Environmental Impact Assessment and the Ramsar Convention

This paper was presented by David Pritchard to Technical Session A of the 6th Meeting of the Conference of the Contracting Parties in Brisbane, Australia, March 1996, and is reprinted here from volume 10/12a of the Brisbane Proceedings. It provides a clear and succinct introduction to the question of Environmental Impact Assessment, especially vis-à-vis the Ramsar Convention, and concludes with a potential set of draft guidelines for eventual use of the Contracting Parties. At the April 1997 meeting of the Scientific and Technical Review Panel, BirdLife International undertook to pursue this work further with a view to presenting recommendations to the Standing Committee in September 1997. -- Web Editor.


"Environmental Impact Assessment: Towards Guidelines for Adoption under the Ramsar Convention"

D. E. Pritchard
BirdLife International/Royal Society for the Protection of Birds

Appended to this written version of the technical session presentation is a suggested set of guidelines on environmental impact assessment for wetlands, which have been drawn up following wide consul-tation and which provide a basis for further discussion. The presentation itself begins by concentrating on the policy objectives of the issue, and the question of who needs what kind of standards or guidelines on what, and how to meet the need.

Obviously an enormous amount of different types of environmental impact assessment work is done all around the world. Ideas are constantly evolving on how to make it more widespread and more effective. There are specialised professions, degree courses, international institutes, government departments and a whole legal and scientific discipline devoted purely to this issue. The question is what extra value can be added to that, in the context of the Ramsar Convention?

This paper examines what it may be useful and possible to set out in formal international sets of principles. The Convention would appear to be one of the most relevant platforms from which to take this issue forward in future, in relation to wetlands. Some of the more recent development of EIA concepts, which broaden it into more strategic or holistic forms of appraisal, are briefly touched upon. There are various international guidelines in existence already, and some of these are mentioned.

Aspects of the specific appended "good practice" suggestions will be highlighted in the oral presentation, and feedback on the document as a whole is invited. Comments are also invited on delegates' perceptions of what their priority needs are, for guidelines, information, research, advice, training, etc. Draft Recommendation 6.2, submitted by the United Kingdom, offers the Conference a means of identifying the future steps it wishes to take.

Definition of Environmental Impact Assessment

Because there is such a variety of approaches and experiences, it is worth beginning with a basic definition of what I mean by EIA, so that the terms used here are clear. I would define Environmental Impact Assessment as a process of predicting and evaluating the effects of an action or series of actions on the environment, then using the conclusions as a tool in planning and decision-making. Hence it is a process, not a product.

One of the aims is to prevent environmental degradation; but this is done in two parts. EIA is just the first part, and all it does is to give planners and decision-makers better information about the consequences which development actions could have on the environment. The second step, of making sure that weight is given to that information, and that decisions are taken in a direction which gives an environmentally favourable result, depends on having additional policies or laws which embody the aim of securing such results.

This means that measuring the effectiveness of EIA is really about how well informed decisions are. The end result of a well-informed decision might still be damage to the environment; so the amount of environmental damage cannot be used as an indicator of how good the EIA system is.

EIA is multidisciplinary, systematic and predictive; it is therefore different, for example, from the more retrospective process of environmental audit. It can play a rôle in checking conformity with regulations, as well as investigating physical impacts.

Internationally adopted principles

Obviously the risk in trying to codify any principles which will work in any country of the world, is that they will be so basic and general as not to make much of a difference, or at least not to be very exciting. A significant amount has already been adopted by governments internationally. In a regional context, there are, for example, the European Union's harmonized laws under a Directive dating from 1985; and the UN Economic Commission for Europe Convention, signed in 1991, on Environmental Assessment in a Transboundary Context, also known as the Espoo Convention.

At a global level, the Rio Summit Declaration in 1992 and Agenda 21 both encourage the use of EIA, in a fairly general way. The Convention on Biological Diversity is more specific. Article 14 of that Convention requires Contracting Parties to introduce appropriate procedures for EIA of proposals which might have effects on biological diversity.

