A hive of activity

29th April 2016

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John Barwise talks to those involved in the ever expanding IEMA impact assessment network

A programme to build international consensus on standards and competences towards sustainable development goals (SDGs;) has been given extra impetus from the involvement of IEMA’s growing impact assessment (IA) network.

At an IEMA event last month, hosted in partnership with the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), members and delegates from international finance organisations explored the concept of creating a global environmental and social competency framework for multilateral financial institutions (MFIs).

The half-day event, which included representatives from the EBRD, the World Bank, European Investment Bank, and UK Export Finance, was the latest in a series of initiatives from IEMA to service its expanding membership. Chief executive Tim Balcon says: ‘IEMA can only transform the world to sustainability and help deliver the SDGs through a vibrant, active membership that comes together around the disciplines and topic areas that they are passionate about. Our growing member networks are enabling members to take control of the agenda, not just maximising the value they get from their membership, but defining the nature of that value and how it is created.’

Building a network

IEMA has a strong record of building regional and national networks and special interest groups (SIGs) as a platform for members to influence the institute’s policy voice, share knowledge and grow technical expertise. For example, the policy horizons programme to help environment and sustainability professionals understand key policy trends was established in 2012 and has been updated for 2016. It is based on member interests and covers corporate sustainability, environmental management and impact assessment, as well as key issues such as climate change and energy, natural environment, resource management and pollution. Led by IEMA’s policy team, the programme incorporates member research, surveys, webinars and workshops, ensuring the interests and concerns of members informs IEMA’s voice, locally and global.

IEMA policy lead Josh Fothergill, a founding member of the former environmental impact assessment SIG (EIASIG), says the IA network (see diagram, p31), launched last year, builds on work done by EIASIG and the ongoing EIA Quality Mark (QMark) scheme. The network provides members with greater value and opportunity to influence an expanding range of IA-related activity, he says.

Environmental impact assessment influences the design and consent of development proposals considered likely to generate significant environmental effects. Changes to the EU EIA Directive (2011/92/EU), due to be implemented in the UK in 2017, will require developers to ensure the professionals undertaking EIAs have the right competences, experience and up-to-date knowledge to ensure assessments are good enough to manage risks related to the consenting process.

IEMA’s IA horizon work recognised this trend in 2010 and, in response, the institute established QMark. The purpose of the scheme is to ensure quality and effectiveness of EIA in organisations that coordinate the assessment process for development projects. It now has more than 50 members, and developers and consultancies that are registered commit to deliver excellence across seven EIA activities. These are independently audited each year.

QMark’s seventh commitment (COM7) focuses on improving EIA practice and is based on the concept that the scheme’s registrants all give a little time to support this objective. Registrants deliver articles, case studies, workshops and webinar content and develop guidance, all of which have contributed to IEMA delivering more than 10,000 hours of assessment-related continuing professional development over the past five years.

Together with the EIA register, QMark has enabled IEMA to establish an active community of EIA practitioners, which is recognised and envied worldwide. In the UK, QMark acts as an assurance scheme, demonstrating that registrants are suitably qualified and experienced to deal with the scope of environmental impacts associated with large-scale developments.

Key activities

In 2014, the European parliament voted to adopt substantive amendments to 2011/92/EU to better reflect emerging issues, such as climate change, extreme weather, disaster risks, biodiversity loss and resource efficiency. The amended EIA Directive (2014/52/EU) widens the scope of EIAs significantly, particularly for major infrastructure projects. Under the legislation, such projects will require a more detailed impact assessment of the emerging issues and IEMA’s IA network is working to ensure EIA practice is prepared for these changes.

Rufus Howard, chair of the network steering group and director of renewables and marine development at consultancy Royal HaskoningDHV, says the new rules require a broader range of impact assessment skills and competences, and that the IA network is well placed to strengthen these.

‘Impact assessment practice is constantly changing and practitioners and organisations need to continually update their knowledge and practice on issues such as new regulations, academic research, social attitudes, climate resilience, international practice and other variables,’ he says. ‘The network brings together practitioners and experts from government, academia, industry, finance and consultancy to solve practical issues. This provides member-driven improvement and development of good practice across the spectrum of impact assessment.’


