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(March, 2012)


Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) has been variously defined since its inception (Yanhua et al., 2011; Samarakoon and Rowan, 2008; Snell and Cowell, 2006; Bruhn-Tysk and Eklund, 2002; Perez-Maqueo, 2001; Duinker and Greig, 2007; Lee and George, 2000). It is therefore difficult to comprehensively define EIA, however, it can be described as a systematic process for identifying, examining, analyzing, evaluating, and predicting the impacts of planned activities or policies; involving consultation with affected stakeholders, and using the results of the analysis and consultations in planning, authorising and implementation of the activity (Toro et al., 2012; Kwiatkowski and Ooi, 2003; Yanhua et al., 2011; Cashmore, 2004). In simple terms, EIA is just an information gathering exercise carried out by the proponent or other recognized bodies which enables decision-making bodies understand the potential environmental effects of a proposed project before deciding whether or not it should go ahead. EIA is thus an anticipatory (futuring), participatory environmental management tool and as such, it is based on principles such as transparency, public involvement and accountability (CENN, 2004; RTPI, 2001). Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is essential for sustainable development; it ensures a balance economically, socially, and institutionally with the environment.

EIA development started with the adoption of the NEPA (National Environmental Protection Act) in the USA in 1969 (El-Fadl and El-Fadel, 2004), and facilitated by the Stockholm Conference in 1972, the Brundtland Report, and the Rio Conference, the idea has been adopted and practiced by over 100 countries (Wood, 2003b; Jay et al., 2007), including developed, developing and transitional economies. EIA is a useful tool for facilitating intra- generational and intergenerational equity (Yanhua et al., 2011) hence promoting sustainable development and ecosystems protection. It is therefore not surprising that it has been adopted world-wide within four decades (Jay et al., 2007). However, though the basic components of EIA (Figure 1) are relatively the same world-wide, the procedures and practice varies from one nation to the other (Glasson et al., 2000). This write up therefore seeks to critically review the global practice of EIA, focusing on similarities and differences. The essay examined how the legal and institutional framework, and the screening and scoping components of EIA vary globally, using information from 40 countries (Table 1). The selected aspects of EIA for review in this essay were based on the fact that they form the back bone and most essential parts of EIA (Heinma and Põder, 2010; Weston, 2000a).

Proposed EIA Public Screening Scoping Decision Project Conduction Involvement

Figure 1: Basic EIA Process and components

Table 1: Selected countries for essay write up


Selected Countries (depended on available data)


Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, Egypt, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Tunisia China, Bangladesh, Azerbaijan, India, Indonesia, Maldives, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Lebanon, Syria, Korea and Vietnam Australia and Fiji



Europe Bulgaria, Denmark, UK, Finland, Estonia, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Sweden, Turkey, Norway and France

North America

US and Canada, and Alberta (province)

South America

Brazil and Colombia

Legal and Institutional Framework or Procedures

As pointed out earlier, the practice of EIA differs from one country to another; EIA has been adopted in the context of the institutional framework and political system of each country. Several studies including, Wood (2003a) and Okello et al (2008), suggests that legislation(s) is/are essential for EIA to be effective. Evidently, the adoption, implementation, and practice of EIA depend on the institutional framework and political context of the decision-making process in each country (Leknes, 2001). The provision for EIA may be made through legislation, administrative order or policy directive (Ahmad and Wood, 2002). Some countries have EIA legislations requiring approval of projects before their commencement but other countries rely on regulations, guidance or ad hoc procedures (Glasson et al., 2000). For example, countries such as USA (Steinemann, 2001 ), Finland (Pölönen et al., 2011), Ghana (Appiah-Opoku, 2001), India (Rajaram and Das, 2011), Korea (Song and Glasson, 2010), Colombia (Toro et al., 2010), Pakistan (Nadeem and Hameed, 2008), South Africa (Sandham and Pretorius, 2008), Ireland (Geraghty, 1996), Scotland (Natural Heritage Management, 2009), and Syria (Haydar and Pediaditi, 2010) have comprehensive or enabling legislations requiring that certain projects must carry out EIA and be approved before the commencement of such undertakings whilst Azerbaija (CENN, 2004) and Fiji (Turnbull, 2003) has no comprehensive EIA legislations but relies on unclear regulations and guidelines from an EIA handbook. Also, in China, there was no comprehensive EIA legislation until 2003, though EIA had been practiced in the country for about three decades (Lui et al., 2011). Despite this bold step by China, many assessments, including Lui et al. (2011) and Wang et al. (2003), suggest that the new system is still weak, allowing little public participation (though better than earlier systems), and deficient in the consideration of alternatives. However, the research conducted by Wang et al. (2003) was shallow because their methodology did not allow for fair representation of China’s major towns. The paper concentrated in two major Town centres which do not provide any form of representative picture of the practice of EIA under the new system across China as a nation.