The Conference of the Parties to the Ramsar Convention has adopted many texts over the years which have some bearing on this, mainly in the interpretation of the obligation to promote the wise use of wetlands. A complete analysis of all the references to aspects which are relevant to EIA was undertaken for the first time recently (Pritchard 1995a). This showed a significant body of thinking which is already agreed by all the Contracting Party governments, and which therefore provides a useful starting point. In summary, the main points of this are as follows:

  • The obligation to promote conservation and wise use of wetlands, and to act when change is "likely", entails anticipation, and requires a means of predicting effects.
  • Environmental impact assessment is a recognized field which should be applied to this objective, by being formally enshrined in policy and law.
  • Equally, the body of thought evolved under the Convention on, for example, what constitutes wise use provides a frame of reference to aid judgements made in the course of EIA about environmental effects, where wetlands are concerned.
  • Competent experts should be involved in the process.
  • EIA should be undertaken early enough to act meaningfully on its results, including refusing authorization for damaging activities.
  • The process should continue into project implementation stages, so that actual effects can be monitored and compared with predictions.
  • EIA should not be restricted to individual projects, but should address the cumulative effects of several projects, and also strategic plans, programmes and policies.
  • EIA should not be restricted merely to the site of the proposed development, or the defined wetland, but should address external (e.g., upstream/downstream) influences, and should have regard to interactions between all components of water systems at the catchment level.

All of these points, and a few others, have already been formally agreed as tenets of good practice by Contracting Parties, and there is therefore no need to re-invent such fundamental principles. They are however scattered throughout many different documents, so the fact that I have now brought them all together in a single (separate) paper is hopefully of some help. [See also the annex to Recommendation 6.2: "Summary of Convention References and Previous Conference Decisions Relating to EIA". -- Web Editor]

Special regard to wetlands, in EIA systems

If what is described above constitutes special regard for what EIA can do under the Ramsar Convention, there is also the converse process of special regard being given in EIA systems to the particular interests of wetlands. So, for example, the stage which is usually termed "screening" (where decisions are taken about which types of activities should be subject to EIA, and the unimportant ones are filtered out) could use Ramsar site listing as a trigger or an indicator of particular environmental sensitivity which would make EIA always a mandatory requirement for activities which might affect a listed site. Some systems already do this.

In the stage termed "scoping", i.e. deciding which potential environmental effects should be analyzed, the system could require that when a wetland is involved, some aspects should be analyzed on a catchment basis, and thus there would probably be coverage of a wider area than would otherwise be the case.

These are fairly elementary points, but once they are officially recognized, much more sophisticated approaches can be built on to them.

Another possibility would be a provision whereby the local land zonation, decree, planning instrument or whatever it is that creates the wetland site listing, actually itself articulates a decision about the type of circumstances which would lead to an EIA being required, and about some of the elements of the scope of any such EIA. This could therefore be made specifically relevant to the particular site or the particular local area.

More advanced developments of EIA-type concepts

There is considerable interest, flagged by (among others) the Ramsar Scientific and Technical Review Panel, in some of the more sophisticated versions of EIA-type concepts which are now being used more often.

The first is usually given a title along the lines of Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA), or Programmatic EIA. This is concerned with assessment not just of single projects, but of the cumulative effects of several projects, and the frameworks of programmes, plans and policies within which they are promoted (see, e.g., Therivel et al 1992). Policy appraisal for the environment is a similar type of idea, and "sustainability analysis" is also linked.

There is then a class of initiatives which include Environmental Management Systems or Integrated Environmental Management, where appraisal and management of the environmental implications of programmes or projects is a continuing process throughout their life-cycles. Applications of this have been mainly developed as corporate management tools for businesses, and the International Standards Organisation (ISO) is among those refining good practice standards (see, e.g., Hunt & Johnson 1995).

These processes can all potentially be combined and related to one another, to give a kind of hierarchical model, where different forms of environmental investigation, prediction, evaluation, auditing, reporting and adjustment are made at different levels in the system, feeding into each other in a consciously planned way which avoids duplication. Some components of this will be designed in the interests of efficient internal corporate management, while others will be designed to serve the goal of accountability and regulation of what is done in the public interest.

The need for common standards and guidance

I turn back now to "project" EIA, to examine why there might be a need for common standards and guidance. Obviously, pooling the best examples of practitioners' experience around the world is helpful. This however might well occur anyway, without having to adopt semi-legal codes to bring it about.

In the case of regional economic integration organizations such as the European Union, it is clearly in their interests to standardize laws on this subject, so that member countries do not suffer differential competitive disadvantages by operating under different rules.

