Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)

What is EIA?

Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is a process which ensures that all environmental matters are taken into account quite early in the project at planning process itself.

It takes into consideration not only technical and economic considerations but also, traditional aspects like impact on local people, biodiversity etc.


Environmental Impact Assessment is a tool designed to identify and predict the impact of a project on the bio-geophysical environment and on man's health and well-being, to interpret and communicate information about the impact, to analyse site and process alternatives and provide solutions to sift out, or abate/mitigate the negative consequences on man and the environment.

The EIA is a means of avoiding environmental disturbances that are always much more expensive to correct after their occurrence than before. It is also important to underline that very few projects have been deemed not viable merely because of the cost of pollution control and that modern environmental control, in a new plant, is less than 3% of the initial investment.

Biodiversity values are often underestimated. They include:

  • Economic values: biodiversity goods and products are sold for income or used as inputs to other economic activities
  • Social values: employment, health, quality of life, social security, appreciation.
  • Intrinsic values: in many cultures and societies, all or some components of biodiversity have ''intrinsic" value in their own right, irrespective of any material contribution to human wellbeing.

EIA/SEA provides opportunities to ensure that biodiversity values are recognized and taken into account in decision-making.

Today, there is world-wide evidence that man cannot ignore the quality of the environment. Thus environmental issues must be addressed as soon as possible during project planning. There should not be any hesitation in abandoning a project or a process at an early stage, or in proposing alternatives to any project which would have very detrimental impact on the environment, as is the case for projects which are not economically or financially viable. In the same way as economic, financial, institutional, or technical analyses, EIA is an integral part of the project.

Aware of this necessity, numerous countries have implemented EIA regulations. International agencies generally also lend their assistance to any industrial project of importance implementing an EIA.

EIA forms part of the spectrum of environmental assessment (EA) processes. Whilst EIA relates to specific projects, EA is a generic term, which also incorporates strategic environmental assessment (SEA) of policies, plans, and programmes, and other forms of assessment


In 1947 in the United Kingdom (UK), the first Town and Country Planning Act enabled the local planning authority to take environmental factors into consideration in sanctioning development proposals.

In the United States of America (USA), as early as 1872, national parks were established to preserve wildernesses and natural ecosystems. Increasingly, too, the possible adverse effects of water resource and highway development were realised and steps were taken to investigate their importance during the planning stages of such proposals.

In 1969 the US Federal government passed the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Federal Agencies had to consider the natural environment in any land use planning. This gave the environment the same status as economic priorities

Within 20 years other countries had also included EIA's as part of their planning policy. Canada 1973, Columbia 1974, Netherlands 1981 UK in 1988.

Why EIA?

EIA is intended to prevent or minimize potentially adverse environmental impacts and enhance the overall quality of a project. The main benefits and advantages of EIA are:

  • Lower project costs in the long-term
  • Increased project acceptance
  • Improved project design
  • Informed decision making
  • Environmentally sensitive decisions
  • Increased accountability and transparency
  • Reduced environmental damage
  • Improved integration of projects into their environmental and social settings

Which type of projects under go EIA?

  • Agriculture
  • Construction (Road networks, Malls, Townships, Dam etc)
  • Industries
  • Electrical projects
  • Waste disposal
  • Any developmental projects around Protected Areas / Nature Preserves
  • Clean Development Mechanism CDM projects

The EIA Directive

The EIA Directive requires projects likely to have significant effects on the Environment by virtue of their nature, size or location to undergo an environmental assessment before the competent authority in question grants consent.

The EIA Directive defines a project as the execution of construction works or of other installations or schemes, other interventions in the natural surroundings and landscape including those involving the extraction of mineral resources

The EIA should identify, describe and assess the direct and indirect effects of a project on the following factors:

  • Human beings
  • Fauna and flora
  • Soil, Water & Air
  • Climate and the landscape
  • Material Assets
  • Cultural Heritage
  • Interaction between all above factors

EIA therefore should have a very strong social dimension


The EIA process begins from the very start of a project. Once a developer has identified a need and assessed all the possible alternatives of project design and sites to select a preferred alternative, two important questions must be asked: 'What will be the effects of this development on the environment? Are those effects significant?' If the answer to the second question is 'yes', an EIA may be required. Answering this question is a process known as screening and can be an essential first step into a formal EIA.