Another form of disparity is that some countries have complex systems within which EIA is performed whilst other countries have relatively simpler legal procedures for carrying out EIA. In China, for example, EIA operates within a complex legal framework (Lui et al., 2011) whiles in Ghana, the system is much simpler (Appiah-Opoku, 2001). Also, in other countries where the legislative and administrative system are well defined and established

such as UK (Salvador et al, 2000) and Canada (www.ceaa-acee.gc.ca), public participation and project alternatives are treated as essential and provision is made to ensure effectiveness. It can therefore be inferred that the legislative and administrative system of a country together with its socio-economic growth determines how EIA is practiced. Despite the differences in terms of legislation, most countries have well defined procedures by which EIA is executed, and the process involves all the components shown in Figure 1. It is also worth noting that Nigeria has three different independent EIA systems, all backed by laws, and therefore differs significantly from other countries in their approach to EIA (Ogunba, 2004). The disadvantage of such systems is that duplication of functions is not uncommon and the effectiveness of all systems is questionable.


In all countries under review, the EIA process begins when a proponent applies to the appropriate authority for permission (e.g. China), approval (e.g. Ghana), Clearance (e.g. Bangladesh) or licence(s) (e.g. Colombia) to undertake a planned activity. In some countries, such as Ghana and Bangladesh, only one agency or body has the power to approve projects whiles in other countries such as Colombia, China, Canada, Syria, Denmark, India and Brazil more than one agency or body can approve projects (Christensen, 2006; Paliwal, 2006). For example, either the Government Administration (MEHLD), Regional Independent Corporations, Sustainable Development Corporations, or Urban Community Corporations in Colombia can issue the licence to developers to undertake projects (Toro et al., 2010) whereas in Ghana, only the EPA has the authority to approve projects (Appiah-Opoku, 2001). It is worth mentioning that unlike the other nations, Canada has a different system; the process depends on ‘triggers’. The federal authority undertakes EIA whenever a project meets at least one of the ‘triggers’. For example, a project will initiate the EIA process if it is proposed by the federal authority (www.ceaa-acee.gc.ca).

Once the appropriate authority receives the application, the next stage in the EIA process is screening. Screening is the process of determining whether a proposed undertaking requires an EIA or not based on the expected impact of the proposed project on the environment and its relative significance (Pölönen et al., 2011). Depending on the circumstances of the proposed project, the existing environment, and the likely environmental effects, screenings might vary significantly in time taken, length and depth of analysis, (Joa˜o, 2002; www.ceaa- acee.gc.ca). In all nations, the screening stage produces one of four main outcomes; (i) no need for EIA, (ii) need for a full and comprehensive EIA, (iii) need for a limited EIA or (iv) need for further studies to determine the level of EIA required (Salvador et al., 2000; Clausen et al., 2011). Three main approaches are employed during screening to determine whether or not a proposed project requires EIA; legal (or policy), inclusion or exclusion list, or a criteria for case-by-case (Figure 2). Every country uses at least one of these methods, though they may differ significantly in the way they are applied based on applicable EIA law(s) or regulations. Most countries use the list approach (Christensen and Kørnøv, 2011; Glasson et al., 2000; Marara et al., 2011; El-Sayed et al., 2011). For instance, in Aberta, the inclusion list defines projects that require a comprehensive EIA base on size and type, for example, the construction, operation or reclamation of a quarry producing more than 45 000 tonnes per year requires a full EIA (Alberta Regulation 62/2008).