More generally, systematic and consistent régimes for these processes help to create stable and reliable operating conditions over a wide area, and reduce bias and abuses of the system. Furthermore, it is undesirable to have environmentally damaging activities being encouraged to concentrate in those countries which have the weakest standards of environmental protection: and at least a basic minimum agreed common standard, and a view about good practice, would help to reduce this problem.

Here therefore, it is suggested, is a key rôle for Ramsar, not so much in pushing forward the frontiers of the best evolving practice, wherever that may be (although certainly it can make a contribution to that), but in seeking to raise the minimum standard as high as it can be agreed to go, throughout the whole geographical and political range of the Convention's influence.

What guidance already exists?

Although they do not cater entirely for the specific task which is being suggested here, there are existing sources of guidance which should be taken into account. The guidelines used by development assistance agencies such as the World Bank (e.g., IBRD 1991a, 1991b) have an important rôle to play, and there are publications from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development which are also relevant (e.g., OECD 1992, OECD in press). Last year the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) produced a valuable directory of 150 sets of national, international and sectoral guidelines (Roe et al 1995), and at least twice this number are known to exist (University of Manchester EIA Centre 1995b).

Other sources worth consulting are international comparative studies of the approaches which different countries take to issues such as formal screening and scoping, public participation, independent review, questioning alternatives, post-project monitoring and so on (e.g., CEC 1991; Turberfield 1995; Wood 1995). Individual country studies, of which there are many, can be revealing as well.

Discussion of EIA at Wetlands and Development Conference, Malaysia 1995

Issues similar to these were discussed in a workshop at the International Conference on Wetlands and Development in Selangor, Malaysia, on 8-14 October 1995 (Pritchard 1995b). The workshop welcomed the suggestion that global standards might be adopted under the Ramsar Convention, and in its conclusions stressed the following points:

    The nature of EIA should be adaptable to the needs in hand, but it is more than just a tool for securing consent. Its ownership, decision-making purpose and planned follow-through into guiding of operational management must always be explicit. The human environment should also be assessed.

    EIA processes are often given insufficient status in project planning, and are thus activated later than they should be, and finish earlier than they should. Baseline data may be seriously deficient or not properly drawn on. Value judgements can be camouflaged, are too subject to bias or fail to be addressed. "Quality control", for example by peer review, is poor in most places. Most EIA régimes are insufficiently strategic.

    Cost is often cited as a constraint. In reality, this is often a failure to evaluate costs and benefits fully enough: the costs of poor EIA can be substantial.

    There is certainly a need to improve technical skills. A greater constraint, however, is insufficient political will to put skills to use, and to make time for the process to function properly.

    A tendency to secrecy prevents knowledge being shared as much as it should be.

    EIA should be integrated in an appropriate form into all levels of decision-making, addressing strategic and cumulative issues.

    The process should focus on those key aspects which affect choices and give a framework for monitoring, rather than measuring everything that can be measured.

    High level policy has to give significant weight to environmental values; otherwise even excellent EIA will have little or no influence.

    International guidelines on standards should be officially adopted.

    Costs and benefits should be more completely and openly appraised, including opportunity costs, long-term remediation costs, and accounting for intangibles.

    Systems should be designed and operated in a way which consults and works with the grain of community interests.

    Peer-review procedures and NGO scrutiny should be welcomed as a check on accountability, scientific rigour and follow-through.

    EIA should itself define provisions for monitoring, audit, review, feedback and adjustment over appropriate post-decision timescales.

The final "Kuala Lumpur Statement", containing the conclusions of the conference overall, echoed some of these points.

The content of guidelines which might be adopted

In framing the suggestions for guidelines appended to this paper, the analysis of previous Convention texts, existing sources of other EIA guidance, the conclusions of the 1995 meeting in Malaysia, comments from the Ramsar Scientific & Technical Review Panel and from a range of other experts around the world have all been taken into account. Roughly 40 points of principle or good practice are presented under the following 10 headings:

  • To what should EIA apply?
  • In what circumstances is EIA appropriate?
  • How should EIA systems be put in place?
  • When should the EIA be performed?
  • Who should be involved, and how?
  • What description of the environment is required?
  • What potential impacts should be assessed?
  • How should potential impacts be evaluated?
  • How should avoiding/reducing/mitigating/compensating for impacts be addressed?
  • How should the results be used?

