UNEP outlines principles for EIAs
According to the United Nations Environment Programme's (UNEP) Goals and Principles of Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) document, the EIA is an examination, analysis, and assessment of planned activities with a view to ensuring environ-mentally sound and sustainable development.
"The goals of an EIA are to establish that before decisions are taken by the competent authority or authorities to undertake or to authorise activities that are likely to significantly affect the environment, the environmental effects of those activities should be taken fully into account," the UNEP noted as far back as 1987 when global environmental issues were beginning to take centrestage.
"States, including their competent authorities, should not undertake or authorise activities without prior consideration, at an early stage, of their environmental effects," it added. "Where the extent, nature, or location of a proposed activity is such that it is likely to significantly affect the environment, a comprehensive environmental impact assessment should be undertaken."
The document added: "In the EIA process, the relevant significant environmental issues should be identified and studied. Where appropriate, all efforts should be made to identify these issues at an early stage in the process," it added.
The UNEP declared that the EIA should include, at a minimum:
(a) A description of the proposed activity
(b) A description of the potentially affected environment, including specific information necessary for identifying and assessing the environmental effects of the proposed activity
(c) A description of practical alternatives, as appropriate
(d) An assessment of the likely or potential environmental impacts of the proposed activity and alternatives, including the direct, indirect, cumulative, short-term and long term effects
(e) An identification and description of measures available to mitigate adverse environmental impacts of the proposed activity and alternatives and an assessment of those measures
(f) An indication of gaps in knowledge and uncertainties that may be encountered in compiling the required information.
The agency said that the environmental effects in an EIA should be assessed with a degree of detail commensurate with their likely environmental significance and that the information provided as part of EIA should be examined impartially prior to the decision.
"Before a decision is made on an activity, government agencies, members of the public, experts in relevant disciplines, and interested groups should be allowed appropriate opportunity to comment on the EIA. A decision as to whether a proposed activity should be authorised or undertaken should not be taken until an appropriate period has elapsed ... ," it declared.
"The decision on any proposed activity subject to an EIA should be in writing, state the reasons therefore, and include the provisions, if any, to prevent, reduce, or mitigate damage to the environment. This decision should be made available to interested persons or groups," the agency stated.