Environmental assessment at a strategic level

In order to factor environmental concerns into management decisions, it is important to start at the strategic level. Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) can be described as a participatory approach for upstreaming environmental and social issues in order to influence processes for development planning, decision-making and implementation at the strategic level. In how much detail a development plan should be assessed, within the framework of SEA, is dependent on the planning objectives.

The various steps of a SEA are briefly discussed below.

  • Screening: This activity is conducted to answer the following threshold question. For any particular policy, plan or programme, should an SEA be conducted? If the proposal has an environmental impact, then one moves to the next step.

  • Scoping: Given the determination that an SEA must be conducted, what are the impacts that the SEA must assess? In other words, what is the scope of work (or “terms of reference”) for the SEA? Typically, the scope of work of an SEA is determined by professional experts using their collective judgment, and in some jurisdictions the public is invited to participate in scoping.

  • Identification, prediction and evaluation of impacts: The process of forecasting and evaluating impacts in SEA can employ some of the same tools and procedures used in project-level EIA. As in the case of EIA work, professional judgment often plays a major role. In contrast to EIA work, however, the need to trace indirect (or secondary) environmental effects can be expected to play a more dominant role in SEAs. This is because many policies, plans and programmes subject to SEA are written to produce changes in economic and social effects, which can, in turn, produce significant indirect (and sometimes inadvertent) environmental effects. These interactions between economic, social and environmental effects play a key role in “integrated assessments.”

  • Mitigation: Mitigation measures are intended to avoid, reduce or offset the adverse effects of an action, such as the decision to approve a policy or implement a plan.

  • Monitoring: Programmes to monitor the effects of a policy are often advocated because such monitoring can alert responsible authorities to the unintended outcomes that may be controlled using mitigation measures. Also, by comparing predicted outcomes with those observed via monitoring, analysts may be able to improve their ability to predict impacts in the future.

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World Bank (2005)


Further reading:

Applying Environmental Assessment for Flood Management