EIA professionals will need to practice horizon scanning to identfy possible scenarios for clients.
The study of the future, through foresight studies or horizon scanning, for example, involves examining historic trends and data to produce forecasts and projections. Both the public and private sectors use such data for strategic planning, research, policy development and long-term planning.
Take the Future Energy Scenarios from the National Grid, which show how the energy landscape may look in 2050. Industry and the government will use the different scenarios to develop plans and policies. What does this have to do with environmental impact assessment? Quite a lot. EIA itself is a form of foresight study: practitioners study historic data, predict scenarios of what might happen if a particular development is built, and recommend interventions – either design changes or mitigation measures.
The uncertainty around Brexit and the future of environmental regulations requires EIA practitioners to use horizon scanning to identify potential scenarios on behalf of clients. What will happen with the implementation of the new EIA Directive? Will the existing laws be repealed, re-written or removed entirely? These are all different scenarios. Practitioners have the option to develop contingency plans to adapt to whatever the future brings or they can work actively to encourage particular scenarios to become reality.
The future is uncertain, but not fixed. We can influence the direction of the future by applying mitigation measures to increase the likelihood of a favourable outcome. We are used to doing this at the project level in EIA; now we need to take the same approach to developing design modifications to environmental and planning policy in the UK to ensure the eventual scenario does not result in a significant adverse impact on society and the environment.