EIA update: July 2015

30th June 2015

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Lotte Aweimrin

A round-up of the latest key developments in EIA.

ERM defends its canal assessment

UK consultancy Environmental Resource Management (ERM) has responded to criticism of its environmental and social impact assessment (ESIA) for the Nicaragua canal project.

An expert panel established by Florida International University reviewed several draft chapters of the ESIA for a new shipping corridor across central America. The panel raised 15 concerns, including: the 18-month study period was insufficient given the magnitude of the project; a more complete analysis of options to the proposed route is essential before a scientifically robust evaluation can be completed; and there were inadequate resources allocated to support a proper sampling effort and analysis for a number of ESIA topics, including species and habitat loss at a regional level.

ERM has responded to the criticisms in a 16-page statement. The consultancy says it had previously described the 18-month study period as aggressive, and had recommended in the project’s environmental and social action plan that additional studies be completed to confirm key design assumptions before the Nicaragua government makes it final decision. On other routes, the statement says: “We believe the consideration of alternatives was sufficiently robust to identify route 4 as the only route with the potential to adequately mitigate/offset its impacts and meet international standards. Nonetheless, it conceded that further consideration of alternatives is warranted in several areas.”

ERM describes its sampling programme as “fit for purpose”, saying it was designed to gather sufficient data on which to base conclusions about likely project effects and to develop effective mitigation measures. It also says it applied the precautionary principle where risks were high.

The Hong Kong-based company (HKND) behind the 259km canal, which will link the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, presented the 14-volume ESIA to the authorities at the end of May. The waterway is intended to provide transit for ships too large for the expanded Panama canal, which is expected to be completed in 2016.

HKND says the Nicaragua canal will take five years to construct.

EIA practice update with IEMA’s Josh Fothergill

On 3 November, 150 professionals will meet in London at IEMA’s EIA and ESIA masterclass. Mark King, the World Bank’s lead on environmental and social standards, will present the keynote address at this one-day event, which focuses on how to further improve EIA and ESIA. The programme includes:

  • Plenary on evaluating significance, delivering quality development and improving ESIA.
  • Briefings on climate change resilience in EIA, health IA, social IA and stakeholder engagement.
  • Panel discussion on the implications for practice of revised EIA Directive.

The European commission has updated its Guide on ECJ case law related to defining EIA project types for annex I and II (lexisurl.com/iema98292). IEMA’s review found limited new material, as there appears to have been little significant ECJ EIA case law over the past 18 months. CIEEM is updating its ECIA guidance. Changes include: emphasis on scale of approach, proportionality and transparency in ECIA; a revised chapter on scoping; and a new section on establishing the baseline.

New IA network webinars:

  • Third runway at Hong Kong airport EIA (lexisurl.com/iema98294).
  • 30 July: Health impact assessment.

UK research into EIA and SEA

A study in the Journal of Environmental Assessment Policy and Management has found that researchers and students at several UK universities are actively engaged in research in the fields of environmental impact assessment (EIA) and strategic environmental assessment (SEA). However, it also found evidence to suggest that research funding is lacking and that there is variation over time in the number and scale of research projects funded in the UK. To gauge activity over recent decades, Thomas Fischer and colleagues at the University of Liverpool looked at the number of articles related to EIA and SEA published in academic journals as well as dissertation theses.


Four steps to significance

Significance is fundamental to EIA but it is sometimes unclear how significance is determined. A study in Impact Assessment and Project Appraisal by two Canadian academics outlines a significance spectrum designed to improve clarity. The graphic model illustrates a process for determining significance, using four steps: determining the threshold of significance for each valued component; weighing the evidence and considering predicted impacts; deciding which side of the threshold the predicted adverse impact falls; and, for unacceptable impacts, deciding whether mitigations can make the residual impact acceptable.


Lifecycle in assessment

A study in Environment Impact Assessment Review found that lifecycle thinking (LCT) is appropriate for most impact assessments (IA), but that lifecycle assessment (LCA) is rarely applied to provide such a perspective. The research looked at 85 impact assessments from Denmark and found that, without LCA, the IAs show mixed performance in regard to LCT.



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