Figure 2: General screening approaches (Source: http://eia.unu.edu/course/?page_id=136) The use of project lists offers

Figure 2: General screening approaches (Source: http://eia.unu.edu/course/?page_id=136)

The use of project lists offers two main merits; it provides a standardized framework for screening and simplifies the screening process as well. However, despite these merits, it is critical to note that use of project lists must be done with caution because it has its own weaknesses. For example, a proposed surface coal mine project producing more than 45 000 tonnes per year will require an EIA in Alberta (Alberta Regulation 62/2008). In this case, EIA can be avoided by reducing the proposed production level to a level just below the threshold (e.g. 44 400 tonnes per year). It is therefore essential to have a discretionary (secondary) list or other screening procedures to which such projects will be subject. Also, project lists requires regular updates that will incorporate experiences from pass EIAs and to meet new demands. The flowchart of Alberta’s EIA process is shown in Figure 3.

In Azerbaija, however, the screening is much different from Alberta because there are no distinctive procedures by which projects are screened (CENN, 2004). Screening is based on experience from past EIAs and sometimes recognized international bodies screening lists (e.g. World Bank). This kind of screening is likely to be of poor quality because threshold values are quite subjective, and the screening process is likely not to be comprehensive. As such, usually, only the oil companies requires EIA but small scale activities, regardless of their potential environment impact, do not go through the EIA process (CENN, 2004). It can therefore be inferred that the procedure for screening in Azerbaija is not rigorous enough to make EIA effective. Much like Azerbaija, is the Fijian state, where screening rest solely on the discretionary power of the Town and Country Planning’s Director (Turnbull, 2003). Such screening approaches are very subjective with high probability of producing poor results.

Figure 3: Alberta EIA process (Source: Alberta’s Environm ental Assessment Process, 2010) Unlike Azerbaija, Bangladesh

Figure 3: Alberta EIA process (Source: Alberta’s Environmental Assessment Process, 2010)

Unlike Azerbaija, Bangladesh has defined screening procedures. All industrial projects are grouped into; Green, Amber A, Amber B and Red, and requires Environmental Clearance before their commencement, though not all projects requires EIA (Figure 4). The categorization is based on the environmental significance and location of the proposed industry. Projects location is critical because though they may be below the threshold size, they may be located in or near to environmentally sensitive sites. Projects funded by development partners such as the World Bank or Asian Development Bank follow different screening procedures developed by them (Momtaz, 2002). There are three categorizations; A (significant impact) - full EIA required; B (some impact) partial EIA required; and C (no impact) no EIA required. This is quite true in most development countries to which such bodies are development partners.

Figure 4: Process of obtaining environmental clearance in Bangladesh (Source: Momtaz, 2002) 7

Figure 4: Process of obtaining environmental clearance in Bangladesh (Source: Momtaz,


Projects in China are categorized into A, B, and C and the screening procedure is much similar to that of Bangladesh, though it may differ significantly in content, size and time. The administration of EIA screening is however much complex because of the political framework within which it operates. For example, Environmental Impact Reports (EIRs) of all projects involving nuclear facilities or high confidentiality, cross-boundaries or worth more than RMB 20 million approved by the State Council are approved by the State Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA). All other projects are approved by the Environmental Protection Bureaus (EPBs) on agreed terms (Lui et al., 2011). The definition of what is significant is dependent on the nature and quantity of the ‘pollutant discharge’ as well as the ‘sensitivity’ of the area. Therefore projects are classified into Category A, B or C based on their features, output and environmental parameters. It is critical to note that the screening process is biased towards construction projects with potential to cause pollution. Also, monetary values are used to set thresholds unlike Bangladesh and Alberta where project size and type are used.

