EIA practice: a global review


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Since the inception of EIA, there have been a worldwide adoption of the idea. However, its practice varies from country to country. This is a review of the practice of EIA, focusing on the similarities and differences that exist globally.

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EIA practice: a global review

  2. 2. IntroductionEnvironmental Impact Assessment (EIA) has been variously defined since its inception(Yanhua et al., 2011; Samarakoon and Rowan, 2008; Snell and Cowell, 2006; Bruhn-Tyskand Eklund, 2002; Perez-Maqueo, 2001; Duinker and Greig, 2007; Lee and George, 2000). Itis therefore difficult to comprehensively define EIA, however, it can be described as asystematic process for identifying, examining, analyzing, evaluating, and predicting theimpacts of planned activities or policies; involving consultation with affected stakeholders,and using the results of the analysis and consultations in planning, authorising andimplementation of the activity (Toro et al., 2012; Kwiatkowski and Ooi, 2003; Yanhua et al.,2011; Cashmore, 2004). In simple terms, EIA is just an information gathering exercisecarried out by the proponent or other recognized bodies which enables decision-makingbodies understand the potential environmental effects of a proposed project before decidingwhether or not it should go ahead. EIA is thus an anticipatory (futuring), participatoryenvironmental management tool and as such, it is based on principles such as transparency,public involvement and accountability (CENN, 2004; RTPI, 2001). Environmental ImpactAssessment (EIA) is essential for sustainable development; it ensures a balanceeconomically, socially, and institutionally with the environment. EIA development started with the adoption of the NEPA (National Environmental ProtectionAct) in the USA in 1969 (El-Fadl and El-Fadel, 2004), and facilitated by the StockholmConference in 1972, the Brundtland Report, and the Rio Conference, the idea has beenadopted and practiced by over 100 countries (Wood, 2003b; Jay et al., 2007), includingdeveloped, developing and transitional economies. EIA is a useful tool for facilitating intra-generational and intergenerational equity (Yanhua et al., 2011) hence promoting sustainabledevelopment and ecosystems protection. It is therefore not surprising that it has been adoptedworld-wide within four decades (Jay et al., 2007). However, though the basic components ofEIA (Figure 1) are relatively the same world-wide, the procedures and practice varies fromone nation to the other (Glasson et al., 2000). This write up therefore seeks to criticallyreview the global practice of EIA, focusing on similarities and differences. The essayexamined how the legal and institutional framework, and the screening and scopingcomponents of EIA vary globally, using information from 40 countries (Table 1). Theselected aspects of EIA for review in this essay were based on the fact that they form the backbone and most essential parts of EIA (Heinma and Põder, 2010; Weston, 2000a). Proposed EIA Public Decision Screening Scoping Conduction Project Involvement Figure 1: Basic EIA Process and components 2
  3. 3. Table 1: Selected countries for essay write upContinent Selected Countries (depended on available data)Africa Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, Egypt, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and TunisiaAsia China, Bangladesh, Azerbaijan, India, Indonesia, Maldives, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Lebanon, Syria, Korea and VietnamAustralia Australia and FijiEurope Bulgaria, Denmark, UK, Finland, Estonia, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Sweden, Turkey, Norway and FranceNorth America US and Canada, and Alberta (province)South America Brazil and ColombiaLegal and Institutional Framework or ProceduresAs pointed out earlier, the practice of EIA differs from one country to another; EIA has beenadopted in the context of the institutional framework and political system of each country.Several studies including, Wood (2003a) and Okello et al (2008), suggests that legislation(s)is/are essential for EIA to be effective. Evidently, the adoption, implementation, and practiceof EIA depend on the institutional framework and political context of the decision-makingprocess in each country (Leknes, 2001). The provision for EIA may be made throughlegislation, administrative order or policy directive (Ahmad and Wood, 2002). Somecountries have EIA legislations requiring approval of projects before their commencementbut other countries rely on regulations, guidance or ad hoc procedures (Glasson et al., 