Action at the present meeting [The 6th Ramsar COP, March 1996]

A working group on wise use and listed sites at the Ramsar Asian Regional meeting in New Delhi, India, on 23-25 March 1995, among other conclusions requested the Bureau and the STRP to develop guidelines on EIA affecting wetlands for submission and adoption at the Brisbane Conference. The Pan-European Regional meeting in Varna, Bulgaria, on 8-11 May 1995, among other conclusions welcomed the suggestion that draft guidelines on EIA in wetlands might be presented to the 6th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties in Brisbane, without waiting for the 7th COP as had been suggested in the draft Strategic Plan. The draft of the latter presented to the Conference as DOC. 6.14 still envisages (under Operational Objective 2.5) the 7th COP in 1999 being the occasion at which a development of the "Additional Guidance on Wise Use" addressing this issue might be agreed.

There are clearly a number of points of principle on which Contracting Parties would be likely to agree straight away - indeed, as has been shown above, much promising common ground is already enshrined in earlier decisions. Some may feel, however, that it would be more appropriate to undertake further work over the next three years before the Conference as whole should be asked to adopt a text.

In the meantime, a draft Recommendation (6.2) has been submitted to the present meeting by the United Kingdom. This would invite Parties and organizations to submit to the Bureau any existing guidelines on EIA which may be relevant to wetlands, so that they may be able to maintain an overview of the subject. It would also request that arrangements be made for drafting guidelines suitable for adoption at the next Meeting of the Conference of the Parties.

Participants are therefore invited to consider:

  • the terms of draft Recommendation 6.2, and whether it matches their perception of the need and can be supported;
  • the content of the suggested guidelines, and whether these match their perception of what is needed;
  • possible improvements to the suggested guidelines;
  • the current operation of EIA systems in their areas, in relation to the "good practice" principles outlined in this paper;
  • other requirements for information, advice or support on EIA which could be met through Ramsar-related channels;
  • additional examples of guidelines and standards, or other experience which they could communicate to the Bureau or to future meetings, for the benefit of Convention Parties.

Conclusion

This paper has referred to a considerable existing international understanding about EIA. Notwithstanding that, it also develops the case for the adoption of some globally applicable guidelines for wetlands, under the auspices of the Ramsar Convention's wise use principles. Views are invited on the possible content of these, and a suggested text is appended. Many individual states go a good deal further than this already, and that is well recognized; but the aim here is to offer a basic international minimum of agreed good practice. Feedback to the author would also be particularly welcome on good case studies of EIA in relation to listed Ramsar sites, experiences with other international guidelines, and perceptions of other advice and training needs in this area. It is to be hoped as a result that on this subject, as it does on many others, the Ramsar Convention will make the best "wise use" of its 25 years of valuable experience.


References

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  • Claridge, G (1992). Towards a Review of the Environmental Impact Assessment Policies, Procedures and Practices of Development Assistance Agencies. In Isokai, H, Ando, M and Yatori, Y (1992) (Eds): Towards Wise Use of Asian Wetlands - Proceedings of the Asian Wetland Symposium, 15-20 October 1992, Otsu and Kushiro, Japan, pp53-59. International Lake Environment Committee Foundation, Kusatsu, Japan.
  • Commission of the European Communities (1991). A Review of the Implementation of Directive 85/337/EEC. Contract No 6610(90)8685, CEC.
  • Dixon, J E (1993). The Integration of EIA and Planning in New Zealand: Changing Process and Practice. Journal of Environmental Planning and Management 36(2): 239-251.
  • Hilditch, T W, Bergsma, B, and Gartner, J F (1995) Wetland Environmental Impact Study Requirements: Technical Manual. Prepared by Gartner Lee Ltd, Malone Given Parsons Ltd and Ecological Services for Planning Ltd, for Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, Ontario.
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  • Howe, C P, Claridge, G F, Hughes, N R and Zuwendra (1991). Manual of Guidelines for Scoping EIA in Tropical Wetlands: PHPA/AWB Sumatra Wetland Project Report No 5. Asian Wetland Bureau and Directorate-General for Forest Protection and Nature Conservation, Department of Forestry. Bogor, Indonesia.
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APPENDIX

"[POTENTIAL DRAFT] GUIDELINES ON ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT ASSESSMENT AS AN AID TO THE WISE USE OF WETLANDS"

Contents

    Introduction
    Definition of EIA
    Principles already accepted by Ramsar parties
    Principles of recommended good practice:

      To what should EIA apply?
      In what circumstances is EIA appropriate?
      How should EIA systems be put in place?
      When should the EIA be performed?
      Who should be involved, and how?
      What description of the environment is required?
      What potential impacts should be assessed?
      How should potential impacts be evaluated?
      How should avoiding/reducing/mitigating/compensating for impacts be addressed?
      How should the results be used?