Environmental and social impact assessment (ESIA) is another key assessment tool. Financial institutions such as the World Bank and EBRD use ESIA to manage the environmental and social risks related to the loans made to nations and private institutions and the investments made in them.

ESIA is a core component of IEMA’s IA horizon and was the focus of the November 2015 masterclass conference as well as the recent IEMA-EBRD MFI meeting. It is also central to the IA network, whose ESIA group is chaired by the EBRD’s senior environmental and social adviser, Debbie Cousins. She says the group aims to draw together resources and share good practice in preparing integrated environmental and social impact assessments.

‘As someone working for an international financial institution, I routinely review ESIAs and see that standards vary immensely,’ she says. ‘The ESIA group can provide some direction and support to members to plan and execute environmental and social impact assessment in a more integrated and efficient way.’

Climate change

The stronger prominence of climate change in the amended EIA directive is partly to make sure the construction and delivery of major projects mitigate associated greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions. But it also aims to ensure they are resilient to extreme weather and take account of the wider risks to local communities, ecology and landscape and agriculture.

The IA network has recently established a ‘task-finish’ group to finalise developing guidance on how to scope and assess GHG emissions in an EIA. George Vergoulas, senior consultant at Arup who is leading the project, says: ‘The overarching intent is to provide a document that offers the general EIA practitioner a structured method for how to incorporate the issue of climate change mitigation into the EIA methodology, and set out good practice guidance for undertaking GHG emissions calculations.’

The GHG and EIA group is collaborating with IEMA’s climate change and energy network on the project.


Meanwhile, IEMA has set up a task-finish group to review and update guidance for transport EIA and incorporate the new requirements set out in 2014/52/EU. Group chair Andrew Ross, who is also transport planning director at Royal HaskoningDHV, says: ‘There is a general recognition across the industry that the current guidance is becoming dated and this is leading to inconsistencies in the determination of significant effects in the chapters on transport in environmental statements.’

The aim is to complete the first draft of the new guidance before the directive is transposed in 2017.

Health impacts

The amended directive also gives health more prominence. As a result, a health impact assessment (HIA) group is working on how best to integrate health considerations into the assessments of future projects.

Joanna Bagley, who chairs the body and is senior associate director of EIA at consultancy Waterman Group, says the aim is to improve the joint understanding of the HIA and EIA processes by practitioners and to set out a consistent approach to the scoping and subsequent assessment to ensure health impacts are considered in an appropriate and proportionate manner that meets the requirements of the directive. The group is focusing on liaising with public health stakeholders and planning work that may lead to IEMA developing an EIA guide to health.

Cultural heritage

Standards of professional practice in a sample of EIAs were reviewed as part of a 2005 European study (Planarch 2: Review of Cultural Heritage Coverage in Environment Impact Assessments). It found a good deal of variation in how effectively cultural heritage issues are dealt with. It identified a wide range of ways in which the standards could be improved for assessing cultural heritage in the EIA process.

Ian Houlston, associate at QMark registrant LDA Design and co-chair of the Heritage in IA group, agrees: ‘Currently there is no publication that attempts to provide guidelines for professional best practice for cultural heritage in environmental assessment. As a result, there is considerable variation in approaches to impact assessment and in the quality of the outputs of this work.’

Houlston is part of an advisory group, consisting of members of the Heritage IA network, that has been established to develop a set of guidelines. The group, which includes Cotswold Archaeology, Headland Archaeology, Royal HaskoningDHV and LDA Design, will aim to show how the broad principles and key assessment requirements of the IA process – strategic and project-based – apply to cultural heritage issues, from screening to reporting, decision-making and monitoring stages.

Evolutionary process

Fothergill says the IA network and its expanding sub-groups are part of an evolutionary process of member engagement that is in the DNA of IEMA. ‘The network is increasing member engagement and collaboration, driving huge value for those actively engaged as well as the wider IEMA membership, who reap the rewards of its excellent work,’ he says. He adds that the webinars, workshops, briefings and guides produced by the network are evidence of how IEMA is helping to drive good practice and raise the level of competence among practitioners working in assessment.

Is IA one of your key interest areas? Join the IA network community by emailing [email protected] to ensure you are kept up to date with the latest news, activities, outputs and opportunities to become more actively involved.


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