2000).For example, countries such as USA (Steinemann, 2001 ), Finland (Pölönen et al., 2011),Ghana (Appiah-Opoku, 2001), India (Rajaram and Das, 2011), Korea (Song and Glasson,2010), Colombia (Toro et al., 2010), Pakistan (Nadeem and Hameed, 2008), South Africa(Sandham and Pretorius, 2008), Ireland (Geraghty, 1996), Scotland (Natural HeritageManagement, 2009), and Syria (Haydar and Pediaditi, 2010) have comprehensive or enablinglegislations requiring that certain projects must carry out EIA and be approved before thecommencement of such undertakings whilst Azerbaija (CENN, 2004) and Fiji (Turnbull,2003) has no comprehensive EIA legislations but relies on unclear regulations and guidelinesfrom an EIA handbook. Also, in China, there was no comprehensive EIA legislation until2003, though EIA had been practiced in the country for about three decades (Lui et al., 2011).Despite this bold step by China, many assessments, including Lui et al. (2011) and Wang etal. (2003), suggest that the new system is still weak, allowing little public participation(though better than earlier systems), and deficient in the consideration of alternatives.However, the research conducted by Wang et al. (2003) was shallow because theirmethodology did not allow for fair representation of China’s major towns. The paperconcentrated in two major Town centres which do not provide any form of representativepicture of the practice of EIA under the new system across China as a nation.Another form of disparity is that some countries have complex systems within which EIA isperformed whilst other countries have relatively simpler legal procedures for carrying outEIA. In China, for example, EIA operates within a complex legal framework (Lui et al.,2011) whiles in Ghana, the system is much simpler (Appiah-Opoku, 2001). Also, in othercountries where the legislative and administrative system are well defined and established 3
  4. 4. such as UK (Salvador et al, 2000) and Canada (www.ceaa-acee.gc.ca), public participationand project alternatives are treated as essential and provision is made to ensure effectiveness.It can therefore be inferred that the legislative and administrative system of a country togetherwith its socio-economic growth determines how EIA is practiced. Despite the differences interms of legislation, most countries have well defined procedures by which EIA is executed,and the process involves all the components shown in Figure 1. It is also worth noting thatNigeria has three different independent EIA systems, all backed by laws, and therefore differssignificantly from other countries in their approach to EIA (Ogunba, 2004). The disadvantageof such systems is that duplication of functions is not uncommon and the effectiveness of allsystems is questionable.ScreeningIn all countries under review, the EIA process begins when a proponent applies to theappropriate authority for permission (e.g. China), approval (e.g. Ghana), Clearance (e.g.Bangladesh) or licence(s) (e.g. Colombia) to undertake a planned activity. In some countries,such as Ghana and Bangladesh, only one agency or body has the power to approve projectswhiles in other countries such as Colombia, China, Canada, Syria, Denmark, India and Brazilmore than one agency or body can approve projects (Christensen, 2006; Paliwal, 2006). Forexample, either the Government Administration (MEHLD), Regional IndependentCorporations, Sustainable Development Corporations, or Urban Community Corporations inColombia can issue the licence to developers to undertake projects (Toro et al., 2010)whereas in Ghana, only the EPA has the authority to approve projects (Appiah-Opoku, 2001).It is worth mentioning that unlike the other nations, Canada has a different system; theprocess depends on ‘triggers’. The federal authority undertakes EIA whenever a projectmeets at least one of the ‘triggers’. For example, a project will initiate the EIA process if it isproposed by the federal authority (www.ceaa-acee.gc.ca).Once the appropriate authority receives the application, the next stage in the EIA process isscreening. Screening is the process of determining whether a proposed undertaking requiresan EIA or not based on the expected impact of the proposed project on the environment andits relative significance (Pölönen et al., 2011). Depending on the circumstances of theproposed project, the existing environment, and the likely environmental effects, screeningsmight vary significantly in time taken, length and depth of analysis, (Joa˜o, 2002; www.ceaa-acee.gc.ca). In all nations, the screening stage produces one of four main outcomes; (i) noneed for EIA, (ii) need for a full and comprehensive EIA, (iii) need for a limited EIA or (iv)need for