Environmental assessment from project to policies, plans and programmes.

Environmental impact assessment (EIA) is a mechanism which makes sure that there should be sustainable development through the assessment of those impacts resulting from a major activity (policy, plan, program, or project) that are probable to have notable environmental effects. But there have been many broad definitions and they refer EIA as the need ‘to recognise and forecast the impacts on the environment and on human’s health and well-being of legislative proposals, programs, policies, operational procedures and projects, and to elucidate and transmit information about the impacts.’, while some had operational definitions i.e. The term Environment assessment narrates a technique and a procedure through which the information of the environment effects of a project is taken and collected, from both the developers and the sources, and are taken into account through the planning authority in making their verdict on whether the development should go ahead or not. In fact, Environmental impact assessment is a process which is very systematic that inspects the environmental consequences of development actions, in advance. There are various steps that are involved in the EIA process as it is considered a cyclical process with various steps to be considered before the final outcome such as Project screening, scoping, description of the environment projects and baseline, prediction of the impacts, mitigations and auditing. Moreover, Environment impact statement is assumed as an important piece of document that shares information and evaluation of the damage obtained from the different steps in the procedure whereas Strategic environment assessment is taken as the approach that expands Environment impact assessment from project to policies, plans and programmes. Taking into consideration the EIA approaches used in different countries, there has been quite a difference if we see the pattern between the developing and developed countries. In European Union, the EIA was introduced in July and since then it has been taken as the form of a framework law, which allows the member states a definite amount of discretion in the understanding of the directive. Since then, the commission has decided that Environment impact assessment system should always meet two purposes i.e.

a.     To protect that distortion of competition and wrong allocation of resources under the European Economic community was circumvented by harmonising controls.

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b.     To make sure that a common environment policy was overall applied throughout the entire European economic community.

After the debate related to the issuing of the European Directive Environment impact assessment system, at the end the commission and the British government came to a single consent with different other issues that made them finally issue the directive and it was pretty clear in the adopted body that gives adjustable frameworks of basic Environment impact assessment principles to be executed in every member states via national legislations. The legal foundation of the Environment impact assessment in European union is left to the member states to execute the requisite of the environment impact assessment directive in whichever legislation they assume to be suitable. The directive consists of 14 articles and 3 annexes. The directives make a general obligation on each member state to make sure that before an agreement is given, project will probably have notable effects on the environment by virtue of their nature, size, or location are made subject to an evaluation. However, there are no demand in the directive for the requirement of preliminary information to aid in screening. There is no provision for scoping in the European Directive too. The European Directive does not give any provision for a review of the environment impact assessment report by the suitable authority whereas the mitigation of project effects is one of the important feature of the European directive. Moreover, there is limitation of consultation and participation, under the provisions of the directive, to pass a comment on the environment impact assessment report. There is no provision at all for the monitoring in the directive of the Environment impact assessment. Relating to the Strategic environmental assessment, there is no provision in the European directive. Once the directive has been implemented, member states must introduce the necessary legal provisions but it also makes sure that they should work, i.e. the final end result specified in the directive should be achieved. By the year 1991, most of the member states had already incorporated some of the Environment impact assessment provisions within their own legislations. A various number of measures were suggested before the full realization of the reward attainable from the execution of the directive could be achieved. These were better coverage of projects, initiating environment impact assessment early in the projects design process, trying to improve the quality of the Environment impact assessment reports and reviews, improving participation and consultation, trying to increase the importance of environment impact assessment in decision making and nourishing project monitoring. But on the other hand when talking about the Environmental impact assessment in the United Kingdom, they have a different set of approaches i.e. they possess a another system which is land use planning system (1948) that allows substantial preference in the consideration of the environmental suggestions of new development. For the projects that require planning consent, the directive can be given legally in England and Wales via the town and country planning projects (1988). The provisions for local planning authorities are contained in the planning regulations which give a formal judgement that Environment assessment is required where they are requested to do so by the developers. They may inform the developers that the environment impact assessment is required where a planning application has been submitted without an environmental statement. In both the described cases, the regulations allow the developers to question the secretary of state for a ‘Decision’ whether a EA is required or not. Generally speaking, Environment impact assessment should not be considered as a barrier to the growth factor and should only apply to a very few number of projects which are considered within the town and country planning regime. Local planning authorities (LPAs) have a long standing general duty to contemplate the environmental consequence of development which are subject to planning control. The regulation of 2017 combines Environmental impact assessment processes into this framework and should be applied to only those projects which have the probability to have significant effects on the environment. The developers and the local planning authorities (LPAs) should always contemplate if a project should be subject to an EIA or not. When if required, they should restrict the scope of assessment to only those aspects of the environment which are probably be significantly affected. Engagement of Pre-application can play a very vital role in recognising when a proposal should be subjected to environment impact assessment. On the contrary, when talking about the EIA system in the developing country such as India, Environment impact assessment was introduced as a restrictive requirement in 1994. Somewhere it reflects the continuous struggle to stabilize economic development with ecological integrity in the context of the developing country. The courts in India have developed a strong jurisprudence thereby considerably strengthening and widening the environment impact assessment process. The methodology adopted here is that of the self assessment by the project developers which is further followed by a review and project approval by the regulators. The environment impact assessment was firstly issues in the year 1994 by the central government (Ministry of Environment and Forests (MOEF)) in use of its power to take any actions to improve and protect the environment as provided under the section 3 of the environment protection act 1986. The project developers are instructed to present an environmental assessment report, environmental management plan and the overview of the public hearing organised in the vicinity of the project. Ministry of Environment and Forests functions as an impact assessment agency that could refer a committee of experts made for this purpose. In India, the impact of environment impact assessment on decisions making is pretty weak, because of many reasons pertaining to inadequate technical and financial resources, inefficiency in screening and scoping, weak coordination, subjective review, not so much public participation and there is no standard monitoring.  Nonetheless, there are a few opportunities apart from the legal basis which also exist in the form of political help of Environment impact assessment review and role of non governmental organisation and media in assisting public concerns. Therefore, there is a good probability that environment impact assessment in India will further become stronger unlike the developed nations in the near future. The below following measures can help enhance the potency of the Environment impact assessment system in India:

