Impact Assessment

What's the Problem?

Impact assessment processes are in place and applied in many countries, yet biodiversity is often inadequately addressed. There is a growing recognition of the need to better reflect biodiversity considerations in environmental impact assessments and in strategic environmental assessments. Important barriers to the incorporation of biodiversity in impact assessment include low priority for biodiversity and limitations in one or more of the following areas: capacity to carry out the assessments; awareness of biodiversity values; adequate data; and post-project monitoring. Strategic environmental assessments have high potential for addressing biodiversity in planning and decision-making, but there are challenges to their application.

The following paragraphs summarize information on the implementation of the Convention's provisions on impact assessment.

Legislation and procedure on environmental impact assessment (EIA) and strategic environmental assessment (SEA)

The third national reports confirm that nearly all responding Parties have impact assessment legislation and procedures at project level (EIA) in place. More than half of country Parties have also developed impact assessment legislation and procedures for programmes and policies (SEA), while many others are in the process of developing SEA legislation and procedures. Only one and three Parties, respectively, reported not having an EIA or SEA policy.

Most Parties also reported implementing bilateral, regional and/or multilateral agreements on activities likely to significantly affect biological diversity outside their jurisdiction. Only some countries reported having mechanisms in place to prevent or minimize danger or damage to biological diversity originating in their territory, in the territory of other Parties, or in areas beyond the limits of national jurisdiction.

Many respondents have established national mechanisms for emergency response to activities or events that present a grave and imminent danger to biological diversity, and some others are in the process of developing such mechanisms. Most countries reported that their impact assessment legislation and procedures are designed to minimize negative impacts on biodiversity. Only some, however, reported applying major aspects of the guidelines on biodiversity considerations in impact assessment (decisions VI/7-A and VIII/28) while many others were applying some aspects of the guidelines. This may be attributed to the relatively recent development of the guidelines and the periodicity of typically about a decade between modifications of impact assessment legislation and/or procedures. Countries reported on a variety of mechanisms in place to ensure that due consideration is given to the environmental consequences of national programmes and policies that are likely to have significant adverse impacts on biological diversity. These include: strategic environmental assessment legislation for development plans, policies, programmes and strategies; sectoral impact studies; inter-ministerial committees; inter-agency consultation on all major programmes, policies or modifications; partnership of public sector, universities and NGOs to address impacts of agriculture, animal husbandry and aquaculture on biodiversity; special environmental committees; sanctions, incentives, compensation and enforcement measures; and the development and application of best practice guidelines.

Positive outcomes of implementing Article 14.1

Countries reported on several positive outcomes of implementing Article 14.1, including:
  • The reinforcement of impact assessment legislation and institutional framework;
  • A growing number of environmentally sound projects;
  • Greater awareness of environmental legislation;
  • Greater awareness of the importance of impact assessment as tools for environmental and biodiversity protection;
  • Introduction of the assessment of the environmental consequences of national policies and programmes;
  • Bilateral collaboration on impact assessment;
  • Introduction of independent impact assessment review committees;
  • Publication of guidance material on incorporating biodiversity issues into EIA and SEA, including sector-related (e.g. trade; forestry) and issue-related (e.g. wetlands; migratory species; protected areas) guidance.

Obstacles to the implementation of Article 14.1

Countries reported on a number of obstacles hampering the full application of impact assessment tools. These include:
  • Inadequate human and financial capacity;
  • Lack of quality and availability of environmental data and of information necessary for fully identifying the impacts of development activities, including limited knowledge and scientific basis to develop biodiversity evaluation criteria, particularly with regard to genetic diversity, and insufficient exchange of knowledge, technology and experience;
  • Narrowness of project inclusion lists;
  • Weak institutional structures and limited intersectoral coordination often coupled with a lack of political will and leadership and a lack of transparency and accountability;
  • Inadequate monitoring and enforcement of impact assessment regulations and of mitigation measures, reported largely as a consequence of lack of institutional structures and financial and human resources;
  • Lack of ongoing qualification and certification process for environmental service providers;
  • Limited resources to review, monitor and enforce impact assessment decisions leading to delays in decision-making and project approval;
  • Lack of meaningful public and stakeholder participation in environmental planning and management often linked to poverty, low levels of education, lack of awareness of environmental and biodiversity issues;
  • Limited commitment to biodiversity conservation, including on the part of the private sector, and prioritization of economic objectives and needs.