Screening in Pakistan (Figure 5 presents EIA flowchart) is much simpler but similar to that of China because thresholds for determining whether a project requires EIA or IEE depends on its cost and capacity (Nadeem and Hameed, 2008). For example, a 50 million rupees (0.806 million US$) or more highway project requires an EIA but if the cost is less than 50 million rupees, an IEE is required; a 50MW (MG) or less hydro power project does not require an EIA whereas capacities greater than 50MW must undergo EIA (GoP, 2000). Projects that require EIA form the Schedule II list and those that require IEE constitute Schedule I list. These Schedules are regularly updated to incorporate new experiences and to meet current demands. The downside of this procedure is that size and location has not been well considered. Large or small scale housing schemes’ located in sensitive areas is likely to have significant adverse impact on the environment yet it may not require EIA. Like China, provincial EPAs approve EIAs within their jurisdictions whiles the state EPA (Pakistan EPA) is responsible for state projects or trans-provincial projects. However, IEEs for public sector projects are approved by the Planning and Development Department(s) (Federal or provincial) with the exception of military projects and trans-country impact projects (Nadeem and Hameed, 2008). Ghana’s EPA decides what constitutes a significant environmental impact in consultation with a committee drawn from various government sectors, and experts. Once a project will have significant adverse impacts on the environment, the Proponent is asked to consult with the affectees and interested parties and prepare a scoping report

(Appiah-Opoku, 2001).

Figure 5 : Pakistan’s EIA process (Source: Nadeem and Hameed, 2008) Scoping Screening establishes the

Figure 5: Pakistan’s EIA process (Source: Nadeem and Hameed, 2008)


Screening establishes the basis for scoping, which identifies the main issues that need to be covered in an EIA yet ensuring that indirect, secondary and cumulative effects are not down played (Rajaram and Das, 2011). Scoping should therefore be timely, comprehensive and

focused, flexible but systematic, and involve public participation (Glynn, 2004). Globally, scoping is done using one of three major approaches; proponent prepares scope solely, proponent prepares scope in consultation with competent authority with or without public input or competent authority prepares the scope for the proponent (Wood et al., 2006; Mulvihill, 2003; Zubair, 2001). In cases where the competent authority prepares the scope for the proponent, it can be very burdensome, especially in developed countries where proposed projects may range from hundreds to thousands in a short period. If scoping is also left solely to the proponent, the general public and affectees are likely to be left out in most cases. Therefore, it is better to use the second approach, where the proponent prepares the scope in consultation with the competent authority, the public and affectees. In Alberta, once a project requires an EIA, the Proponent prepares and provides the public and Alberta Environment with copies of Proposed Terms of Reference (PTOF). The Assessment Director based on the EPEA guidelines and public input, issues the Final Terms of Reference (scope) and the Proponent conducts the assessment. A quite different approach is used in Azerbaija, the scope is agreed upon at a meeting held by the Environmental Authority for the Developer involving affectees, experts and the Developer. Where consensus cannot be reached, the Environmental Authority decides the scope and the Developer conduct the assessment. There are no explicit guidelines for scoping in Azerbaija. In Pakistan, the EPA plays just a suggestive role in scoping; the Developer has the sole responsibility of developing the Terms of Reference, after which the assessment is conducted. This is because scoping is not mandatory in Pakistan (Nadeem and Hameed, 2008), though it is in most countries. The approach in China also differs significantly from the already discussed procedures. Upon the Developer’s request, a licensed agency prepares the EIA action-outline for them. The Developer then hires a licensed agency to conduct the EIA once the action-outline is approved by EPB. In determining the significance of a project, China uses the Benefit-Cost Analysis (BCA) approach, in addition to level of potential pollution. Though significant differences exist in the way scoping is done in various countries, the content of the EIA report are basically the same differing very little. Comparing the countries under discussion, the content includes;

project description,

project location and environmental setting information,

project options and alternatives

baseline information (environmental, social and cultural),

potential negative and positive impact (environmental, social, health, economic and cultural),

mitigation plans, and

environmental management proposal for monitoring and decommissioning (Paliwal, 2006; El-Fadel et al., 2000; Kruopienė et al., 2009; Saengsupavanich, 2011).

