2.8 Environmental Impact Assessment
The emphasis on impacts underpins many assessment and reporting mechanisms and modelling tools that aim to identify and, in some cases, measure impacts. The most widely used assessment process by organisations of all shapes and sizes is the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). In many respects, the EIA process represents a possible innovation in environmental management because it attempts to establish and understand the range of connections between an organisation and the natural and human environment.
EIA is also a mainstay of environmental management processes globally. It was developed in the 1960s as a way of enabling organisations to identify and assess their environmental connections and any negative and positive consequences of their decision-making and activities. The ‘impact’ referred to in EIA is the difference between what would happen with the action and what would happen without it. In terms of an EIA, impacts can be both positive and negative.
EIA initially focused on biophysical concerns, but has, as an innovation in thinking about impact types, since been widened to visual, cultural and socio-economic concerns. The(IAIA) offers a definition of EIA as:
The process of identifying, predicting, evaluating and mitigating the biophysical, social, and other relevant effects of development proposals prior to major decisions being taken and commitments made.
As the EIA is timed before any decisions to proceed are made, the EIA can be considered as a decision aid rather than a decision-making tool. EIA has been used on a global basis and was first introduced in the EU in 1985. Currently, the main legislation is the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive for individual projects, such as a dam, motorway, airport or factory (Directive 2011/ 92/ EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 13 December 2011 on the assessment of the effects of certain public and private projects on the environment).
The directive aims to ensure that an assessment is made of the environmental implications of projects that are expected to have significant environmental impacts – often predominantly negative impacts.
EIAs are thus mandatory for certain projects (listed under Annex I of Directive 2011/92/EU) with expected significant environmental impacts – e.g. long-distance railway lines, motorways, larger airports, hazardous waste facilities and water treatment plants. Other projects (listed under Annex II) are subject to EIA at the discretion of member states using a screening procedure to determine if a project should be subject to an EIA.