further studies to determine the level of EIA required (Salvador et al., 2000; Clausenet al., 2011). Three main approaches are employed during screening to determine whether ornot a proposed project requires EIA; legal (or policy), inclusion or exclusion list, or a criteriafor case-by-case (Figure 2). Every country uses at least one of these methods, though theymay differ significantly in the way they are applied based on applicable EIA law(s) orregulations. Most countries use the list approach (Christensen and Kørnøv, 2011; Glasson etal., 2000; Marara et al., 2011; El-Sayed et al., 2011). For instance, in Aberta, the inclusionlist defines projects that require a comprehensive EIA base on size and type, for example, theconstruction, operation or reclamation of a quarry producing more than 45 000 tonnes peryear requires a full EIA (Alberta Regulation 62/2008). 4
  5. 5. Figure 2: General screening approaches (Source: http://eia.unu.edu/course/?page_id=136)The use of project lists offers two main merits; it provides a standardized framework forscreening and simplifies the screening process as well. However, despite these merits, it iscritical to note that use of project lists must be done with caution because it has its ownweaknesses. For example, a proposed surface coal mine project producing more than 45 000tonnes per year will require an EIA in Alberta (Alberta Regulation 62/2008). In this case,EIA can be avoided by reducing the proposed production level to a level just below thethreshold (e.g. 44 400 tonnes per year). It is therefore essential to have a discretionary(secondary) list or other screening procedures to which such projects will be subject. Also,project lists requires regular updates that will incorporate experiences from pass EIAs and tomeet new demands. The flowchart of Alberta’s EIA process is shown in Figure 3.In Azerbaija, however, the screening is much different from Alberta because there are nodistinctive procedures by which projects are screened (CENN, 2004). Screening is based onexperience from past EIAs and sometimes recognized international bodies screening lists(e.g. World Bank). This kind of screening is likely to be of poor quality because thresholdvalues are quite subjective, and the screening process is likely not to be comprehensive. Assuch, usually, only the oil companies requires EIA but small scale activities, regardless oftheir potential environment impact, do not go through the EIA process (CENN, 2004). It cantherefore be inferred that the procedure for screening in Azerbaija is not rigorous enough tomake EIA effective. Much like Azerbaija, is the Fijian state, where screening rest solely onthe discretionary power of the Town and Country Planning’s Director (Turnbull, 2003). Suchscreening approaches are very subjective with high probability of producing poor results. 5
  6. 6. Figure 3: Alberta EIA process (Source: Alberta’s Environmental Assessment Process, 2010)Unlike Azerbaija, Bangladesh has defined screening procedures. All industrial projects aregrouped into; Green, Amber A, Amber B and Red, and requires Environmental Clearancebefore their commencement, though not all projects requires EIA (Figure 4). Thecategorization is based on the environmental significance and location of the proposedindustry. Projects location is critical because though they may be below the threshold size,they may be located in or near to environmentally sensitive sites. Projects funded bydevelopment partners such as the World Bank or Asian Development Bank follow differentscreening procedures developed by them (Momtaz, 2002). There are three categorizations; A(significant impact) - full EIA required; B (some impact) – partial EIA required; and C (noimpact) – no EIA required. This is quite true in most development countries to which suchbodies are development partners. 6
  7. 7. Figure 4: Process of obtaining environmental clearance in Bangladesh (Source: Momtaz,2002) 7
  8. 8. Projects in China are categorized into A, B, and C and the screening procedure is muchsimilar to that of Bangladesh, though it may differ significantly in content, size and time. Theadministration of EIA screening is however much complex because of the politicalframework within which it operates. For example, Environmental Impact Reports (EIRs) ofall projects involving nuclear facilities or high confidentiality, cross-boundaries or worthmore than RMB 20 million approved by the State Council are approved by the StateEnvironmental Protection Agency (SEPA). All other projects are approved by theEnvironmental Protection Bureaus (EPBs) on agreed terms (Lui et al., 2011). The definitionof what is significant is dependent on the nature and quantity of the ‘pollutant discharge’ aswell as the ‘sensitivity’ of the area. Therefore projects are classified into Category A, B or Cbased on their features, output and environmental parameters. It is critical to note that thescreening process is biased towards construction projects with potential to cause pollution.Also, monetary values are used to set thresholds unlike Bangladesh and Alberta where projectsize and type are used.Screening in Pakistan (Figure 5 presents EIA flowchart) is much simpler but similar to that ofChina because thresholds for determining whether a project requires EIA or IEE depends onits cost and capacity (Nadeem and Hameed, 2008). For example, a 50 million rupees (0.806million US$) or more highway project requires an EIA but if the cost is less than 50 millionrupees, an IEE is required; a 50MW (MG) or less hydro power project does not require anEIA whereas capacities greater than 50MW must undergo EIA (GoP, 2000). Projects thatrequire EIA form the Schedule II list and those that require IEE constitute Schedule I list.These Schedules are regularly updated to incorporate new experiences and to meet currentdemands. The downside of this procedure is that size and location has not been wellconsidered. Large or small scale housing schemes’ located in sensitive areas is likely to havesignificant adverse impact on the environment yet it may not require EIA. Like China,provincial EPAs approve EIAs within their jurisdictions whiles the state EPA (Pakistan EPA)is responsible for state projects or trans-provincial projects. However, IEEs for public sectorprojects are approved by the Planning and Development Department(s) (Federal orprovincial) with the exception of military projects and trans-country impact projects (Nadeemand Hameed, 2008). Ghana’s EPA decides what constitutes a significant environmentalimpact in consultation with a committee drawn from various government sectors, and experts.Once a project will have significant adverse impacts on the environment, the Proponent isasked to consult with the affectees and interested parties and prepare a scoping report(Appiah-Opoku, 2001). 8
  9. 9. Figure 5: Pakistan’s EIA process (Source: Nadeem and Hameed, 2008)ScopingScreening establishes the basis for scoping, which identifies the main issues that need to becovered in an EIA yet ensuring that indirect, secondary and cumulative effects are not downplayed (Rajaram and Das, 2011). Scoping should therefore be timely, comprehensive and 9
  10. 10. focused, flexible but systematic, and involve public participation (Glynn, 2004). Globally,scoping is done using one of three major approaches; proponent prepares scope solely,proponent prepares scope in consultation with competent authority with or without publicinput or competent authority prepares the scope for the proponent (Wood et al., 2006;Mulvihill, 2003; Zubair, 2001). In cases where the competent authority prepares the scope forthe proponent, it can be very burdensome, especially in developed countries where proposedprojects may range from hundreds to thousands in a short period. If scoping is also left solelyto the proponent, the general public and affectees are likely to be left out in most cases.Therefore, it is better to use the second approach, where the proponent prepares the scope inconsultation with the competent authority, the public and affectees. In Alberta, once a projectrequires an EIA, the Proponent prepares and provides the public and Alberta Environmentwith copies of Proposed Terms of Reference (PTOF). The Assessment Director based on theEPEA guidelines and public input, issues the Final Terms of Reference (scope) and theProponent conducts the assessment. A quite different approach is used in Azerbaija, the scopeis agreed upon at a meeting held by the Environmental Authority for the Developer involvingaffectees, experts and the Developer. Where consensus cannot be reached, the EnvironmentalAuthority decides the scope and the Developer conduct the assessment. There are no explicitguidelines for scoping in Azerbaija. In Pakistan, the EPA plays just a suggestive role inscoping; the Developer has the sole responsibility of developing the Terms of Reference,after which the assessment is conducted. This is because scoping is not mandatory in Pakistan(Nadeem and Hameed, 2008), though it is in most countries. The approach in China alsodiffers significantly from the already discussed procedures. Upon the Developer’s request, alicensed agency prepares the EIA action-outline for them. The Developer then hires alicensed agency to conduct the EIA once the action-outline is approved by EPB. Indetermining the significance of a project, China uses the Benefit-Cost Analysis (BCA)approach, in