    Conclusion

Introduction

1. It could be argued that environmental impact assessment (EIA), in some form or other, is and always has been a major and fundamental part of what is implied in Article 3(2) of the Convention by "arrang[ing] to be informed ... if the ecological character of any wetland ... is ... likely to change as the result of technological developments, pollution or other human interference". In addition, it is increasingly understood to make a contribution to the obligation in Article 3(1) to "formulate and implement ... planning so as to promote the conservation of ... wetlands".

2. Many countries already operate legal and administrative systems to give effect to EIA, and an extensive technical literature, including practical guidance, already exists. The purpose of the present guidelines is to bring together and summarize the main principles which have already featured in texts adopted under the Convention, and to develop these in a form which can apply universally to all current and potential Contracting Parties.

3. International consistency of standards and approaches, as well as facilitating exchange of experience about good practice, can help to prevent damaging activities being "exported" to wherever they receive least scrutiny, and can help to level out competitive disadvantages of regulation. A systematic and consistent approach will tend to reduce bias. Within this, a range of methods are available for tailoring as appropriate to different circumstances.

Definition of EIA

4. Definitions vary, but EIA can be defined as a process of predicting and evaluating an action's impacts on the environment, from which the conclusions are used as a tool in planning and decision-making. It aims to prevent environmental degradation by giving planners and designers of actions, as well as decision-makers, better information about the consequences which (development) actions could have on the environment; although it cannot, of itself, achieve that protection. The approach is characterized by its multidisciplinary, systematic and predictive nature (as opposed, for example, to the more retrospective process of environmental audit), and in its better forms involves:

  • reviewing the existing state of the environment and the characteristics of the proposed action (and possible alternative actions);
  • predicting the state of the future environment with and without the action (the difference between the two is the action's impact);
  • considering methods for avoiding, eliminating or reducing any negative impacts, and possible compensation for them;
  • preparing an environmental statement or assessment report which discusses these issues, and is used to inform and influence decision-making;
  • after a decision is made about whether/how the action should proceed, monitoring the impacts which do occur, and acting on the results of such monitoring.

5. As well as informing the authority responsible for approving projects about foreseeable environmental consequences of the projects, EIA has or should have an important function in ascertaining whether projects will conform with applicable environmental protection laws.

6. Principle 17 of the 1992 Earth Summit Rio Declaration encourages the undertaking of EIA for proposed activities that are likely to have a significant adverse impact on the environment and are subject to a decision of a competent national authority. Chapter 8 of Agenda 21 refers to "comprehensive analytical procedures for prior and simultaneous assessment of the impacts of decisions, including impacts within and among the economic, social and environmental spheres", which procedures "should extend beyond the project level to policies and programmes".

Principles already accepted by Ramsar Parties

7. Existing texts adopted by the Conference of the Parties, particularly concerning guidance on applying the "wise use" concept, show a measure of common understanding already on some of the key tenets of EIA. The principles which have emerged in this way so far might be summarised as follows:

  • The obligation to promote conservation and wise use of wetlands, and act when change is "likely", entails anticipation, and requires a means of predicting effects.
  • Environmental impact assessment is a recognized field which should be applied to this objective, by being formally enshrined in policy and law.
  • Equally, the body of thought evolved under the Convention on, for example, what constitutes wise use, provides a frame of reference to aid judgements made in the course of EIA about environmental effects, where wetlands are concerned.
  • Competent experts should be involved in the process.
  • EIA should be undertaken early enough to act meaningfully on its results, including refusing authorization for damaging activities.
  • The process should continue into project implementation stages, so that actual effects can be monitored and compared with predictions.
  • EIA should not be restricted to individual projects, but should address the cumulative effects of several projects, and strategic plans, programmes and policies too.
  • EIA should not be restricted merely to the site of the proposed development, or the defined wetland, but should address external (e.g., upstream/downstream) influences, and should have regard to interactions between all components of water systems at the catchment level.