a.     The Ministry of Environment and Forests and regional pollution control boards should be given more powers to strengthen and to impose fine or seal any random project which is violating the Environment impact assessment requirements.

b.     There should be good coordination between the decision makers, proponents, consultants, revenue acquisition department, planning and development authorities can play a significant role in consideration of their concerns very early in the environment impact assessment process.

c.     Moreover, Environment impact assessment report and review should always be done by individualistic environment impact assessment review bodies at various levels of decision making.

d.    Public participation is a very important component of environment impact assessment which helps in bringing procedural democracy and much better acceptability of decision making into the environment impact assessment process.

But there has been a lot of complications when we are taking into consideration the Environment impact assessment system of the developing countries which are in transitions and environment impact assessment in these developing countries are usually based on the same set of principles which are taken form the united states and EU but their execution often falls considerably short of the international standards. These countries frequently suffer from not so sufficient consideration of the effects, alternatives and public participation. Taking the worst case, they are not even conducted. For example, the Mekong river basin countries, the execution of the environment impact assessment in the the Mekong region came very late, beginning when the big important project decisions were already being made, thereby making the environment impact assessment a mere formality. Many spectators have attributed such problems which describes lack of political will and absence of coordination between governmental agencies for environmental impact assessment execution which occurs at the central government level and between the central and local government levels of the Mekong region. In china, environmental impact assessment are a part of the environmental protection law which was adopted provisionally in the year 1979 and was finalised in the year 1989. As per that, an environment impact assessment is necessary for any project which has a negative environmental effect, regardless of which sector the project belongs to i.e. e.g., agriculture, industry, forestry, energy, water, transportation, urban development, tourism, or natural resources). Project which are with foreign capital also faces the same amount of environmental requirements just like the ones undertaken using domestic funds. Public hearings or various other form of public consultation or participation is demanded to get the community expert feedback on any project or construction which is probable to have the negative environmental effects, with a special case of “projects of confidentiality according to national code”. For these regions, Public participation is inadequate or non-existent. Nowadays there is a growing awareness among the communities all around the developing world concerning the relationship between the environment and livelihoods along with the involvement of this nexus for human rights. In the Mekong region, environmental insecurity is likely to worsen if environmental assessment practices do not move closer to the standards set by international best practices. In this Mekong region for the coming future, environmental insecurity will probably get worsen if the environment assessment practices do not progress closer to the standards which are set by the international best practices.











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