* Angela Andrews of the Legal Resource Centre compiled this summary of the Specialist Report.
The following constitutes a summary of a report written by consultants to the EIAMS process and does not reflect the views of the Legal Resources Centre.
Original Report by: The Project CoOrdinator, Madeleine Oosthuizen
To ensure that the Environmental Impact Assessment and Management tools discussed in Subtheme 9 meet a specified quality standard.
The National Environmental Management Act (NEMA) sets out various tools that can be used to manage the environment. The DEA has developed an Integrated Environmental Assessment Information Series and Guideline Series explaining the requirements for different environmental tools. Other departments and organisations have developed guidance documents for various tools as well. See the full report for a rundown of various tools’ content requirements and references to the guidance documents.
1. Content of EIA reports is too voluminous and unfocused: The EIA process has become about cataloguing content rather than critical analysis of the merits and potential impacts of a project. Reports deliver an overload of information without distilling it to its key points or organising it to support conclusions and recommendations.
2. Quality standards not enforced: There are regulations governing the quality of environmental reports, yet they are poorly enforced.
3. EIAs conducted without taking into account broader context of sustainability goals: EIAs tend to generate mitigation measures rather than assess whether activities should be permitted at all. Thus, EIAs often meet all the formal criteria (get all the boxes checked), but do not contribute to quality decisionmaking.
4. Lack of good performance indicators: Good indicators are needed to measure the effectiveness of environmental tools and policies. There is no central information database to collect and interpret data that can then be used to set environmental goals and monitor performance.
5. Not enough use of strategic tools: Strategic tools such as the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) and Environmental Management Framework (EMF) should be incorporated into Spatial Development Frameworks (SDFs), so that projects can be screened and determined to be suitable or unsuitable for certain geographic areas early in the process, before an expensive EIA is started. Cumulative impact assessments are also under-utilised.
6. Registration of environmental professionals is necessary to improve the quality of EIAs. Independence and objectivity are particularly important.
7. Authorisations are poorly drafted, aggravating poor enforcement: The conditions of approval of many applications are inappropriate, often cut and paste from other documents. Because of delays, applicants do not appeal the conditions even when they do not make sense.
8. Environmental Managements Programmes (EMPs) are vague in content and legal status: EMPs lack detail on how management and mitigation measures are to be implemented. Many developers also view EMPs as a guideline rather than a legal requirement.
9. Weak enforcement: Once a project is approved, there is little monitoring or enforcement to make sure it complies with the conditions in the authorisation. Some have suggested spot checks and administrative fines as a way to monitor with limited staff.
10. Information systems outdated: There is a lack of baseline environmental information, and decisions are often made based on old, outdated information.
11. Offsets: The use of offsets, compensatory investment to offset development that has negative environmental impacts, is controversial. They should not be allowed in areas of unique and irreplaceable biodiversity value.
12. Data availability and scale: Small scale data is often used for detailed analysis. See Subtheme 2 for more on data and information gaps.
1. Operate effectively in all four phases of management: The “Deming Cycle of Management” has been adapted to the Integrated Environmental Management (IEM) context. The phases are Plan (planning & design), Do (commission & implementation), Check (monitoring & compliance), and Act (enforcement & feedback). Tools should be linked to the appropriate stages of the cycle. The cycle is designed to improve with every completed loop – the knowledge gained from a prior project will feed into the next.
2. Apply an outcome-based approach to environmental management: Quality of environmental tools should be measured by an outcomes-based approach, moving beyond having the right content in the reports, or “ticking boxes.” Tools should identify the desired state of the environment and set clear indicators, baselines, and targets to measure progress.
a. Methodology (based on a model from Western Australia):
i. Identify the environmental outcome to be achieved. Desired outcomes may be an explicit condition (such as avoidance of a particular vegetation), a progressive rehabilitation of an area, or an environmental performance standard (such as an emission limit).
ii. Identify how the outcome is to be measured and define acceptable degrees of impact. Baselines must be known in order to measure levels of change.
iii. Identify reporting requirements
iv. Identify what is to be done if the outcome is not being met.
3. Align State of the Environment reporting: The State of the Environment report should provide baseline information from which to develop desired environmental outcomes.
4. Increase use of strategic planning and design tools to achieve desired outcomes.
5. Guideline documents and regulations should continue to be used to ensure quality of environmental tools: Guidelines and regulations should include a list of required information and provide for clear terms of reference, defined scope, performance criteria, professional certification, independent review, accepted standards and formats for data, scale and accuracy of baseline information, and input from interested & affected parties.
6. Employ other mechanisms to achieve environmental outcomes: Different instruments include the following.
a. Command and control: Standards linked to desired outcomes
b. Market-based instruments: tax relief, tax penalties, subsidies, fees.
c. Agreement-based instruments: private agreements between organisations, international agreements.
d. Civil-based instruments: Performance reporting, eco-labeling.
7. Strengthen monitoring and enforcement tools: This report recommends a new tool, the Compliance Assessment Report, to help in this regard.
1. Make guidelines easily accessible at a central database; ensure that government officials are familiar with them.
2. Make authorisations clearer, allowing for effective monitoring and enforcement, and accessible to all interested and affected parties (I&APs).
3. Compile guideline documents on attaining the objectives of NEMA and selecting the proper tools in each stage of the environmental management cycle.
1. Compile a guideline document on an outcomes-based approach to environmental management.
2. Develop indicators to measure progress towards desired outcomes and allow for public participation in establishing the criteria.
3. Change requirements for EIA reports. Reports should include three perspectives: the desired environmental outcome, the developer’s goal, and the desires of I&APs. Reports should also explain how the proposed development will contribute to ecological sustainability.
4. Compile guideline documents on the new format of the EIA report (described above) and the new Compliance Assessment Report tool.
5. Clarify content of EMPs. EMPs must explain how and when indicators of sustainability will be measured and reported, the actions to be taken if desired outcomes are not achieved, and a chain of escalation within the overseeing authority.
1. Develop baseline data against which to measure performance.
2. Develop a system to collect monitoring information, which can then inform strategic tools such as EMFs, SEAs, and SDFs.
3. Compliance actions must be transparent and made known to stakeholders such as the complainant and other I&APs.
1. Eliminate duplication and inefficiency in permitting.
2. “Close the loop” in the management cycle by ensuring that information from one phase feeds into the next, so that the process is continually improved by new knowledge.
3. Audit tools more regularly to determine their effectiveness and efficiency.
4. Amend as necessary NEMA regulations to provide for an outcome-based approach to management and the full four stages of management.