Strategic Environmental Assessment in Action
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Strategic Environmental Assessment in Action

Riki Therivel

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eBook - ePub

Strategic Environmental Assessment in Action

Riki Therivel

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About This Book

This practical guide, written by a practitioner for practitioners, presents a coherent and straightforward 'how-to-do-it' approach to the strategic environmental assessment (SEA) process. Partone provides an overview of the aims, principles, advantages and problems of SEA as well as looking at key SEA regulations and their requirements. Parttwo examines the SEA process in considerable detail including setting the policy context, describing the baseline, identifying alternatives, predicting and evaluating impacts and using the SEA information in decision-making. Partthree is devoted to assuring SEA quality with a discussion of resources and capacity building. This new edition incorporates five years' worth of practical application of the SEA Directive and SEA practice more broadly. Additions and updates include:

  • the findings of various reviews into SEA effectiveness and efficiency
  • emerging approaches to identifying and comparing alternatives, cumulative impacts, the likely future baseline without the plan, documenting changes made to the plan in response to the SEA process, and environmental limits
  • consideration of both the 'baseline-led' and the 'objectives-led' approach to SEA, and the two approaches' advantages and disadvantages
  • SEA's links to 'appropriate assessment' of plans under the European Habitats Directive.

Employing a host of real-life case studies and examples, each chapter presents a range of techniques and discusses what the final product should look like. Appendices provide a wealth of additional information including text of the SEA Directive and the UNECE Protocol on SEA, and a 'toolkit' of SEA techniques. The approach and techniques in Strategic Environmental Assessment in Action are useful for anyone carrying out or studying SEA at any level, from policy to programme, international to local, but particularly for practitioners responsible for implementing the SEA Directive.

