This section rephrases issues and constraints to resemble recommendations on what can be done to improve the use of environmental management tools, as well as the tools themselves, resulting in a single comprehensive set of suggestions and recommendations.
Issues are classified as either tool specific or generally applicable to the environmental management system.
SPECIFIC TOOLSScreening: The environmental assessment and management process places onerous assessment requirements on projects that do not merit time and resource intensive investigation. The current environmental assessment system can benefit from further ‘streamlining’ through additional levels of screening.
It is argued that there should be mechanisms to further reduce the requirements for the environmental assessments even if EIA authorizations are required e.g. different process requirements for large projects in brown field sites versus projects in green field sites.
There should be screening for compatibility with plans, standards and guidelines in the areas they are proposed, prior to the identification and assessment of impacts and alternatives. This relies on quality and content of the reference planning instruments e.g. Spatial Development
A more risky method of screening is the application of government discretionary power to enforce or waive EIA assessment requirements.
Norms and Standards: The use of Norms and Standards as a screening tool would result in additional assessments and authorizations being eliminated in favour of self-regulation and heavy penalties for non-compliance. The application of norms and standards further allow for the control of activities that do not ordinarily require environmental impact authorizations yet have the potential to impact on the environment.
A closely related tool, the use of ‘levels of acceptable change’ can also be applied , with less certainty due to the likelihood of differing opinions over acceptability and uncertainty with regards to cumulative impacts.
Environmental Management Programmes: EMPs are neglected and consequently the effectiveness of the entire environmental management cycle is eroded.
EMP compilation comes too late in the environmental assessment and management process. It is believed that many concerns of the public or government officials could be addressed in proper management of the environment as opposed to detailed investigation. EMPs could be used to describe the qualitative and quantitative environmental management measures to be employed during the actual development process, based on the information on environmental impacts and levels of acceptability established during the environmental assessment process. EMPs should be as practical and relevant as possible. There should be allowance for peer review by persons with experience in construction/implementation.
There has to be compliance or follow up to correct non-compliance or unanticipated environmental consequences. Monitoring of development impacts and compliance with the EMP should be a requirement, and should be used to inform Interested and Affected Parties about the environmental objectives and controls to be achieved, and the status of compliance.
EMPs need to be dynamic tools that can adapt to changing circumstances and conditions in order to ensure an optimal strategy for environmental management during project implementation. This becomes problematic when there are different stakeholders involved and amendment processes that take time to conclude. The principle and practice could therefore be at odds.
Environmental Management System: A properly constituted EMS would establish procedures for day-to-day environmental management, environmental incidents as well as institutional procedures for continuous information management and iterative system improvements. The role of International Standards Organisation (ISO) standards and certification, and other environmental management systems, can be expanded to allow for full life cycle environmental management.
Environmental Impact Assessment: EIA is often confused with the full spectrum of IEM, thereby leading to the confusion over the role and function of EIA studies.
Concerns consequently relate to whether or not EIA is invoked in the correct instances, whether the process is robust, effective and efficient, whether EIAs lead to appropriate substantive outcomes, and whether there are enough linkages with other tools and processes. In addition, concerns are raised about the necessary levels of competence and skills for EAPs.
The relevance of the EIA process should be ensured if it is to remain a legitimate tool. Efficiency in process execution and administration is required. Applicability would need to be ensured by eliminating the need for irrelevant (paper exercise) assessments and extraneous specialist investigations.
Effectiveness of the EIA process relates to both the constituent components of the EIA process being made more relevant, accurate and useful, and the completion of the environmental management cycle to ensure that the outcome of the EIA is environmental sustainability.
Ideas include more selective requirements for assessment of development alternatives, the increased use of class assessments, and closer links with related processes such as spatial planning.
The EIA process can be improved through a more rigorous impact investigation and assessment phase. Failure include: absence or incorrect use of contextual issues, cumulative effects assessment, cost-benefit analysis, life cycle assessment and risk assessments (including health, social, ecological etc.) as well as poor linkages with EMPs.
Improved application and use of the EIA process and its constituent parts will require skills and capacity of the EAPs administrating the process.
Post-approval tools need to be implemented more rigorously - ensuring compliance with conditions imposed and recommendations made in the specialist reports and EMP.
Strategic Environmental Assessments : Various forms of SEA can be used to deal with off-site and cumulative impacts, and potentially create a framework through which detailed investigations can be streamlined; and to contextualize, precede and inform detailed and site-specific assessments.
SEA is inherently flexible and applied to a myriad of different planning systems. It is not necessarily enforceable, nor can it be standardised.
Legislation instructs decision-makers to refer to and take guidance from relevant SEA (or EMF) guidance but does not make it compulsory to comply with the guidance provided.