Principles of recommended good practice

To what should EIA apply?

8. The most common use of EIA techniques is in relation to single individual proposed development or land-use change projects at defined sites. Modifications to any of these, as well as the original initiatives, may also require assessment.

9. In principle, EIA is applicable also to programmes or sequences of several such projects, strategic plans within which these may be articulated, and the policies from which they derive. A hierarchical approach can avoid repetition at one level, of assessments carried out at another.

10. EIA is an important element of overseas development assistance programmes. Everything in these guidelines should be as applicable to this aspect of Article 5 of the Convention as it is to wise use under Article 3.

In what circumstances is EIA appropriate?

11. Whenever information is required on likely future change in ecological character of wetland sites, an EIA of the causative actions may be appropriate.

12. Some activities at some sites may safely be considered to have insignificant effects. EIA systems should incorporate a "screening" process to identify these as instances where it may not be needed. Such processes may take the form of listing exceptions to a general assumption that EIA will be required; or alternatively attempting to list all the circumstances where it will or may be required, and assuming that elsewhere it will not.

13. The nature of the proposed activity and the sensitivity of the location (the "receiving environment") may each determine these screening judgements. Criteria and thresholds could be adopted to assist with this. The presence of a listed wetland will be one criterion normally indicating a need for EIA.

14. In all cases where there is doubt or lack of scientific certainty about the likelihood of significant effects, a precautionary approach should be adopted and EIA undertaken.

How should EIA systems be put in place?

15. EIA systems should be officially enshrined within the policies, laws and administrations of the country.

16. Measures should be adopted where possible to ensure that:

  • application is systematic, consistent and publicly accountable;
  • legal implementation is enforced;
  • quality standards are agreed and applied;
  • guidance and advice on good practice is made available.

17. Sufficient status should be given to the EIA element in decision-making processes, alongside other considerations, so that it is seriously approached and genuinely influences outcomes.

18. Many developers exhibit good practice in often going beyond the strict minimum of legal compliance, and this should be encouraged.

When should the EIA be performed?

19. To an extent, EIA is an iterative process, which is important to each stage in the programme or project cycle, including post-project monitoring.

20. It is important to plan at an early stage for assessments to be carried out at times which will enable any necessary surveys to cover adequately the relevant periods for seasonal interests, and so that sufficient data can be collected to form a basis for reliable conclusions.

21. Assessments should also be planned early enough for their results to become available in good time to be acted upon, for example, by influencing key choices which may have to be made in project planning, e.g. between alternative locations or processes.

Who should be involved, and how?

22. EIA refers to the whole appraisal process, including acting on the results in decision-making. The part of this process which comprises carrying out the investigation and prediction of likely effects, and reporting on this, is typically undertaken by the project/programme proponent or his/her agents.

23. The risk of bias in this is reduced in those cases where the investigation is instead commissioned and supervised by the relevant decision-making authority, or where there are systems for independent verification or peer-review of the work according to recognized standards.

24. On occasion, the decision-making authority may itself be the proponent of programmes or projects which are subject to EIA. In such cases, transparent procedures which ensure impartiality should be followed.

25. It is conducive to an integrated approach, and to a true appreciation of project costs and benefits, when the costs of the EIA process are fully borne by the proponent. EIA as such would thus be an unsuitable use of external sources of "conservation" funding.

26. Whoever it is that carries out the assessment and evaluation stages (see below), it is obviously important that they should be proven to be suitably qualified professionals with the requisite expertise in the relevant field(s), and competent to apply correct methods with the rigour required.

27. Decision-making authorities should likewise equip themselves with the requisite technical expertise and advice for judging the adequacy or otherwise of assessments, and for taking their findings properly into account.

28. Provision should be made for consultation and participative involvement of local people, interested non-governmental organizations and the general public, in the EIA process.

29. Such people and organizations should be afforded an opportunity, in defined circumstances, to challenge information and observance of relevant procedures which they believe to be deficient.

What description of the environment is required?

30. To an extent, this will depend on the particular sensitivities and interests at stake in the location(s) concerned. Decisions should be taken on this in each case, as part of the process often referred to as "scoping".