The EIA process is, it must be stressed, iterative. This is demonstrated at this early stage of screening where the requirement for a formal EIA and its associated cost implications can lead the developer to reassess the project design with a view to reducing the significant impacts to a level where an EIA is not legally required (Nielsen et al 2005).

The screening process determines:

  • whether or not EIA is required for a particular project
  • what level of EIA is required

Screening outcomes

  • Full or comprehensive EIA required
  • Limited EIA required
  • No EIA required

Screening tools

  • Project lists:
    • Inclusive - listed projects must undergo EIA
    • Exclusive - listed projects exempted from EIA
  • Case-by-case examinations:
    • determine whether projects may have significant environmental effects
    • if so, project should undergo EIA
  • Combination of above

Screening in accordance with the EC EIA Directive

  • Mandatory application: Annex I to the EC EIA Directive lists projects for which an EIA is always required.
  • Discretionary application: Projects listed in Annex II require screening by case-by-case examination or by reference to thresholds criteria that are established by the member state. In doing so, the following criteria listed in Annex III need to be taken into account:
    • project characteristics;
    • project location; and
    • characteristics of potential environmental impacts.
  • Screening results of Annex II projects must be made available to the public. (Art. 2.4)

Screening in accordance with World Bank procedure

  • All proposals submitted to the World Bank must undergo environmental screening.
  • Environmental screening results for projects are classified into one of three EIA categories:
    • Category A proposals require full EIA
    • Category B proposals require partial EIA
    • Category C proposals do not require EIA

Screening in accordance with EBRD procedure

  • All proposals must undergo environmental screening to identify potential environmental risks and liabilities.
  • As with the World Bank, all proposals are classified into one of three EIA categories (A,B, or C).
  • Screening also determines if an Environmental Audit is required. If 'yes', the proposal is classified as Category 1, if 'no', it is classified as Category 0.

Screening in accordance with the Espoo Convention

  • All proposed activities listed in Appendix I to the Convention have to be screened for possibly significant, adverse transboundary impacts.
  • General guidance for determining the significance adverse transboundary impacts is provided in Appendix III to the Convention.
  • In addition, concerned parties may discuss whether other activities not listed in Appendix I to the Convention are likely to cause significant adverse transboundary impacts and are thus subject to transboundary EIA.


Where it is decided that a formal EIA is required, the next stage is to define the issues that need to be addressed, that is, those impacts that have a significant effect on the environment. This is known as scoping and is essential for focusing the available resources on the relevant issues.

  • An early stage of the EIA process
  • begins once screening is completed
  • identifies key issues and impacts to be considered
  • establishes the content and scope of an EIA report
  • open, interactive process - involves the public
  • the most important step in EIA, establish the boundaries of the EIA study
  • lays the foundation of an effective process, saves time and money, and reduces conflict, provides the information necessary for decision-making
  • key issues and significant impacts to be considered

Key Questions

  • What will definitely change?
  • How will it change?
  • How much will it change?
  • How will that change affect:
    • diversity of flora and fauna
    • people living in or near the area
    • physical (abiotic) components of the nearby ecosystem

Key objectives of scoping

  • find out their concerns
  • inform and identify stakeholders
  • consider feasible and practical alternatives
  • identify the main issues and impacts to be studied
  • define the boundaries of the EIA study
  • agree on means of public involvement and methods of analysis
  • establish the Terms of Reference

Guiding principles for the conduct of scoping

  • scoping is a process not an activity or event
  • design the scoping process for each proposal
  • start early, as soon as information permits
  • prepare information package on what is
  • specify the role of the public in decision-making
  • approach should be systematic; implementation should be flexible
  • document the results to guide preparation of EIA
  • respond to new information and issues as necessary

The conduct of scoping

  • identify range of concerns
  • evaluate them to determine key issues
  • categorise the impacts that require study
  • establish a strategy for addressing them

Steps in the scoping process

  • prepare an outline scope
  • develop the outline through informal consultation
  • make the outline available
  • compile the range of concerns (long list)
  • evaluate these to establish key issues (short list)
  • organise these into impact categories (study list)
  • amend the outline to incorporate the above information
  • develop Terms of Reference
  • monitor progress against them, revising as necessary

Who should be involved in scoping?

