|Review of environmental assessment & management|
|The 2006 Study|
|A more effective EIA Process|
|A more efficient EIA Process|
|Effectiveness, Efficiency and Cost|
Four years ago the Department of Environmental Affairs commissioned a review of the instrument primarily used to give environmental authorisation to development activities – the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).
by Mercia Komen Updated 8 March 2011
EIA had been in use in South Africa for ten years, and various criticisms had been levelled against the instrument, including that it is an ineffective and inefficient process. The work on a Strategy for Environmental Impact Managment has commenced, and feedback on the strategy is available on this website. You are invited to add comment which will be directed to the appropriate "champion" of the various themes for the strategy.
The Ten Year Review focussed on assessing whether the instrument meets the objectives and fulfils the purpose as conceived in legislation, and also whether the time and money invested in the process resulted in a commensurate return.
The review concluded that EIA is overall relatively efficient, and could be more so if some activities were managed through other suitable instruments. Also, EIA was regarded as only marginally effective.
At the heart of environmental authorisation is the intention to implement sustainable development. The phrase is often used, and sweeping statements about sustainability are commonly made; seldom is there pause to consider exactly what is meant by sustainable development and how it can be implemented.
If development is to be sustainable, negative effects on the environment should be avoided. Sometimes a development is critical for other, broader needs to be met, and the development has to be situated where the impact on the environment is adverse. South African legislation allows the development to be authorised provided the impact on the environment is minimised and there is remediation of the impact.
This provision calls for innovation and creative solutions to ensure the environment can recover and/or the impacts are minimal.
Sustainable development also requires avoiding biodiversity loss, ecosystem disturbance, degradation of the environment, pollution and waste. Where natural resources are extracted or harvested, the law require the ecological integrity be maintained, and that the use of resources is equitable. Two principles also apply: society does not carry the cost for pollution, the polluter pays; and where knowledge or understanding is limited, a risk-averse approach and caution must prevail.
Looking at increasing pollution, massive landfills, degradation of the environment and the worsening quality and quantity of water, developments authorised and conducted in South African tend not to be sustainable. There is very little evidence of innovation and the "green economy" has yet to become mainstream and flourish.
A decade of failing to meet sustainable development criteria has exacerbated the degradation of the environment and the loss of biodiversity. A new approach to assess environmental impact in an effective and efficient manner is needed. But the assessment is only the first crucial step - the management of environmental impact, from authorisation and through the lifecycle of the development, is vital.
Taking a step in the right direction
The review of EIA culminated with the Ten Year of EIA in South Africa Conference. The conference received the review’s findings, and a new vision for Environmental Impact Assessment and Management was formulated. A structure was put in place to provide a strategy for the future.
The structure comprises a steering committee, working committees, an advisory committee and project team.
These groups commenced in March 2010 with the task of defining the steps necessary to reach sustainable development and integrated environmental management.
Integrated environmental management aspires to ensuring, among other objectives, environmental justice, environmental awareness and education, the protection of the environment as people’s common heritage, and co-ordination and harmonisation of policies, legislation and actions which relate to the environment.
The task of the task team and steering committee is complex and far-reaching, and is being tackled along three core themes:
• Governance and Administration
• Capacity, Skills & Transformation
• Impacts and Instruments
The Steering Committee is comprised of representatives from various sectors, including business, organs of State, academia, the legal fraternity and civil society. All members on the Steering Committee work as volunteers, both at the steering committee and on sub-theme task teams. These teams are convened to address specific aspect of the strategy, and fill investigate status quo, and developed recommendation for the future.
The teams comprise:
Governance and Administration:
Procedures and Organisational Structures
Knowledge and Information
Monitoring and Enforcement
Quality assurance and Independence of Environmental Assessment Practitioners (EAPs)
Capacity, Skills & Transformation:
Representative demographics within service providers and civil society
Empowerment of marginalized communities
Skills of EAPS and Government Officials
Impacts and Instruments:
Existing and new Environmental Impact Management Tools
Co-operative Governance: EIAM tools
Quality Management: EIAM Tools
While there is a limited budget for specific specialist input, the Department of Environmental Affairs has purposefully initiated a collaborative effort. This allows for people, organisations and institutions with relevant experience to engage with the committee and task teams. It is anticipated that from the experiences with EIA will flow ideas, constructs and innovation.
EDITOR's NOTE: A discussion forum has been enabled on the DEA’s website. Additionally, consultants, NGO’s and specialists may volunteer to contribute to any of the study areas beyond commentary. The Steering Committee invites studies and reports. The first set of investigations will commence early October, with delivery of findings for comment in January 2011. [The findings are being presented in the last week of March 2011. There were delays in the appointment of the specialists.]