacts on biological diversity are duly taken into account;
  3. Promote, on the basis of reciprocity, notification, exchange of information and consultation on activities under their jurisdiction or control which are likely to significantly affect adversely the biological diversity of other States or areas beyond the limits of national jurisdiction, by encouraging the conclusion of bilateral, regional or multilateral arrangements, as appropriate;
  4. In the case of imminent or grave danger or damage, originating under its jurisdiction or control, to biological diversity within the area under jurisdiction of other States or in areas beyond the limits of national jurisdiction, notify immediately the potentially affected States of such danger or damage, as well as initiate action to prevent or minimize such danger or damage; and
  5. Promote national arrangements for emergency responses to activities or events, whether caused naturally or otherwise, which present a grave and imminent danger to biological diversity and encourage international cooperation to supplement such national efforts and, where appropriate and agreed by the States or regional economic integration organizations concerned, to establish joint contingency plans.

2. The Conference of the Parties shall examine, on the basis of studies to be carried out, the issue of liability and redress, including restoration and compensation, for damage to biological diversity, except where such liability is a purely internal matter.


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