What is Strategic Environmental Assessment

What is Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA)
Strategic environmental assessment is a systematic process for evaluating the environmental consequences of a proposed policy, plan or programme initiative in order to ensure they are fully included and appropriately addressed at the earliest appropriate stage of decision making on per with economical and social consideration.

IntroductionDevelopment assistance is increasingly being provided through strategic-level interventions, aimed to make aid more effective. To ensure environmental considerations are taken into account in this new aid context, established environmental assessment tools at the project level need to be complemented by approaches fully adapted to policies, plans and programmes. Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) meets this need.

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SEA provides a practical and direct means of progressing MDG 7 on Environmental Sustainability (agreed at the UN General Assembly in 2000). This calls for the “integration of the principles of sustainable development into country policies and programmes”. Secondly, SEA also helps further the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation agreed at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002, which stressed the importance of “strategic frameworks and balanced decision making … for advancing the sustainable development agenda”.

The Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness, adopted in 2005, commits donors to reform the way in which aid is delivered to improve effectiveness, by harmonising their efforts and aligning behind partner countries’ priorities. It also calls upon donors and partners to work together to “develop and apply common approaches for strategic environmental assessment at sector and national levels”.

This Guidance aims to respond to these challenges. Drawing on practical experience and established “good practice”, it points to ways to support the application of SEA in the formulation and assessment of development policies, plans and programmes. In view of the great diversity of circumstances across different countries, it seeks to provide a commonly- agreed and shared model that allows for flexibility in developing appropriate applications of SEA to the diversity of needs. It is presented in the context of a rapidly emerging framework of international and national legislation on SEA in both developed and developing countries.

Understanding SEA
SEA refers to a range of “analytical and participatory approaches that aim to integrate environmental considerations into policies, plans and programmes and evaluate the inter linkages with economic and social considerations”. SEA can be described as a family of approaches which use a variety of tools, rather than a single, fixed and prescriptive approach. A good SEA is adapted and tailor-made to the context in which it is applied. This can be thought as a continuum of increasing integration: at one end of the continuum, the principle aim is to integrate environment, alongside economic and social concerns, into strategic decision making; at the other end, the emphasis is on the full integration of the environmental, social and economic factors into a holistic sustainability assessment.

SEA is applied at the very earliest stages of decision making both to help formulate policies, plans and programmes and to assess their potential development effectiveness and sustainability. This distinguishes SEA from more traditional environmental assessment tools, such as Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), which have a proven track record in addressing the environmental threats and opportunities of specific projects but are less easily applied to policies, plans and programmes. SEA is not a substitute for, but complements, EIA and other assessment approaches and tools.

The benefits of using SEA
Applying SEA to development co-operation has benefits for both decision-making procedures and development outcomes. It provides the environmental evidence to support more informed decision making, and to identify new opportunities by encouraging a systematic and thorough examination of development options. SEA helps to ensure that the prudent management of natural resources and the environment provide the foundations for sustainable economic growth which, in turn, support political stability. SEA can also assist in building stakeholder engagement for improved governance, facilitate trans-boundary co-operation around shared environmental resources, and contribute to conflict prevention.

Towards good practice in SEA
SEA is a continuous, iterative and adaptive process focussed on strengthening institutions and governance. It is not a separate system, nor a simple linear, technical approach. Instead, it adds value to existing country systems and reinforces their effectiveness by assessing and building capacity for institutions and environmental management systems.

Where SEA is applied to plans and programmes, a structured approach to integrating environmental considerations can be used. Key stages for carrying out an SEA on the level of plans or programmes include: establishing the context, undertaking the needed analysis with appropriate stakeholders, informing and influencing decision making, and monitoring and evaluation. SEA applied at the policy level requires a particular focus on the political, institutional and governance context underlying decision-making processes.

Application of SEA in development co-operation
The shift of emphasis away from development projects to programme and policy support has created a number of particular entry points for the application of SEA. This guidance outlines the benefits of using SEA in a range of different circumstances, and sets out 12 key “entry points” for effective application of SEA to development co-operation. It points to key questions to be addressed for each of them, accompanied by specific checklists of these questions, and illustrative case examples.

