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close this bookConducting Environmental Impact Assessment in Developing Countries (United Nations University, 1999, 375 p.)
close this folder2. Introduction to EIA
View the document2.1 What is EIA?
View the document2.2 Who is involved in the EIA process?
View the document2.3 When should the EIA be undertaken?
Open this folder and view contents2.4 Effectiveness of EIA
View the document2.5 EIA and other environmental management tools

2.1 What is EIA?

Environmental impact assessment (EIA) is a policy and management tool for both planning and decision-making. EIA assists to identify, predict, and evaluate the foreseeable environmental consequences of proposed development projects, plans, and policies. The outcome of an EIA study assists the decision maker and the general public to determine whether a project should be implemented and in what form. EIA does not make decisions, but it is essential for those who do.

Environmental assessment (EA) refers to an understanding of the present status of environmental impacts and a study of how to manage them. An environmental impact statement (EIS) is the final step of an EIA/EA exercise where the conclusions of the assessment are put out in a communicable form to the concerned developer or authority. There is thus a distinction between the terms EIA, EA, and EIS.

A frequent opinion is that an EIA should usually only examine or look into the possible negative consequences of a project on the environment. Any positive issues emerging from the development are taken as stated by the project proponent or the developer. However, EIA is not restricted or biased to the examination and mitigation of negative impacts alone. EIA can also look into the possible positive issues due to the developmental projects and explore or suggest ways of enhancing them further by carrying out modifications in the project.

Box 2.1 Definition of EIA for developing countries

1. The EIA may be defined as a planning tool which is used, together with the project feasibility study (FS), to ensure that the project plan is the optimal economic-cum-environmental plan, that is, that the plan is environmentally as well as economically sound and thus represents the best approach to planning for development projects in order that continuing economic development will be sustainable. The essential message of the famed U.N. Brundtland Report of 1987 is that the only sustainable development is economic-cum-environmental development.

2. The EIA is not intended to disrupt nor to impede economic development. A protect plan which is economic-cum-environmental will have a higher benefit/cost ratio than a plan which is not responsive to environmental needs, especially when long-term as well as short-term effects are considered.

3. The role of the EIA is not just to identify and describe environmental hazards which a proposed project will likely cause if no EPM (environmental protection measures) are included in the project. Rather the EIA should specify the necessary EPM and ensure that these EPM are included in the overall project plan as delineated by the feasibility study.

4. Environmental protection measures mean more than "mitigation". EPM include (i) mitigation measures to reduce adverse effects, (ii) measures for offsetting unavoidable adverse effects, and even (iii) measures for environmental enhancement.

Source: Guidelines for Impact Assessment in Development Assistance, Finnish International Development Agency, FINNIDA, Draft, 1989.

EIA is thus a multifaceted decision-making process. The process is structured to anticipate, analyse, and disclose the consequences associated with proposed activities with respect to established public policies for protecting and enhancing the natural and anthropogenic environment. The definition of EIA and its elaboration by FINNIDA (Finnish International Development Agency) specifically for developing countries is shown in Box 2.1.

EIA is essentially an early warning process. The aim of EIA is to balance the environmental interest in the larger scheme of development issues and concerns. The primary objective of EIA is to ensure that potential problems are foreseen and addressed at an early stage in the project's planning and design. To achieve this objective, the assessment should provide information on the environmental, social, and economic benefits of proposed activities, which should then be presented clearly and systematically to decision makers. Having read the conclusions of an EIA, the project planners and engineers can then shape the project so that its expected benefits can be achieved and sustained without causing inadvertent environmental impacts. An EIA process, for instance, can greatly influence where and how a project is sited, the size of the facilities to be built, the technologies employed, and the area served or affected by the project.

Specifically, an EIA:

• identifies the sources of impacts from the project activities and recognizes the environmental components which are critical to the change or the impacts;

• predicts the likely environmental impacts of projects on the identified environmental components either using quantitative, qualitative, semi-quantitative, or hybrid methods;

• finds ways to reduce unacceptable impacts and enhance the positive contributions of the project by recommending mitigation measures or by exploring a change in the capacity, technology, or design or even by evaluating alternative sites;

• presents to decision makers and other concerned agencies the results of impact identification, prediction, and assessment with options of suggested measures of mitigation and monitoring.

One of the purposes of EIA is to ensure that both public and private enterprises consider the environmental effects of the decisions they make with regard to implementation of the project or programme. The process of EIA is well defined and practiced today in a number of developing countries also with appropriate customization. In Chapter 3, the EIA process is introduced in detail.