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Defining Impact Assessment

Why EIAs?

EIAs have two roles - legal and educational.

The legal one is quite straight forward: to ensure that development projects such as a housing estate, a road/bridge or some such construction project has a minimal impact on the environment in its entire 'lifecycle' - i.e. during design, construction, use, maintenance, and demolition. Many countries now have laws stipulating that unless an EIA study is carried out (particularly for large infrastructure projects), permission for construction will not be granted by the local authority. But countries in Africa will possibly see EIA processes as a 'hinderance' to development as environment is not yet a priority!

The educational one is equally important and probably a forerunner to the legal role - to educate everyone one involved - professionals and users included, of the potential environmental impacts of anything we do. We need to look at all our daily actions as eventually and cumulatively affecting the environment. This includes our daily choices, where a delicate balance between financial and environmental considerations need to be made automatically - without thinking!

Environmental impact assessment is, in its simplest form, a planning tool that is now generally regarded as an integral component of sound decision making... As a planning tool it has both an information gathering and decision making component which provides the decision maker with an objective basis for granting or denying approval for a proposed development.

Justice La Forest, Friends of the Oldman v. Canada et al. (1991)

Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) may be defined as a formal process used to predict the environmental consequences of any development project. EIA thus ensures that the potential problems are foreseen and addressed at an early stage in the projects planning and design.

Manu and Anshu, UEMRI-India

EIA Definitions ... a process or set of activities designed to contribute pertinent environmental information to project or programme decision making. ... a process which attempts to identify, predict and assess the likely consequences of proposed development activities. ... a planning aid concerned with identifying, predicting and assessing impacts arising from proposed activities such as policies, programmes, plans and development projects which may affect the environment. ... a basic tool for the sound assessment of development proposals to determine the potential environmental, social and health effects of a proposed development


The purpose of the environmental assessment process is: (a) to support the goals of environmental protection and sustainable development. (b) to integrate environmental protection and economic decisions at the earliest stages of planning an activity. (c) to predict environmental, social, economic, and cultural consequences of a proposed activity and to assess plans to mitigate any adverse impacts resulting from the proposed activity, and (d) to provide for the involvement of the public, department of the Government and Government agencies in the review of the proposed activities.

Alberta Environmental Assessment and Enhancement Act (38)

Balanced assessment of effects on the environment should encompass a number of considerations. Depending on the nature, scope and significance of the project or proposalthe assessment may include consideration of ecological, economic, cultural, aesthetic, healthand safety, social and amenity impacts in relation to decisions on the sustainable managementof natural and physical resources.

A Guide to Health Impact Assessment

Environmental Impact Assessment is a planning tool that its main purpose is: "to give the environment its due place in the decision making process by clearly evaluating the environmental consequences of a proposed activity before action is taken. The concept has ramifications in the long run for almost all development activity because sustainable development depends on protecting the natural resources which is the foundation for further development"

Alan Gilpin (1995) Environmental Impact Assessment - Cutting Edge for the twenty-first century, Cambridge University Press.

Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is a tool used to identify the environmental, social and economic impacts of a project prior to decision-making. It aims to predict environmental impacts at an early stage in project planning and design, find ways and means to reduce adverse impacts, shape projects to suit the local environment and present the predictions and options to decision-makers. By using EIA both environmental and economic benefits can be achieved, such as reduced cost and time of project implementation and design, avoided treatment/clean-up costs and impacts of laws and regulations.

The key elements of an EIA are (a) Scoping: identify key issues and concerns of interested parties; (b) Screening: decide whether an EIA is required based on information collected; (c) Identifying and evaluating alternatives: list alternative sites and techniques and the impacts of each; (d) Mitigating measures dealing with uncertainty: review proposed action to prevent or minimise the potential adverse effects of the project; and (e) Issuing environmental statements: report the findings of the EIA.


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