Subtheme 9: Existing and New Environmental Management Tools
* Angela Andrews of the Legal Resource Centre assisted in compiling this summary of the Specialist Report
Problem & Objective
EIAMS proposes to change the current system of environmental management by using the EIA less. Instead, the goal is to use other planning tools that the DEA considers more suitable and efficient. The DEA identified benefits and limitations of tools currently used in environmental management and recommended additional or alternative tools to improve EIAs and the environmental management system in general.
Four Phases of Environmental Management
1) Data Collection: gathering information about the current environmental conditions of an area.
2) Implementation and Decisionmaking: deciding on the environmental policies and permitted activities for an area.
3) Monitoring & Reporting: keeping track of resources and activities, making sure that the environment is being managed effectively.
4) Enforcement & Feedback: enforcing regulations against violators, reviewing management policies and process for improvement.
Many environmental tools cut across more than one phase. For example, the environmental impact assessment (EIA) spans all four phases.
Types of Environmental Management Tools
- Policy and Strategy: Many laws require government departments to develop policies on how they will manage matters relating to the environment. For example, national law requires plans for waste management, water use, air quality, and biodiversity.
- Integrated Environmental Planning (IEP): Integrated planning simply means that the decisionmakers must take into account the effects of a decision on all aspects of the environment and on all people, acknowledging that all elements of the environment are linked.  IEP is required in various laws.
- Environmental Implementation Plans (EIP): Certain designated government departments (national and provincial) that make decisions affecting the environment are required to prepare and regularly review an EIP, which is a description of government policies and programmes that may significantly affect the environment. The EIP must describe how such policies will comply with NEMA and other laws regarding the environment. The purpose of the EIP is to coordinate environmental planning among various departments and promote cooperative government.
- Environmental Management Programme (EMP): EMPs apply to all government bodies responsible for managing the environment. EMPs must describe the impacts of a proposed activity, methods to minimize impacts, a monitoring programme, and methods to ensure compliance with environmental standards.
- Conservation Planning: The Protected Areas Act and Biodiversity Act protect threatened species and ecosystems.
- Permitting & Licensing: Certain activities that pose a risk to the natural or social environment must receive permits in order to operate. These include air emissions, waste management, water use, and some hunting practices.
- Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA): Certain activities designated by the Department of Environmental Affairs must undertake an EIA before they are authorised. An EIA evaluates the environmental impact an activity will have in the area, proposes alternatives or ways to lessen any impact, and provides an opportunity for public comment.
- Environmental Management Programme Review (EMPR): An EMPR is an EIA compiled for the purpose of mining.
- Heritage: Activities that pose threats to heritage resources require a heritage assessment. They may be part of a larger EIA process.
10. Norms & Standards: Some laws allow for activities to be authorised if they meet a threshold standard, without the need for an individual assessment.
11. Strategic Environmental Assessments (SEA): An SEA brings environmental issues into the planning process, to make decisionmakers aware of the environmental impacts of municipal planning and other long term policies.
12. Environmental Management Frameworks (EMF): An EMF must describe the characteristics of an area, including any sensitivities or conservation status, the kinds of land uses that would be harmful and those that would not, and its cultural values. It includes a public participation requirement; however, using an EMF is not mandatory in environmental planning.
13. Risk Assessments: Various laws allow government authorities to ask for a risk assessment before granting a permit. Such requests are discretionary (up to the authority whether to ask for it or not) and not required.
14. Monitoring and Reporting: Various laws require that natural resources and the effectiveness of environmental polices be carefully watched and recorded.
15. Fiscal Policy: Economic tools are one way to regulate the environment, such as through tariffs and subsidies.
16. Public Participation: Most environmental tools require an opportunity for affected members of the public to comment. Different laws require different levels of participation.
Recommended Improvements to Specific Tools
- Increased screening: The DEA feels that the current EIA system triggers intense assessment requirements on projects that do not need it. They suggest that projects be screened to allow them to bypass the EIA process or go through a simpler assessment as long as the project meets certain standards and complies with the environmental guidelines of the area. However, more screening may create loopholes through which projects may pass without triggering the need for an assessment or delay the process even more by setting up more steps to go through. The DEA also suggests that the government could simply decide when a project must go through an EIA, but this would risk abuse and corruption.
- Increased use of norms & standards: Standard activities should not have to go through an assessment process. Rather, they should be regulated by industry standards and penalties for any violations.
- Increased use of EMPs: More attention should go to the big picture of how the environment is going to be managed, rather focusing only on very fine details of the project’s impact. EMPs will be effective only if there is monitoring to ensure compliance with it.
- Improving the EIA: The EIA process is criticized for being overused, ineffective, and for ignoring other tools. Suggestions for improvement include reserving the EIA only for the projects that really need the full assessment (projects that have unknown or uncertain impacts), more group assessments, and including other environmental tools in the process. Improving the EIA will also require improving the skills of EAPs and government officials.
- Increased reliance on SEAs and EMFs: SEAs and EMFs should form the big picture context for EIAs and more detailed planning tools. Current laws instruct decisionmakers to refer to SEAs and EMFs for guidance but do not require compliance with that guidance. Because these tools are flexible, they are difficult to standardise and enforce. There is also concern that the public participation process of an SEA can be abused.
- Conservation Planning: There should be clear standards for conservation methods and targets. Public participation should also be included in the process.
- Cumulative Effects and Life Cycle Effects Assessment: The long term effects of a project and the combined effects of several different projects should be measured and used to determine the project’s design.
- Cost Benefit Assessment: The full cost of a project – health and social impacts, transportation planning, etc. – must be calculated in order to properly compare it to the project’s benefits
Recommended Improvements to the Environmental Management System
- Establish clear sustainability objectives and criteria. Without clear criteria, environmental management becomes just about permitting activities rather than balanced, sustainable growth.
- Coordinate the many permitting processes to avoid duplication, create effective flow of information, and move towards common environmental goals. Environmental planning tools should also be used in other types of planning, not just environmental (such as local land use, or city management).
- Classify environmental tools based on their functions and set up a system that guides how to choose the right tool for the job, instead of always relying on the EIA.
- Enhance monitoring and evaluation of policies and projects to figure out what works, what does not work, the level of compliance, and how to improve the policy or project.
- Encourage industries to self-regulate through industry standards and sustainability targets.
 E.g., National Environmental Management: Waste Act 59 of 2008 s 6; National Environmental Management: Air Quality Act 39 of 2004 s 7; National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act 10 of 2004.
 See National Environmental Management Act 107 of 1998, ch 1, s 2(4)(b) for a definition of integrated environmental management.
 National Environmental Management Act 107 of 1998, ch 3, s 11–13.
 National Environmental Management Act 107 of 1998, ch 3, s 11–14.