Strategic impact assessment (SIA), also known as strategic environmental assessment (SEA), is the assessment of the wider environmental, social and economic impacts of alternative proposals at the beginning of a project. That is, at the decision stage - the policy, planning or program (PPP) level.
B. Main Features
Strategic impact assessment is a multi-disciplinary tool that evolved from environmental impact assessment (EIA). Whereas EIA is applied at the project level and considers specific environmental impacts, SIA is applied at the strategic level and considers the wider environmental, social and economic impacts. Taking a more proactive approach than EIA, SIA is applied early and includes the participation of all stakeholders.
The use of SIA results in better project planning; more informed decision making; improved project design; better co-ordination; more comprehensive use of sustainability principles from the start; early detection of problems or cumulative impacts; and the creation of a framework for environmental assessment throughout the project.
The main steps of an SIA are similar to those for EIA but are applied to the PPP level. There is no one method for conducting an SIA and as such, each SIA process will be different. In general, however, the key steps include:
Obstacles to SIA include the absence of formal procedures, guidelines and indicators; lack of data; and problems associated with co-ordination of different agencies and stakeholders.
- Screening - is an SIA is required (eg, legislation, policies, requirements etc), what type of SIA is needed, when is it required.
- Scoping - what is the aim of the PPP, are there any significant strategic issues, who are the stakeholders, what is the current state of the environment.
- Impact assessment - identify all inputs into the SIA, constraints, project impacts, opportunities and trends, develop objectives, criteria and indicators.
- Developing parameters, principles or guidelines - these are used to guide the SIA process and can include recommendations on addressing environmental or socio-economic impacts.
- Comparing and evaluating alternative PPPs - preferred alternative/s selected, trade-offs made, public participation sought.
- Decision-making - responsibilities and accountabilities assigned, SIA process is checked, final decision documented.
- Monitoring and review - develop an implementation plan, begin monitoring and review of the project.
- Implement the selected proposal.
C. Case Studies and Examples
1. Shrimp Farming Techniques
A Swedish University completed an SIA on shrimp farms in Thailand in 2001 as part of its Minor Field Studies program. The study was conducted to collect data and compare the environmental and socio-economic impacts of semi-enclosed and fully enclosed farming methods. The majority of shrimp farms in Thailand use semi-enclosed farming methods. The study found that semi-enclosed farming had higher adverse socio-economic and environmental impacts. Elements preventing shrimp farmers from using fully enclosed farming techniques included high construction, energy and equipment costs; and high land area requirements. The study recommended that farmers move piecewise to achieving fully enclosed systems.
2. Victoria Falls
A SIA was conducted of Victoria Falls (Zambia) to create and implement a sustainable development Master Plan for the area around the falls. The desire for an SIA arose from Zambia's and Zimbabwe's concerns regarding the impacts of tourism and tourist activities on the region, which is designated as a Whole Heritage Site. The SIA was conducted as a partnership between international and national agencies. A study team was established and the scope of the SIA identified. Different development scenarios and their cumulative impacts were identified, predicted, linked, assessed and weighted depending on the likelihood of occurrence. From this, a Management Plan was sketched out covering policies, environmental programs, zoning, cross-boarder institutional arrangements and monitoring programs.
D. Target Sectors / Stakeholders
Governments, policy makers, organisations research and industry institutions and non-government organisations, are responsible for defining procedures and guidelines, providing guidance and installing SIA in legislation (if required).
E. Scale of Operation
SIA is applicable worldwide and is best applied at the project, policy or program level.
- Global Development Research Centre - Environmental Impact Assessment
- South Africa Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism and CSIR - Guideline Document: Strategic Environmental Assessment in South Africa
- Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences - Strategic Environmental Assessment on Shrimp Farms in Southeast Thailand
- UNEP Environmental Impact Assessment Training Resource Manual, Second Edition
- Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency - The 1999 Cabinet Directive on the Environmental Assessment of Policy, Plan and Program Proposals
- Australian EIA Network - International Study of the Effectiveness of Environmental Assessment - SEA of Developments Around Victoria Falls, Zambia
- Arce R and Gullon N, 2000 The Application of Strategic Environmental Assessment to Sustainability Assessment of Infrastructure Development Environmental Impact Assessment Review, Vol 20, Issue 3, p 393-402
- Maria Rosário Partidário, 2000, Elements of an SEA Framework - Improving the Added-Value of SEA Environmental Impact Assessment Review, Vol 20, Issue 6, p 647 - 663