How Earth Observation aids environmental impact assessment policy for decision-makers

20th أغسطس 2021

As urban areas and infrastructures expand around the globe, the need to balance development with environmental protection, or rejuvenation, is paramount. This is why environmental assessments have been increasingly adopted into policies and official legislation or guidance in various countries.

Decision-makers – whether in business or government – are responsible for taking the environmental implications of their actions into account. They are responsible for integrating these concerns into national infrastructure. For encouraging widespread adoption of sustainable processes. For ensuring that the country as a whole meets certain targets.

What is environmental impact assessment (EIA)?

The requirements around EIAs will vary from country to country. That being said, it is a fundamental concept which guides an overarching approach to assessing, monitoring, and reporting environmental impact. More consistently nations are adopting environmental impact assessment regulation.

EIAs involve evaluating the effects of various activities, such as developments, policies, or projects, on the environment. It allows users to identify the impacts of their plans and use this information to guide their course of action.

In the first instance, an EIA helps the initial decision-making process. EIAs can be performed based on a proposed development to guide plans and determine whether to proceed. For example, if the EIA shows significant environmental effects, a project may be halted or redesigned. Or they can be performed during and after certain actions, to measure the impact made. This information can also be used to identify mitigation strategies to minimise the potential impact or offset historical impact.

For example, the UK Government provides the following purpose for using EIA in town and country planning: “The aim of Environmental Impact Assessment is to protect the environment by ensuring that a local planning authority when deciding whether to grant planning permission for a project, which is likely to have significant effects on the environment, does so in the full knowledge of the likely significant effects, and takes this into account in the decision making process.”

In addition, EIAs provide data that allows an organisation to evidence their actions. By performing consistent monitoring or change detection to establish a net gain or loss in biodiversity, organisations can prove whether their actions have been carried out in accordance with environmental impact regulations or requirements.

The overarching goal is situational awareness. The aim is to present critical data about the outcome of projects clearly to key decision-makers and support them to create more sustainable plans – for people, businesses and environments.

What are the steps in the EIA process?

Every country will likely have a different set of guidelines for carrying out an environmental impact assessment. This will probably be led by the government’s specific environmental targets, goals, and priorities.

That being said, the intention and overall recommendations within these guidelines will be relatively similar. For example, the UK describes 5 steps whereas the International Institute of Sustainable Development (based in Canada) (IISD) outlines 7 steps, yet each follows a similar journey.

Here is a summary of the UK’s 5-step EIA process for development which outlines the actions which must be carried out before a project takes place:

1. Screening

Determining the regulatory validity of a project and its likely effects on the environment to confirm the need for an assessment.

2. Scoping

Determining what will be included in the assessment, with official input.

3. Preparing an Environmental Statement

If an assessment is required, a statement must be produced by competent experts that outlines the information required to conduct an assessment.

4. Making a planning application and consultation

This step outlines that the statement must be publicised electronically and by public notice.

5. Decision making

The statement will be reviewed to determine whether planning permission will be granted.

Earth Observation can assist with the EIA process by using satellite imagery to map habitat types that may be affected by a development. The final remotely sensed map will then be used to accompany the assessment and dictate if a planning application can proceed.

Read our SPACE methodology article to find out more about the 4EI process.

This is just a single example, designed to specifically guide urban development projects. In contract, the 7 steps outlined by IISD includes steps for Impact Assessment and Mitigation, Impact Management, and Monitoring to ensure that organisations actively create and implement strategies to minimise the risks to the environment.

EIA in different legislation

European Union

The EU introduced an EIA Directive (85/337/EEC) in 1985, for a range of public and private projects.

Some examples of the legislation include:

  • The developer may request the competent authority to say what should be covered by the EIA information to be provided by the developer (scoping stage)
  • The developer must provide information on the environmental impact (EIA report)
  • The environmental authorities and the public (and affected Member States) must be informed and consulted
  • The competent authority decides, taken into consideration the results of consultations
  • The public is informed of the decision afterwards and can challenge the decision before the courts
  • Preventive action should be taken and environmental damage should, as a priority, be rectified at source and that the polluter should pay
  • Effects on the environment should be taken into account at the earliest possible stage in all the technical planning and decision-making processes
  • Public authorities and other bodies can take decisions which may have a significant effect on the environment as well as on personal health and well-being

This was most recently updated in 2014. Here are some examples of the amendments made since 1985:

  • Harmonising the principles for the environmental impact assessment of projects
  • Align the EIA procedure with the principles of smart regulation and enhance coherence and synergies with other Union legislation and policies.
  • Adding projects related to the transport, capture and storage of carbon dioxide (CO2)

The United Arab Emirates

Environmental protection is a core objective for the UAE’s developmental policies. From increasing green spaces to protecting environments from pollution, these aims have been integrated into environmental regulation.

UAE Environmental policies include the following:

  • Improving the quality of air
  • Preserving water resources
  • Increasing the contribution of clean energy
  • Implementing green growth plans

UAE Environmental laws include the following:

  • Regulation and management of waste
  • Regulation and management of pollution
  • Regulation and management of natural resources
  • Regulation and management of sustainable production and consumption

Read our article about environmental impact assessments in urban development  

Integrating environmental impact with decision-making

Monitoring our impacts on the environment is essential on a strategic and business level. It helps to improve our decision-making, for the benefit of the environment and people’s health on a vast scale. Now, decision-makers have a number of methodologies and technologies to help them do this.

EIAs are being consistently developed to support more scientific, transparent, and evidenced data to support organisations to remain compliant as legislation evolves. They’re equally made accessible to ensure decision-makers have the tools and information they need. With this guidance, environmental impact is bound to become more entwined with both national and commercial decision-making.

4EI provide transparent and repeatable Earth Intelligence solutions to help organisations conduct effective environmental impacts. Using satellite-derived data, we can map extensive landscapes and monitor critical impact metrics.

Our offering will supply consistent measurements for biodiversity gain and loss, no matter where we’re conducting the assessment, giving you completely applicable and transparent data. We can also go back in time to provide historic information and detect change over time allowing organisations to update their figures when legislation is updated.

From carbon absorption modelling to change intelligence, we can provide the insights you need to help you achieve regulatory compliance.

Find out more about our environmental solutions and how they can help you, or get in touch with us to discuss your needs.

by 4EI

4EI provide Applied Earth Intelligence and analytics. We gather evidence-based intelligence about the earth, using data collected through sophisticated space assets.

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