EIA - the key to unlocking sustainable development

12th August 2011


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  • Adaptation

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IEMA

Environmental impact assessments will be crucial in balancing the demands of economic growth, new energy infrastructure and environmental protection, says Martin Baxter, IEMA's executive director of policy

The UK faces significant pressure for new development to support a greener and more sustainable economy and the challenges are huge. At least £110 billion of investment is needed in new energy infrastructure before 2020 to support the transition to a low-carbon economy; £20 billion over the next five years to maintain and improve water supply; £15 billion between now and 2020 to divert waste from landfill and generate more energy from waste, and spending on flood defences is expected to double from a current level of £0.5 billion a year by 2035 to maintain current risk levels.

Added to the above, the UK population is projected to rise from just over 61 million to almost 72 million by 2033, a 17% increase from 2008, creating significant demand for more homes and supporting transport infrastructure.

Environmental impact assessment (EIA) has a huge role to play in ensuring that the environmental impacts of new development are minimised and that key environmental issues are fully integrated into the decision making process.

EIA practitioners operate at the interface between local communities, developers and the environment. As a regulated process, the procedural complexities are potentially demanding, especially combined with the additional risk posed by legal challenges.

At its best, EIA helps to shape the design and siting of development such that social value to communities and broader economic value to investors can both be met, without eroding natural capital and pushing the boundaries of environmental limits – a tool that can truly support moves towards sustainability.

However, the many competing demands can often serve to stifle the process, resulting in reams of information that mask the key environmental issues that need to be considered.

Environmental practitioners have an opportunity to ensure that EIA plays an enhanced role in engaging communities in shaping new development to find the best environmental outcomes.

Reconciling the competing demands between nationally significant infrastructure and local communities won’t be easy, but by sharing experience of best practice, understanding key success factors and reviewing what doesn’t work well – we’ve a better chance of succeeding.

Do you agree? Why not start a discussion in the IEMA LinkedIn Group and have your say?


Read IEMA's new special report into EIA practice in the UK published 15 August 201

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