addition to level of potential pollution. Though significant differences exist inthe way scoping is done in various countries, the content of the EIA report are basically thesame differing very little. Comparing the countries under discussion, the content includes;  project description,  project location and environmental setting information,  project options and alternatives  baseline information (environmental, social and cultural),  potential negative and positive impact (environmental, social, health, economic and cultural),  mitigation plans, and  environmental management proposal for monitoring and decommissioning (Paliwal, 2006; El-Fadel et al., 2000; Kruopienė et al., 2009; Saengsupavanich, 2011).A Summary of the other stagesThe report is reviewed by; a multi-disciplinary team of experts co-ordinated by AlbertaEnvironment in Alberta (Alberta’s Environmental Assessment Process Updated, 2010);Environmental Review Expert Group (EREG) chaired by the Environmental authority in 10
  11. 11. Azerbaijan (CENN, 2004); EPB, in consultation with other relevant authorities in China (Luiet al., 2011); and EPA, in consultation with a committee of experts in Ghana (Appiah-Opoku,2001). The purpose of the review is basically the same in all countries under discussion; toidentify any project-related risks or uncertainties and determine if the information providedmeets the Terms of Reference (TOR) (Lui et al., 2011; Kruopienė et al., 2010). In Ghana, thereport is graded; A (excellent), B (good), C (satisfactory), D (attempted), E (poor) and F(very poor), and depending on the nature of the project and potential impacts, grades D, E,and F are might be asked to provide the appropriate additional information (Appiah-Opoku,2001). Once the reviewed report is satisfactory; in Alberta, the Director formally refers thereport to the Board or the Minister to become part of the Public Interest Decision process(Alberta’s Environmental Assessment Process Updated, 2010); in the other countries underreview, a decision is given and the project may commence on ground while otherrequirements are being processed. Globally, most countries (e.g. Lithuania, Figure 6) haveprovision for public participation and appeal in case of dissatisfaction on proponent’s part(OFaircheallaigh, 2010; Elling, 2004; Li et al., 2012; Furia and Wallace-Jones, 2000;Soneryd, 2004; Almer and Koontz, 2004); however, it is poorly practiced in most developingcountries. Finally, all countries have provisions for monitoring but it is usually done poorly ornot all, even in some developed nations (Morrison-Saunders et al., 2007; Zubair et al., 2011).Figure 6: Lithuania EIA process (involves much public participation) (Source: Kruopienė etal, 2009) 11
  12. 12. ConclusionEIA is practiced world-wide but differing greatly in procedures and practices. Most countrieshave well defined procedures for carrying out EIA though in practice it may be poorly done.Well defined procedures for EIA but poor practices are not uncommon in most developingcountries. Categorization of projects is based on factors such as type, magnitude, capacity,costs, duration, location, and impact significance. In all countries, the EIA process beginswhen a proponent applies to the appropriate authority for permission to undertake an activityor project. Screening determines whether a project requires EIA or not. The most commonscreening procedure involves the use of lists with thresholds set by project cost, location,size, type or capacity. Some countries have discretionary lists which enlist projects notcovered (in term of threshold) in the inclusion and exclusion lists. Decision on EIArequirements for such projects is dependent on location and level of significance of impact.Most countries’ scoping involves the proponent, affectees, experts and the public. However,in China, the action-outline (which provides the scope) is given by a licensed agency andapproved by the state’s environmental authority. Scoping is not mandatory in Pakistan hencethe proponent decides what to include; the state’s environmental authority only plays asuggestive role in this stage. Globally, the impact assessment is mostly conducted by theProponent in developed countries but in developing countries, a licensed agency or the state’senvironmental authority does the assessment. The cost of the assessment, however, is borneby the proponent in all countries. Public participation in the EIA process is not uncommon indeveloped countries but much limited in developing countries. Though there are greatvariations in EIA procedures and practice, the contents of EIA report are much similar withlittle variations. 12
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