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To put it simply, Environmental Impact Assessment is a systematic approach to identifying, predicting, and evaluating the change an action or a project will bring about in the environment. A person or organization usually carries out an EIA before making a major decision. This process requires considering a broad definition of environment. Social, cultural, and health effects form an integral part of EIA. Preventing, mitigating, and offsetting the harmful effects of proposed projects are important practices in EIA.
EIA serves the critical purpose of:
Environmental auditing uses environmentally set standards and criteria. It uses this tool to measure the environmental consequences of certain activities and enable third parties to scrutinize the environmental performance of organizations. It is used to investigate, understand, and identify an action’s impact on the environment.
Environmental auditing is usually carried out to reduce the adverse effects of human activities on the environment. A person called an environment auditor usually audits the environmental performance of the proposed project. The auditor will systematically study the environmental effects of an organization or action. They will document the methods and findings of the audit and will produce an environmental audit report.
If we want sustainable development, we must reduce the burden of negative impacts on the environment. We’ve already affected the environment in a complex way, with far greater consequences than 30 years ago. Due to this, EIA has now become an important tool to help people and organizations make decisions for sustainable development.
Principle 17 of the Rio Declaration states that “Environmental impact assessment, as a national instrument, shall be embarked for proposed activities that are probable to have a substantial damaging impact on the environment and are subject to a decision of a capable national authority.”
Major development projects such as dams, power plants, industrial complexes, etc., must have an EIA done before their construction. This helps reduce or prevent adverse environmental effects caused by these projects. EIA integrates environmental considerations into a variety of proposed activities. Environmental Impact Assessment is a necessary tool for generations today, with its intensifying trend towards environmental degradation.
Like every other evaluation method, EIA also has a set of objectives. They are:
Just one standard EIA cannot encompass the various aspects of different development projects. Therefore, there is a variety of EIAs available. Parties can decide and select the type of EIA that best suits their project. Some of the types are:
1. Integrated Environmental Assessment (IEA)
IEA focuses on sustainable development. Its main pillars are economy, society, and the environment. This type of assessment showcases the important cause-effect links of human activities to the environment. It also reports on the change in environmental conditions caused by human development.
2. Corporate Environmental Assessment
This type of assessment is mainly used in businesses where the presence of corporate responsibility is inevitable. It helps companies to know and reduce environmental impacts associated with operations, services, and products.
3. Strategic Environmental Assessment
The Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) provides a broader vision for the environment. It helps organizations make informed decisions regarding both environmental protection and sustainable development. SEA studies the environmental effects of the proposed projects via a valid policy, program, or plan. It helps organizations identify and implement the best possible sustainable practices and approaches regarding the project.
The EIA process is based on the following core stages:
1. Public Involvement
The first step involves informing the public about the proposed project or activity. Considering and hearing the opinion of people that the project will directly affect is essential to the assessment.
This step decides whether or not a project should be subject to the EIA process.
Here, the authorities undertaking the EIA identify critical issues and impacts. These issues and consequences will undergo further detailed investigations.
4. Impact Analysis
In this stage, authorities predict how the project could affect the environment and society. They also evaluate how significant the project is to the development of society and if it is genuinely essential.
5. Mitigation and Impact Management
This step involves developing measures to avoid or reduce the proposal’s environmental impacts if any. If an organization cannot avoid the environmental consequences, the authorities establish measures to compensate for it.
The investigators develop a report of the assessment to present to decision-makers and other interested parties.
Different projects have different effects on the environment. Below described are three common major development projects and their environmental impact.
We consider dams as ‘green’ projects since they do not directly contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. However, they still cause significant environmental damage. They block the migration routes of fish and other aquatic species. Dams do not allow sediments upstream to reach areas downstream. Sediment flow is necessary to replenish ecosystems with nutrients.
2. Energy generation plants
It is almost impossible to generate, transport, and consume energy with zero environmental impact. The generation and consumption of energy lead to air pollution and climate change. It also creates waste, leading to problems associated with waste disposal.
Reservoirs (and dams) can alter the carbon and nutrient cycles in the long run. These cycles are vital for a healthy climate and healthy oceans. Reservoirs also reduce water quality and affect wildlife.