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close this bookConducting Environmental Impact Assessment in Developing Countries (United Nations University, 1999, 375 p.)
close this folder1. Introduction
View the document1.1 The environmental movement
View the document1.2 Tracing the history of environmental impact assessment
Open this folder and view contents1.3 Changes in the perception of EIA
View the documentFURTHER READING

1.2 Tracing the history of environmental impact assessment

In parallel with, and following, the Stockholm Conference, there was a surge of policy making and institution building in the developed world. In the 1970s, many governments introduced environmental legislation, established agencies with environmental responsibilities, or grafted these into existing departments. Others moved more cautiously, with "pilot'' policies that could be elaborated after experience had been gained. In such a scenario, the environmental impact assessment (EIA), the discipline that could steer decision-making towards allowance for environmental factors, was introduced in some countries.

EIA was conceived as a policy and management tool for both planning and decision-making. It was expected to assist the identification, prediction, and evaluation of the foreseeable environmental consequences of proposed development projects, plans, and policies. Often regarded with suspicion as an unnecessary impediment to legitimate developmental objectives and progress, EIA took a decade to be acknowledged as a tool that could actually produce projects superior both in quality and value.

Two significant pieces of environmental legislation, one at the beginning of the period (1969) and one at the end (1990), both of a trail blazing character, are illustrated here. The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of the United States was the first piece of legislation that dealt with cross-sectoral issues and it launched EIA into worldwide use. The second, the Resource Management Act of New Zealand, enacted in 1990, was the first legislative statement of the principle of sustainability.

Between these two pieces of legislation, several countries have either developed specific amendments to legislation on EIA or modified existing legislation by the introduction of rules and guidelines. Some of these are chronologically outlined in Table 1.1.

Two major observations may be made from Table 1.1. Firstly, more countries introduced EIA in the 1980s and 1990s than in the 1970s and 1980s. This indicates a widespread acceptance of EIA. Secondly, EIA has been introduced fairly early in some of the developing countries, such as Malaysia and the Philippines. A trend of moving EIA from project level to plans and policies may also be observed. These trends are discussed in more detail in Section 1.3 (below).

Governments were not the only institutions to take action. In 1971, the World Bank established an environmental section to analyse environmental reconnaissance of hydro projects because of the importance of environmental management. It was recognized that the environmental context of development proposals should be a base within which planning could proceed with proper reference to potential impacts.

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) set up an environmental unit in 1987, which in 1990 became the Office of Environment (OENV). This office was set up to provide a focus within the Bank for the review of the environmental aspects of projects and for the promotion of awareness and institution building in regard to environmental issues. This office is involved in the project cycle at the important stages of project preparation, appraisal, approval, implementation, and post-evaluation.

Table 1.1 EIA legislation in various countries worldwide


Year of introduction of EIA




EPA 1969: 387 (with later amendments) describes general EIA requirements



National Environmental Policy Act



Environmental Assessments Review Process (EARP)



Environmental Protection (Impact of Proposals) Act, 1974



EIA required under Section 34 A, Environmental Quality Act, 1974



National Environmental Assessment Legislation



As per Presidential Decree No. 1586



Environmental Assessment implemented vide a cabinet resolution



Town and Country Planning (Assessment of Environmental Effects) Regulations 1988 (SI. No. 1199)



AMDAL (EIA) process established by law through Government Regulation No. 29 of 1986



Environmental Protection (General Provisions) Act transformed into Environmental Management Act of 1993

New Zealand


Environmental Act of 1986 and Resource Management Act of 1991

Sri Lanka


National Environmental Act No. 47 of 1980 was amended to include inter alia provision to include EIA



EU Directive on Environmental Assessment for 12 Member States



Under the Planning Act of 1989



National Environmental Assessment Legislation



Sections 46 & 47 under National Environmental Quality Act 1992



In the form of National EIA Guidelines issued by National Planning Commission Secretariat



Before January 1994, obtaining Environmental Clearance from Central Ministry was only an administrative requirement intended for mega projects but from 1994 the EIA notification was issued

Note: In all the countries indicated in bold letters a law or notification has been specifically enacted for EIA whereas in the other countries only guidelines have been provided with no regulation specifically enacted for EIA.


1. Towards Coherence in Environmental Assessment results of the Project on Coherence of Environmental Assessment for International Bilateral Aid Vol. III. Summary of Country Policies and Procedures submitted by Canada to the OECD/DAC working party on Development Assistance and Environment, 1994.

2. The Canadian Guide to Environmental Assessment by W. J. Couch, Federal Environmental Assessment Review Office, 1993.

Table 1.2 EIA guidelines in bilateral agencies






USAID asked to implement the intent of NEPA for assessing development aid projects. More general guidelines by Executive Order 12114 specifying EIA for specific projects



Document "Policy to Practice" produced, providing guidance on operationalizing EARP Guidelines Order of 1984 for EIA; Adoption of "Policy for Environmental Sustainability" in 1992 for integration of environmental considerations into CIDA's decision-making activities



Adopted a system for EA of development aid projects. No specific legislation



Document on "Guidelines for EIA in development assistance"



The Basic Environmental Law recognizing "environmental considerations" (synonymous with EA) in areas of international cooperation. JICA and OECF guidelines used for EA of projects

The ADB recognizes need for EIA or IEE (initial environmental examination), depending upon the type of project. Development projects have been categorized into three categories:

category A - projects with significant environmental impacts;

category B - those with adverse environmental impacts but of lesser degree and/or significance than A;

category C - projects unlikely to have any adverse environmental impact.

This categorization of projects is used as a basis to determine the type of assessment, IEE or EIA, that is required for a project.

A number of bilateral agencies also have prescribed guidelines for environmental assessments of projects for which they provide financial assistance. Table 1.2 lists the guidelines adopted by some of these agencies.