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Part I
Introducing Strategic Environmental Assessment
Chapter 1
Strategic environmental assessment (SEA) is a process that aims to integrate environmental and sustainability considerations into strategic decision-making. It has the potential to make the world a greener and more liveable place. It also has the potential to be a dreary and resource-intensive formality, applied in a grudging minimalist fashion by people who just hate having to do it, adding still further to some great useless administrative burden paid for by hapless taxpayers. This book is intended to help people to set up good SEA processes and carry out effective, efficient SEAs: it is a manual for SEA. It presents straightforward SEA approaches and techniques that achieve the objectives of SEA – green, equitable – but with a minimal burden.
Book structure
Part I of this book introduces SEA generally and three SEA systems in particular:
Chapter 2 explains what strategic actions and SEA are, and the benefits and constraints of SEA.
Chapter 3 presents an example of SEA to explain how the whole process hangs together. It considers what aspects of SEA are crucial and less crucial. It also presents a quality assurance checklist for SEA.
Chapter 4 discusses the development, requirements and issues raised by the US National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, European SEA Directive of 2004, and Chinese regulations on plan environmental impact assessment (PGIA) of 2009. Appendices A and B present the European and Chinese legislation in full.
Part II discusses techniques, approaches and issues related to different stages of SEA:
Chapter 5 discusses the context in which SEA is carried out: what strategic actions require SEA, how SEA links with decision-making and other assessment requirements, and who should be involved in SEA.
Chapter 6 explains how to describe links between the strategic action and other strategic actions, the baseline environment, and relevant environmental and sustainability problems.
Chapter 7 considers different types of alternatives to a strategic action, how they can be identified, and which can be eliminated from further consideration.
Chapter 8 explains how the impacts of strategic actions and alternatives can be predicted. It is closely linked to Chapter 9, which discusses how impact significance can be evaluated, negative impacts can be minimized and positive ones can be enhanced, and trade-offs can be made explicit. Appendix C presents a range of impact prediction and evaluation techniques, and the circumstances in which they might be used.
Chapter 10 looks at how the SEA process can be documented, and approaches to monitoring the environmental impacts of strategic actions. Appendix D discusses Habitats Directive assessment (HDA), a narrow and precautionary form of SEA used in Europe to assess strategic actions’ impacts on sites of international importance for nature conservation.
Part III contains a final chapter that revisits the concept of SEA quality and how to assure it. Chapter 11 also discusses how long SEA takes and what resources it requires. It concludes with ideas for SEA capacity building. Appendix E presents a series of exercises to give further understanding of SEA in action.
Some chapters and appendices of this book will be more applicable to some readers than others. Table 1.1 summarizes which might be of most use to different reader groups.
Other resources
This book takes a practical, ‘how to do it’ approach. For this, it assumes that the reader has some understanding of SEA theory, the process by which strategic actions are developed and adopted, and project level environmental impact assessment. Additional reading that may help to provide background information, flesh out certain aspects of this book or provide more detailed information about SEA practice in specific countries, include:
• Aschemann et al (forthcoming, 2011) Handbook of Strategic Environmental Assessment, Earthscan
Table 1.1 Parts of the book likely to be of particular relevance for specific readers
Particularly relevant parts of the book
People who write SEA regulations and guidance
Chapters 3, 4, 5 and 11 Appendices A, B and D
People who carry out SEAs and students of environmental management
Chapters 2–11 Appendix E
People who carry out HDA and students of ecological impact assessment
Appendix D
People who want to influence strategic actions, or are responsible for SEA quality assurance
Chapters 2, 3, 5 and 11 Chapter 3 checklist Appendix E
Environmental lawyers and law students
Chapters 2 and 4 Appendices A, B, D and E
• Dalal-Clayton and Sadler (2005) Strategic Environmental Assessment: A Sourcebook and Reference Guide to International Experience, Earthscan
• Dalal-Clayton and Sadler (forthcoming, 2010) Sustainability Appraisal, Earthscan
• Fischer (2007) Theory and Practice of Strategic Environmental Assessment, Earthscan
• Glasson et al (2005) Introduction to Environmental Impact Assessment, Routledge
• Jones et al (2005) Strategic Environmental Assessment and Land Use Planning: An International Evaluation, Earthscan
• Marsden (2008) Strategic Environmental Assessment in International and European Law, Earthscan
• Morris and Therivel (eds) (2009) Methods of Environmental Impact Assessment, Routledge
• Schmidt et al (2005) Implementing Strategic Environmental Assessment, Springer
• Therivel and Partidário (eds) (1996) The Practice of Strategic Environmental Assessment, Earthscan
Other useful reports and websites on SEA have been published by organizations such as the OECD (2006), United Nations University (2005) and World Bank (date unknown). The journals Environmental Impact Assessment Review and Impact Assessment and Project Appraisal frequently publish articles about SEA, as do other journals, though more sporadically. The annual conference of the International Association for Impact Assessment (IAIA) ( is a good source of inspiration, as well as information on emerging SEA practice worldwide.
Many SEA reports are published online. Words to search for include ‘strategic environmental assessment’, ‘sustainability appraisal’, ‘programmatic environmental impact statement’ (for the US), ‘évaluation environnementale stratégique’ (for French-speaking countries) and ‘evaluación ambiental estratégica’ (for Spanish-speaking countries). An annual list of recommended good practice SEA reports is published at
SEA changes since 2003
This second edition has been a particular pleasure to write. It has allowed me to review the many changes to the theory and practice of SEA that have taken place over the last six years, and to get a sense of likely future directions in which SEA might go. The European SEA Directive has been implemented in most of its 27 member states; China’s EIA Law of 2003 has been superseded by new SEA legislation; and many other countries have seen a rapid evolution in SEA practice, sometimes triggered by requirements of donor organizations. Many new books and articles on SEA have been published, and most of the references for this edition are from post-2003.
These changes have led to an explosion in the number of SEAs carried out worldwide, an improvement in their general quality, and a rapid evolution in SEA approaches and techniques. As a result, I have had a wide range of SEA reports from all parts of the world to use as case studies and examples in this book. Table 1.2 shows some of these. Whereas the first edition of this book used mostly theoretical examples, all of the examples in this edition are from real life (though I have anonymized some them for reasons that will become clear).
What has also become clear is that SEA practice alone is not leading to more environmentally sound decisions. Much of the recent SEA literature concerns the limitations of carrying out rationalist SEAs whose findings must only be ‘taken into account’ in a non-rationalist, politically driven world. My experience as a consultant bears this out. As such, this edition contains more information about decision-making processes and possible forms of bias inherent in these.
An interesting counter-example to this is HDA: because of the precautionary nature of the legislation that requires HDA and the fact that plans may not be adopted (except under very restricted circumstances) if they will affect the integrity of sites of European nature conservation importance, HDA is proving to be much more effective than SEA in leading to changes in strategic actions. This is discussed further at Appendix D.
Table 1.2 Examples of strategic actions that have been subject to SEA
• Logging contracts and forest management, République Démocratique du Congo (RDC, 2009)
• Mining sector reform, Sierra Leone (World Bank, 2008)
• Ghana Poverty Reduction Strategy (EPA and NDPC, 2003)
• Eskom master plan – Central region, South Africa (Eskom distribution, 2007)
• Lao People’s Democratic Republic hydropower development (Lao PDR and World Bank, 2004)
• Tourism strategy for Guizhou, China (World Bank, 2007)
• Hydropower masterplan for Viet Nam (Asian Development Bank, 2009)
• Hong Kong 2030 – Planning vision and strategy (PDGHKSAR, 2007)
Australia and Pacific Islands
• Defence activities in the Great Barrier Reef Heritage Conservation Area, Australia (Department of Defence, 2006)
• Development of a liquefied natural gas precinct (Government of Western Australia, 2009)
• Tourism strategy for Fiji (Levett and McNally, 2003)
Europe and Eurasia
• Scottish strategic transport projects review (Transport Scotland, 2008)
• River Basin Management Plan for the Loire-Bretagne basin, France (Comité de Bassin Loire-Bretagne, 2007)
• Water provision for Dublin, Ireland (Dublin City Council, 2008)
• Flood risk management on the tidal River Thames, England (Environment Agency, 2009)
• Yerevan City masterplan, Armenia (UNDP and RECCEE, 2005)
• Development principles for the cross-border area between Slovenia and Croatia (Republic of Slovenia, 2007)
• National policy statement on nuclear power, UK (DBERR, 2008a)
• Regional plan for Halle, Germany (Planungsgemeinschaft Halle, 2009)
North America
• Economic diversification in areas infested by mountain pine beetles, Canada (Natural Resources Canada, 2007)
• Revision of US regulations on genetically engineered organisms (US Department of Agriculture, 2007)
• Designation of energy corridors on federal land, US (USDoE and USDoI, 2008)
• Planning for development in the Great Sand Hills areas, Canada (Great Sand Hills Advisory Committee, 2007)
• Californian light brown apple moth eradication (California Department of Food and Agriculture, 2009)
• Fish and wildlife management plan for the Bonneville Power Adminis...

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