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Assessing Environmental Impacts - A Global Review of Legislation

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP, or UN Environment) has released a report that provides an overview of national legislation and institutional arrangements relevant to environmental impact assessments (EIAs) and strategic environmental assessments (SEAs). The report, global in its focus, underscores the importance of such assessments in achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity.

‘Assessing Environmental Impacts: A Global Review of Legislation’ finds a wide range of EIA legal requirements, globally. Some countries have strengthened their regulatory frameworks, but other countries have exhibited a trend of weakening the EIA process. On public participation, the report observes significant global variation in the role of public participation in EIAs. In some countries, requirements for public participation for EIAs have been expanded, particularly during the scoping and review stage. A few countries include specific provisions related to indigenous peoples’ participation in national EIA legislation.

On SEAs, the report observes that uptake and implementation of SEA legal requirements has been slow in many countries, and limited guidance exists on public participation and SEAs, including access to information. The report suggests that one reason for this trend may be that SEA legal approaches do not take into account strategic planning processes. According to the report, at least 40 countries have SEA systems in place, but only some of these countries have formal legal requirements to conduct SEAs.

Other report findings include: a need to improve measurement of ecosystem services, including addressing challenges related to a lack of available, accessible and fit-for-purpose data; and an increased focus on climate change and human health in EIA and SEA legislation. The report recommends application of a “migration hierarchy,” a sequence of actions to anticipate and avoid impacts on biodiversity and ecosystem services, as good practice.

The report features country examples of EIA and SEA arrangements. The examples focus on six steps in the process: screening; scoping and impact analysis; review of the EIA/SEA report; decision-making; follow-up and adaptive management; and public participation. For each step, the report shares examples from countries around the world. [Publication: Assessing Environmental Impacts: A Global Review of Legislation]