There is inadequate legislative directive to ensure a wide application of SEA, and not much to guide non-environmental sectors and fields in the application of SEA.
Timelines can be long, stakeholder participation extensive and the appeal process vague. Public participation during an SEA can also be used or misused to reduce the opportunity for stakeholder engagement on more specific studies (such as an EIA falling within an EMF study area). A similar concern relates to the possibility for prominent sector stakeholders to manipulate strategic planning processes for their sector.
Conservation planning informs more universal environmental management tools, and is usually the basis from which ecological base data is originated, and the framework against which ecological impacts are evaluated. It is also used as a layer of screening in the EIA process.
Because of its importance, there should be clear standards that allow ‘good’ conservation planning to be separated from ‘bad’ planning. Such standards should be set for the planning process (methodology) and the national, provincial and local conservation targets.
These standards will also structure how conservation planning can be challenged, addressing the potential to challenge site-specific inaccuracies arising from high level modelling.
Appropriate public participation must take place, which typically does not happen now. Stakeholder participation should be determined in accordance with the intended use of the conservation planning, and the requirements of common law.
More awareness need to be created on how the different tiers of conservation planning relate to each other, and to external environmental management tools. This could potentially be linked to legal requirements for compliance with conservation planning by environmentally destructive activities such as mining and urban expansion.
Cumulative Effects Assessment should be one of the basic information sources that informs EIA and SEA, since issues within a cumulative impact effect may result in different outcome as opposed to assessing only individual impacts. Cumulative effects are difficult to assess at project specific level and therefore represent a compelling argument for the increased use of strategic level assessments.
Life cycle assessment can allow for externalized and hidden effects to be discovered and factored into the assessment of development proposals.
It is common in business modelling as it allows economic advantages of a development to be measured and the most suitable technology selected.
Such considerations should inform environmental assessments and decisions as well, or alternatively, the life cycle environmental impacts of a project should be used to determine the nature and design of the project.
Life cycle assessment would add value particularly in assessment of mining applications where the environmental and social impacts over a long term can better inform the actual costs of the project and inform procedures and safeguards for mine closures.
Life cycle assessment may fail to assign a monitory value to environmental issues, and consequently the environmental costs cannot always be compared to non-environmental effects, especially if perceptions or value judgments are involved.
The life span of a project may not always be definable. Theoretically it should be possible to assign values to environmental resources and make a business case for green processes within an industry.
Issues which should be subjected to life cycle assessment , include social and cumulative health impacts, long term effects on water resources (e.g. Acid Mine Drainage) and post-disposal effects.
Cost Benefit Assessment: Calculating the real cost of a development allows for a comparison of development benefits vs the real costs of the development. It determines whether an activity will be able to meet environmental standards, and how environmental resources/ecosystem services may influence the feasibility and operational costs of developments.
APPLICATION OF TOOLSConservation Planning: Recent advances in systematic biodiversity planning have brought about a significant improvement in the overall understanding of conservation requirements, and the opportunity for consistent application of base information in practice. Provincial scale conservation plans can now inform spatial planning and EIA alike, improving the consistency of decision making in both fields of application.
Public Participation: The need to involve public stakeholders during the formulation of policies and plans that might affect their environmental rights is a constitutional imperative. However there is a risk of stakeholder fatigue , and sometimes there is limited value in involving laypersons in highly technical procedures.
Effort should be made to find meaningful channels of participation for public stakeholders, and potentially forums that can combine related participation processes.
Strategic Planning & Sustainability Objectives: Environmental planning on a strategic level, and planning that drives decision making towards stated sustainability objectives, has the potential to act as a unifying force in environmental management practice. Benefits include:
o The formulation a clear and shared vision, goals and direction for specified locations, areas or regions.
o The opportunity to translate strategic objectives into practical measures to inform day-to-day decision such as competing land-uses or EIA applications.
o The formulation of a sustainability framework that serves as reference for the critical review of decisions or planning.
o Giving specific guidance to development planning, based on broader strategic considerations, to steer development away from sensitive areas.
o The use of strategic tools can assist in raising the profile of environmental issues in non-environmental forums, or serve in an integrative role.
o It provides information on the opportunities and constraints that the environment places on development.
o SEA streamlines project level decision making and authorization processes such as EIA.
Cumulative Effects Assessment and Life Cycle Assessment: The study of possible cumulative effects is necessary to determine impacts that are detrimental to the long-term health of the environment and the people who rely on it.
Cumulative effects include those over the project’s life and the combined effects of different projects.
Full life cycle investigations will indicate the project’s contribution to environmental degradation, or to the required costs to offset the loss of ecosystem services over time.
Accurate determination of the desirability of a project would be possible, or alternatively a more correct assessment of the issues of priority associated with a particular project or project area.