31. Where wetlands are concerned, and impacts (see below) may relate to parts of a catchment or watercourse remote from the development activity, a baseline description of conditions in these wider areas may be necessary.

32. Where a listed wetland is involved, it will be appropriate to note all the functions, values and attributes on which the listing is based.

33. Where any protected area is concerned, the legal status of such protection, and the implications of this, should be part of the baseline description.

What potential impacts should be assessed?

34. This question should be addressed by a formal scoping stage early in the process. The answer will depend on the particular circumstances of each case, but impacts which should be assessed are likely to include:

  • direct potentially detrimental effects on the functions and values identified in the baseline description, including delayed effects;
  • any potentially beneficial environmental effects of the proposal;
  • indirect effects, including influences on adjacent or upstream/downstream areas and/or the catchment;
  • cumulative effects, adding together over different areas, times, processes, etc.;
  • secondary impacts, e.g., of likely associated developments, connecting infrastructure, etc.;
  • transboundary effects, of relevance to (an) adjacent jurisdiction(s);
  • effects of each alternative or optional proposal under consideration (see below);

How should potential impacts be evaluated?

35. Following a description of the potential impacts, an evaluation of their significance should be presented. It is useful to distinguish these two aspects.

36. Absolute significance (e.g., in terms of the value in their own right, perhaps to the local community, of numbers of individuals of a species, or area of habitat affected) and relative significance (e.g., in terms of loss of a resource as a proportion of its total extent, or as a comparison with losses which would result from an alternative development option) should both be evaluated. Where there are uncertainties, or where data could not be obtained, this should be indicated.

37. The legal consequences or policy conflicts which may be precipitated by certain courses of action, if they are allowed, should also be made clear (e.g., departure from national policy, risk of breaching previous agreements, risk of litigation, or liability for compensation).

How should avoiding/reducing/mitigating/compensating for impacts be addressed?

38. EIAs should always include a consideration of available alternative locations, alignments, manufacturing processes and other ways of meeting the stated development need. If there are no feasible alternative options, this should be satisfactorily demonstrated.

39. The environmental effects of all alternatives studied should be compared, and the least damaging options identified.

40. For each alternative, methods for avoiding potentially damaging impacts should be explored as far as possible. Choosing a non-damaging alternative (including sometimes "no development") as the preferred option will usually be the best way to avoid harm.

41. The EIA should then consider possible means of mitigating or reducing unavoidable potentially damaging impacts, by adding or modifying measures within the development proposal. Where there is uncertainty, a precautionary approach should be taken.

42. Where there are unavoidable impacts which cannot be fully mitigated, but only once this has been shown, the question of compensation may arise. If this point is reached, the EIA should examine the scope for what measures may be feasible and appropriate. On occasion this may arise in the context of the provisions in Article 4(2) of the Convention.

How should the results be used?

43. Consultation on draft findings should be provided for, as mentioned earlier in these guidelines. Consultation with adjacent jurisdictions may be appropriate where there is a possibility of transboundary effects. All consultations should take place at a stage when it is possible to make modifications as a result to the environmental impact report or the development proposal.

44. If information presented in the impact report/environmental statement is considered deficient by the decision-making authority, they should have the ability to request further information and defer decisions until it is provided.

45. EIAs should be made available to the public, preferably with a summary written in non-technical language which could be separately published.

46. Relevant decision-making processes should give due weight to the results of EIA, such that unfavourable findings may be sufficient grounds to refuse consents or require modifications. Where there is uncertainty, a precautionary approach should be taken. Decisions should be published, showing the manner in which they have been influenced by any EIA carried out.

47. During the operational phase of consented programmes or projects, the EIA should be used as a framework for monitoring actual effects and comparing these with predictions, ensuring mitigation measures perform as expected, making any operating adjustments required, and reporting on this.

Conclusion

48. The guidance given above can be regarded as a minimum of good practice. Many countries and commercial operators observe more advanced standards than this. Others will require substantial building of institutional structures before they are fully equipped to give effect at every level to every aspect of what is described here. A wealth of more detailed technical material and training is available, and the Ramsar Bureau will endeavour to assist with enquiries about appropriate sources.

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Number of » Contracting Parties: 168 Sites designated for the
» List of Wetlands of
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