A Summary of the other stages

The report is reviewed by; a multi-disciplinary team of experts co-ordinated by Alberta Environment in Alberta (Alberta’s Environmental Assessment Process Updated, 2010); Environmental Review Expert Group (EREG) chaired by the Environmental authority in

Azerbaijan (CENN, 2004); EPB, in consultation with other relevant authorities in China (Lui et al., 2011); and EPA, in consultation with a committee of experts in Ghana (Appiah-Opoku, 2001). The purpose of the review is basically the same in all countries under discussion; to identify any project-related risks or uncertainties and determine if the information provided meets the Terms of Reference (TOR) (Lui et al., 2011; Kruopienė et al., 2010). In Ghana, the report is graded; A (excellent), B (good), C (satisfactory), D (attempted), E (poor) and F (very poor), and depending on the nature of the project and potential impacts, grades D, E, and F are might be asked to provide the appropriate additional information (Appiah-Opoku, 2001). Once the reviewed report is satisfactory; in Alberta, the Director formally refers the report to the Board or the Minister to become part of the Public Interest Decision process (Alberta’s Environmental Assessment Process Updated, 2010); in the other countries under review, a decision is given and the project may commence on ground while other requirements are being processed. Globally, most countries (e.g. Lithuania, Figure 6) have provision for public participation and appeal in case of dissatisfaction on proponent’s part (O'Faircheallaigh, 2010; Elling, 2004; Li et al., 2012; Furia and Wallace-Jones, 2000; Soneryd, 2004; Almer and Koontz, 2004); however, it is poorly practiced in most developing countries. Finally, all countries have provisions for monitoring but it is usually done poorly or not all, even in some developed nations (Morrison-Saunders et al., 2007; Zubair et al., 2011).

(Morrison-Saunders et al., 2007; Zubair et al., 2011). Figure 6: Lithuania EIA process (involves much public

Figure 6: Lithuania EIA process (involves much public participation) (Source: Kruopienė et al, 2009)


EIA is practiced world-wide but differing greatly in procedures and practices. Most countries have well defined procedures for carrying out EIA though in practice it may be poorly done. Well defined procedures for EIA but poor practices are not uncommon in most developing countries. Categorization of projects is based on factors such as type, magnitude, capacity, costs, duration, location, and impact significance. In all countries, the EIA process begins when a proponent applies to the appropriate authority for permission to undertake an activity or project. Screening determines whether a project requires EIA or not. The most common screening procedure involves the use of lists with thresholds set by project cost, location, size, type or capacity. Some countries have discretionary lists which enlist projects not covered (in term of threshold) in the inclusion and exclusion lists. Decision on EIA requirements for such projects is dependent on location and level of significance of impact. Most countries’ scoping involves the proponent, affectees, experts and the public. However, in China, the action-outline (which provides the scope) is given by a licensed agency and approved by the state’s environmental authority. Scoping is not mandatory in Pakistan hence the proponent decides what to include; the state’s environmental authority only plays a suggestive role in this stage. Globally, the impact assessment is mostly conducted by the Proponent in developed countries but in developing countries, a licensed agency or the state’s environmental authority does the assessment. The cost of the assessment, however, is borne by the proponent in all countries. Public participation in the EIA process is not uncommon in developed countries but much limited in developing countries. Though there are great variations in EIA procedures and practice, the contents of EIA report are much similar with little variations.


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