IEA Training Manual - Module 1

7.1 IEA in the context of other types of assessments

Many practices similar to IEA are probably familiar to you; they include state of the environment (SoE) reporting, environmental impact assessment (EIA), strategic environmental assessment (SEA), integrated assessment (IA) and others. While these methods all have their niches, they share the need to turn scientific and technical information into terms that address policy issues and reaches a wide range of non-expert audiences.

The relationship between an IEA and other, similar processes can vary, depending on their purpose and approach. Earlier SoE reporting experience and structures can serve as a basis for IEA. EIAs can help identify environmental risks and vulnerabilities related to specific projects; those projects might serve, for instance as case studies to illustrate broader tendencies in an IEA. A SEA can point to the role of policy in shaping environmental conditions either in the present or in a hypothetical future.

In order to help you reflect on these linkages, we provide a brief review of key aspects of the following practices:

  • SoE reporting
  • EIA
  • SEA

State of Environment (SoE) Reporting
State of the Environment (SoE) reporting has been largely the responsibility of government, through departments or ministries mandated to report to parliament, government or to provide information to the public. Traditional SoE reporting provides information on the environment and trends. It is mainly focused on the biophysical environment than the pressures humanity exerts on it. This information is very useful and may be used to analyse trends in key variables of the environment.

  • Organizational structure for reporting and governance
  • Process design
  • Expert and stakeholder participation
  • Priority environmental issues and policies covered
  • Information sources and tools
  • Communication and impact strategies

Environmental assessment reports have been developed for many parts of the world and a selection is shown in Table 1.

Table 1: Examples of environmental assessment reports from around the world

Region Example Scale Year Reference
Africa Africa Environment Outlook-2 Regional 2005
  Egypt National 2004
  Lebanon National 2001
  South Africa National 1999
Asia-Pacific Asian Environment Outlook Regional 2001
  Tajikistan National 2001
  Europe’s Environment – The Third Assessment Regional 2003
  Norway National Ongoing
Latin America and the Caribbean GEO Latin America and the Caribbean Regional 2003
  Caribbean Regional 2005
  GEO Central America Sub-regional    
  GEO Bahamas National 2005
  GEO Cities in the Andes  Municipality    
North America The North American Mosaic Regional 2002
    National 2004
West Asia   Regional 2003

Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)
In contrast with SoE reporting, an EIA is a tool or framework used to assess environmental impacts of an activity (Harding 1998). EIA is a process for evaluating possible risks or effects on the environment of a proposed activity or development. The purpose of an EIA is to inform decision-makers and other stakeholders of potential environmental impacts, and to suggest ways to reduce or minimize impacts that would arise from proposed activities. An EIA is intended to drive decisions in the context of a given project. Its quality depends on its rigorous application of a systematic approach and the quality of its science.

Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA)
Various users define the term SEA in different ways. According to one commonly referenced, a SEA can be defined as the systematic and comprehensive process of evaluating at the earliest possible stage, the environmental effects of a policy, plan or programme and its alternatives (adapted from Thérivel and Partidário 1996).

SEA represents a body of practice and methodology directly relevant to the policy analysis component of an IEA, but does not explicitly involve the regular reporting requirement. SEA also may focus solely on a single policy or programme, while an IEA must by definition involve scanning the entire spectrum of relevant policies. Further, an IEA will single out priority policies for detailed analysis, but also provide an overview of the entire policy landscape.

The key concept in this comparison is that the SEA process focuses on assessing all types of potential environmental impacts of proposed policies, plans, or programmes, and seeks to incorporate environmental considerations into the development of public policies. Its basic function is to facilitate policy learning and adaptation in an early phase, before policies are formalized, interests are entrenched and potential significant, irreversible damages occur.

SEA is ideally undertaken before policies, plans, and programmes are put in place. It extends the policy analysis to alternatives that may be proposed as a result of the assessment process, including impacts of withdrawing the proposed policy. SEA also considers the environment as part of a system, looking at impacts on the interface between the environment and socio-economic conditions.

The SEA approach is comprehensive because it broadens the policy target from individual decisions to the sequence of associated plans and programmes. It identifies and involves all major actors on multiple scales; it assesses potential direct and indirect impacts; and it considers both short- and long-term environmental consequences (Pintér, Swanson and Barr 2004).

See Exercise 1.7.1...


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