  • the proponent
  • the competent authority
  • the EIA administering body
  • other responsible agencies
  • EIA practitioners and experts
  • key stakeholders (e.g. those affected by the proposal)
  • the wider community

Consideration of alternatives

  • demand alternatives
  • supply or input alternatives
  • activity alternatives
  • location alternatives
  • process alternatives
  • scheduling alternatives

Outline Terms of Reference

  • objectives and background to the proposal
  • study area and boundaries
  • alternatives to be examined
  • opportunities for public involvement
  • impacts and issues to be studied
  • the approach to be taken
  • requirements for mitigation and monitoring
  • information and data to be included in the EIA report
  • timetable and requirements for completion of the EIA process

Impact Analysis

The 'impact analysis' or detailed study phase of EIA involves:

  • identifying the impacts more specifically
  • predicting the characteristics of the main impacts
  • evaluating the significance of the residual impact

The term 'environment' includes

  • human health and safety
  • flora, fauna, ecosystems and biodiversity
  • soil, water, air, climate and landscape
  • use of land, natural resources and raw materials
  • protected areas and sites of special significance
  • heritage, recreation and amenity assets
  • livelihood, lifestyle and well being of affected communities

Impact identification methods

  • checklists
  • matrices
  • networks
  • overlays and geographical information systems (GIS)
  • expert systems
  • professional judgement

Choice of EIA method depends on:

  • the type and size of the proposal
  • the type of alternatives being considered
  • the nature of the likely impacts
  • the availability of impact identification methods
  • the experience of the EIA team with their use
  • the resources available - cost, information, time, personnel

Information required to establish baseline conditions

  • current conditions
  • current and expected trends
  • effects of proposals already being implemented
  • effects of other proposals yet to be implemented

Impact characteristics can vary in:

  • nature (positive/negative, direct/indirect)
  • magnitude (severe, moderate, low)
  • extent/location (area/volume covered, distribution)
  • timing (during construction, operation etc, immediate, delayed) duration (short term/long term, intermittent/continuous) reversibility/irreversibility likelihood (probability, uncertainty)
  • significance (local, regional, global)

Methods of impact prediction

  • best estimate professional judgement
  • quantitative mathematical models
  • experiments and physical models
  • case studies as analogues or references

Types of uncertainty in impact prediction

  • scientific uncertainty - limited understanding of the ecosystem or community affected
  • data uncertainty - incomplete information or insufficient methodology
  • policy uncertainty - unclear or disputed objectives or standards

Types of social impact

  • demographic - changes to population numbers, distribution
  • cultural - changes to customs, traditions and values
  • community - changes to cohesion, relationships etc.
  • socio-psychological - changes to quality of life and well being

Factors affecting economic impacts

  • duration of construction and operation
  • workforce requirements for each period
  • skill requirements (local availability)
  • earning
  • raw material and other input purchases
  • capital investment
  • outputs
  • the characteristics of the local economy

Factors affecting fiscal impacts

  • size of investment and workforce requirements
  • capacity of existing service delivery and infrastructure systems
  • local/regional tax or other revenue raising processes
  • demographic changes arising from project requirements

Key elements for assessing impact significance

  • environmental standards
  • level of public concern
  • scientific and professional evidence concerning:
    • resource loss/ecological damage
    • negative social impacts
    • foreclosure of land and resource use options

Guiding principles for determining impact significance:

  • use established procedure or guidance
  • adapt relevant criteria or comparable cases
  • assign significance rationally and defensibly
  • be consistent in the comparison of alternatives
  • document the reasons for judgements

Test for significance by asking three questions

  • Are there residual environmental impacts?
  • If yes, are these likely to be significant or not?
  • If yes, are these significant effects likely to occur?

