The environmental impact assessment is the documented assessment of the effects that are had on the environment, before the start-up of a project or development.
It represents an important instrument that allows determining the feasibility of a project and, based on this, the approval of the institutional authorities for its generation. That is why it can be considered as a method of regulation of works or activities, focused on avoiding or reducing negative effects on the environment.
Projects can be of a different nature such as agricultural, manufacturing, mining, forestry, tourism, etc. And they can be of small proportions such as the construction of a micro hotel to the construction of a hydroelectric plant.
Given that the process of identifying possible effects has social, economic, cultural impacts and compromises the future of ecosystems, the individuals involved in the environmental impact assessment can be: the owner of the work to be built, the community , civil society organizations, consultants, researchers, engineers, biologists, architects, investors, authorities, among others.
Importance of Environmental Impact Assessment
In the legislation of more than 100 countries, the application of environmental impact assessment exists, particularly when the project to be carried out is financed with resources from the World Bank or the Inter-American Development Bank, to name a few.
Hence the importance of this assessment in environmental matters. And is that given the close relationship that exists between human activities and natural environments, it is essential to seek to predict the effects in the present and in the future.
Benefits of environmental impact assessment
Among the most prominent benefits are:
- Inclusion of different sectors of the population and natural environments.
- Carry out quantifiable and traceable forecasts that can be provided to decision makers.
- Know the actions that mitigate risks.
- Know the effects in advance to anticipate them or avoid taking high risks.
- Prevent poor planning from causing project abandonment and possible loss of investment.
- Know in advance the laws that must be complied with in environmental matters. Which will reduce costs for investors and owners, as well as environmental costs.
- Avoid the cost of remedy in exchange for prevention.
Environmental impact assessment procedure (PEIA)
The way it is carried out depends on the legislation of each country and, in general, the procedure is technical. In addition, the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) has designed a manual with the aim of providing training in key capacities, within the framework of the respective legislation.
In this sense, the steps to follow for an environmental impact assessment are generally established:
- Screening process: Through which methodologies are used, in order to know if the effects that a project may have on the environment and well-being are serious enough to warrant a full environmental impact assessment.
- Selection Process: In which the purposes, objectives and principles to be defined of the project area are established, as well as the parameters.
- Impact evaluation and mitigation: Here the effects of the planned project and the options available for the environment, society, the economy and means for survival are evaluated; as well as the way that is proposed to reduce the harmful effects, providing alternatives.
- Impact management: Methods for monitoring and addressing the way in which an emergency would be faced in the face of risks are proposed.
- Report: In this step the document is prepared with the details of the previous steps.
- Review of the report and granting of license: Here the veracity and timeliness of the information, as well as the methodology used, is confirmed. If everything is in accordance with what is established by the authority, the corresponding permission would be given for the materialization of the project.
However, depending on the result of the assessment, the authority may choose to:
- Authorize the execution of the project or activity as requested.
- Authorize, but in a conditional manner, the project. That is, as long as certain modifications are made, preventing or mitigating negative environmental impacts.
- Deny authorization and the latter is generally given, if:
- It goes against any law, rule or regulation.
- When it puts at risk one or more species that have been declared as threatened or in danger of extinction.
- False information is detected.