environmental impact analysis process


Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) can be defined as the systematic identification and evaluation of the potential impacts (effects) of proposed projects, plans, programs or legislative actions relative to the physical, chemical, biological, cultural and socio-economic components of the total environment.

The primary purpose of the EIA process is to encourage the consideration of the environmental issues in planning and decision making and to ultimately arrive at actions which are more environmentally compatible (L. Canty, 1996).

The potential scope of a comprehensive EIA system is considerable and could include the appraisal of policies, plans, programmes and specific projects.

EIA, as it has developed in many countries, involves a number of procedures and stages:

i. Identification of projects requiring EIA, sometimes known as screening;

ii. Identification of the key issues to be addressed in an EIA, called scoping;

iii. Impact assessment and evaluation;

iv. Impact mitigation and monitoring;

v. Review of the completed Environmental Impact Statement and;

vi. Public participation.

The result of an EIA is assembled in a document known as an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) which looks at all the positive and negative effects of a particular project on the environment. This report is just one component of the information required to aid decision makers in making their ultimate decision about a project.

EIA can be considered as a mechanism which maximizes the efficient use of natural and human resources. It can also reduce costs and time taken to reach a decision by ensuring that subjectivity and duplication of effort are minimized, as well as identifying and attempting to evaluate the primary and secondary consequences which might require the introduction of expensive pollution control equipment or compensation and other costs at a later date.

“Environment” in EIA context mainly focuses physical, chemical, biological, geological, social, economical, and aesthetic dimensions along with .their complex interactions, which affects individuals, communities and ultimately determines their forms, character, relationship, and survival.

Sustainable development is built on three basic pillars: economic growth, ecological balance and social progress. Economic growth achieved in a way that does not consider, the environmental concerns, will not be sustainable in the long run.

However, sustainable development needs careful integration of three constituents—environmental, economic, and social needs in order to achieve both an increased standard of living in the short term, and a net gain or equilibrium among human, natural, and economic resources to support future generations in the long term. “It is necessary to understand the links between environment and development in order to make development choices that will be economically efficient, socially equitable and responsible, and environmentally sound.”

EIA have two Roles: legal and educational:

1. The legal one is quite straight forward to ensure that development projects such as a housing estate, a road/bridge or some such construction project has a minimal impact on the environment in its entire ‘lifecycle’ – i.e. during design, construction, use, maintenance, and demolition. Many countries now have laws stipulating that unless an EIA study is carried out particularly for large infrastructure projects, permission for construction will not be granted by the local authority.

2. The educational role is equally important to educate everyone involved both professionals and users. We need to look at all our daily actions as eventually and cumulatively affecting the environment. This includes our daily choices, where a delicate balance between financial and environmental considerations needs to be made automatically without thinking.

There is a need to emphasize and to promote the new paradigm of preventive the management to protect the environment in the process of development of the nation. Various tools of preventive management be classified into following three groups. (Table 8.1)

Table 8.1:

Management based tools Process based tools Product based tools
Environmental management system Environmental technology Assessment Industrial ecology
Environmental performance evaluation Toxic use reduction Extended producers Responsibility
Environmental audits Best operating practices Eco-labeling
Environmental reporting and communication Environmentally best practice Design for environment
Total cost accounting Best available technology Life cycle assessment
Law and policy Pollution prevention
Trade and environment Cleaner production
Environmental economics Cleaner technology

Indicators can be classified in to environmental performance indicators and environmental condition indicators. The environmental performance indicators can be further divided into two categories namely, operational performance indicators and management performance indicators.

The operational performance indicators are related to the process and other operational activities of the organization, and would typically address the issue of raw material consumption, energy consumption, water consumption in the organization, the quantities of waste water generated, other solid wastes generated, emission from the organization.

Classification of EIA:

EIA can be classified based on the purpose and the theme of development. EIA can be climate impact assessment, demographic impact assessment, development impact assessment, ecological impact assessment, economic and fiscal impact assessment, health impact assessment, risk assessment, social impact assessment, strategic impact assessment, technology assessment.

In addition to this list, EIA is also categorised based on systematic analysis of environmental parameters, geographical region, carrying capacity limitations and sectoral planning. They are strategic EIA, regional EIA, sectoral EIA, project level EIA and life cycle assessment.

Strategic EIA (SEIA):

Strategic EIA refers to systematic analysis of the environmental effects of development policies, plans, programs and other proposed strategic actions. This process extends the aims and principles of EIA upstream in the decision- making process, beyond the project level and when major alternatives are still open. Strategic EIA represents a proactive approach to integrate environmental considerations into the higher level of decision-making.

Regional EIA:

EIA in the context of regional planning integrates environmental concerns into development planning for a geographic region, normally at the sub- country level. Such an approach is referred to as the economic-cum- environmental (EcE) development planning. This approach facilitates adequate integration of economic development with management of renewable natural resources within the carrying capacity limitation to achieve sustainable development.

It fulfills the need for macro-level environmental integration, which the project-oriented EIA is unable to address effectively. Regional EIA addresses the environmental impacts of regional development plans and thus, the context for project-level EIA of the subsequent projects, within the region. In addition, if environmental effects are considered at regional level, then cumulative environmental effects of all the projects within the region can be accounted.

Sectoral EIA:

Instead of project-level-EIA, an EIA should take place in the context of regional and sectoral level planning. Once sectoral level development plans have the integrated sectoral environmental concerns addressed, the scope of project-level EIA will be quite narrow. Sectoral EIA will help to address specific environmental problems that may be encountered in planning and implementing sectoral development projects.

Project Level EIA:

Project level EIA refers to the developmental activity in isolation and the impacts that it exerts on the receiving environment. Thus, it may not effectively integrate the cumulative effects of the development in a region.

Life Cycle Assessment:

A broader approach to deal with environmental impacts in manufacturing is called life cycle analysis. This approach recognizes that environmental concerns enter into every step of the process with respect to the manufacturing, of the products and thus examines environmental impacts of the product at all stages of the product life cycle.

This includes the product design, development, manufacturing, packaging, distribution, usage and disposal. LCA is concerned with reducing environmental impacts at all these stages and looking at the total picture rather than just one stage of the production process. Through utilizing this concept, firms minimize the life cycle environmental costs of their total product system. LCA gives sufficient scope to think about the. alternatives which are lower at cost.

From the above discussion, it is clear that EIA shall be integrated at all the levels i.e. strategic, regional, sectoral and the project level. Whereas, the strategic EIA is a structural change, the regional EIA refers to substantial information processing and drawing complex inferences.

The project-level EIA is relatively simple and reaches to meaningful conclusions. As we progress and the resource planning concepts emerge in our decision- making process, the integration of overall regional issues will become part of the impact assessment studies.