Impact significance criteria

  • environmental loss and deterioration
  • social impacts resulting from environmental change
  • non-conformity with environmental standards
  • probability and acceptability of risk

Ecological significance criteria

  • reduction in species diversity
  • habitat depletion or fragmentation
  • threatened, rare and endangered species
  • impairment of ecological functions e.g.
    • disruption of food chains;
    • decline in species population;
    • alterations in predator-prey relationships.

Social significance criteria

  • human health and safety
  • decline in important resource
  • loss of valued area
  • displacement of people
  • disruption of communities
  • demands on services and infrastructure

Environmental standards

  • limits on effluent discharge concentrations
  • clean air standards, water quality standards
  • policy objectives and targets
  • plans or policies that protect or limit use of natural resources

Alternative approaches to determine significance

  • apply technical criteria when changes are predictable
  • use negotiation when significance is disputable

Practical guidance

Impacts are likely to be significant if they:

  • are extensive over space or time
  • are intensive in concentration or in relation to assimilative capacity
  • exceed environmental standards or thresholds
  • do not comply with environmental policies/ land use plans
  • affect ecological sensitive areas and heritage resources
  • affect community lifestyle, traditional land uses and values


Mitigation involves taking measures to reduce or remove identified impacts and may include enhancements, which are changes unrelated to identified impacts but which improve the environment in some way; for example, creating a public boating lake on derelict land some distance from a large amenity development. The lake is undoubtedly an improvement to the existing environment, but does not relate to the impacts resulting from the development itself. Mitigation measures include landscaping to reduce visual impact and soundproofing around power sources to reduce noise impacts.

  • What constitutes "acceptable" levels? Who determines those levels?
  • What must be done to limit those impacts?
  • Who is responsible for those actions?
  • Who is responsible for monitoring the changes?
  • What are the consequences for exceeding the acceptable levels of change?

The purpose of mitigation is to:

  • find better ways of doing things
  • enhance environmental and social benefits
  • avoid, minimise or remedy adverse impacts
  • ensure that residual impacts are within acceptable levels

The purpose of impact management is to:

  • ensure mitigation measures are
  • establish systems and procedures for this purpose
  • monitor the effectiveness of mitigation measures
  • take action when unforeseen impacts occur

Proponents have a responsibility to:

  • avoid, minimise and remedy adverse impacts
  • internalise the environmental and social costs of the proposal
  • prepare plans for managing impacts
  • repair or make restitution for environmental damages

Principles of mitigation

  • give preference to avoidance and preventative measures
  • consider feasible alternatives to the proposal
  • identify customised measures to minimise each major impact
  • ensure they are appropriate and cost-effective
  • use compensation as a last resort

Impact avoidance can be achieved by:

  • not undertaking certain projects or
  • avoiding environmentally sensitive
  • use of measures to prevent impacts from occurring
    • site remediation bonds
    • resettlementplans
    • in kind measures and offsets

Impact minimisation can be achieved by:

  • scaling down or relocating the proposal
  • redesigning elements of the project
  • measures to manage the impacts

Impact compensation can be achieved by:

  • rehabilitation of resource or environmental components
  • restoration of the site to its previous state
  • replacement of the environmental values lost at another location

Mitigation options

  • develop alternatives that are better environmentally
  • make changes in planning and design
  • carry out impact monitoring and management
  • compensate for
    • residual impacts
    • monetary payment
    • site remediation bonds
    • resettlement plans
    • in kind measures and offsets

Environmental management plans should include:

  • summary of impacts
  • recommended mitigation measures
  • statement of compliance with standards
  • allocation of resources and responsibilities
  • schedule of required actions
  • surveillance, monitoring and auditing programmes
  • contingency measures for greater than expected impacts
  • State policy and standards

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