The entry points for SEA can be grouped into:
Strategic planning processes led by a developing country: These include national overarching strategies, programmes and plans; national policy reforms and budget support programmes; sectoral policies, plans and programmes; infrastructure investments plans and programmes; national and sub-national spatial development plans and programmes and transnational plans and programmes.

Development agencies’ own processes: These include donors’ country assistance strategies and plans; partnership agreements with other donor agencies, donors’ sector-specific policies, and donor-supported public-private infrastructure support facilities and programmes.

Other related circumstances: These include independent Review Commissions and major private sector-led projects and plans.

How to evaluate an SEA
The key deliverable of an SEA is a process with development outcomes, not a product. Quality control therefore considers how well procedures have been carried out. But in the long term, the achievement of development outcomes, while ensuring the maintenance of environmental sustainability, will be the key measure of success.

When reviewing SEA processes, key questions concern: the quality of information, level of stakeholder participation, defined objectives of the SEA, assessment of environmental impacts, planned follow-up activities, and constraints.

Key questions to help evaluators focus on development outcomes of an SEA relate to: the accuracy of assumptions made during the SEA; its influence on the PPP process, on the implementation process, on development goals and on accountability; and the outcome of capacity-building activities.

Developing the capacity for effective use of SEA
Experiences of applying SEA have repeatedly highlighted two key challenges: lack of awareness of the value and importance of SEA, and, when the value is appreciated, lack of knowledge on how to implement SEA. These challenges can be significantly addressed by capacity development for SEA in both development agencies and partner countries.

For capacity development in partner countries, a capacity needs assessment is the first step. Support involves activities such as technical training, awareness-raising workshops, supporting the institutionalisation of the SEA process and its evaluation systems, and networking for sharing experiences.

Legal requirements for SEA
This Guidance is presented in the context of an emerging framework of international and national legislation on SEA in both developed and developing countries. Two important international instruments now prescribe the application of SEA. Firstly, the European Directive (2001/42/EC) on the Assessment of the Effects of Certain Plans and Programmes on the Environment, known as the SEA Directive, came into effect in 2004 and applies to all 25 member states of the European Union. It requires an environmental assessment for certain plans and programmes at various levels (national, regional and local) that are likely to have significant effects on the environment. Secondly, a similar provision is contained in the SEA Protocol to the Espoo Convention (UNECE Convention on EIA in a Trans boundary Context), agreed in Kiev in May 2003. The Protocol includes a separate article encouraging the use of SEA in the context of policies and legislation. It will become effective once ratified by at least 16 countries.

Many developed and developing countries have either national legislative or other provisions for SEA, e.g. statutory instruments, cabinet and ministerial decisions, circulars and advice notes. A number of EU countries had such provisions even prior to the above- mentioned SEA Directive taking effect. Several non-EU European countries also have legal requirements to apply SEA. The EU accession process for candidate countries, as well as ratification of the SEA Protocol to the Espoo Convention, is likely to make comparable legal requirements more widespread. In Canada, there is an administrative requirement to conduct SEA on all PPPs through a Cabinet Level Directive. In the USA, programmatic environmental assessment is required for large projects and programmes.

Safeguarding environmental assets for sustainable development and
poverty reduction
SEA enhances the prospects of safeguarding the environment and the natural systems that are the critical foundations for human health and livelihood. The world’s poor depend most directly and heavily on natural resources both for subsistence and income opportunities. MDG 7, aiming to ensure environmental sustainability, is a cornerstone on which strategies to reduce poverty must be built. Yet the reality is that the “environmental assets of poor households are under severe and increasing stress”.* When applied as part of development policy development and plan making, SEA offers a systematic process to avoid or minimize adverse impacts on the environment and to enhance resource opportunities
Basic principles for SEA
To be influential and help improve policy-making, planning and decision-taking, an SEA should:
Establish clear goals.

Be integrated with existing policy and planning structures.

Be flexible, iterative and customised to context.

Analyse the potential effects and risks of the proposed PPP, and its alternatives, against a framework of sustainability objectives, principles and criteria.

Provide explicit justification for the selection of preferred options and for the acceptance of significant trade-offs.

Identify environmental and other opportunities and constraints.

Address the linkages and trade-offs between environmental, social and economic considerations.

Involve key stakeholders and encourage public involvement.

Include an effective, preferably independent, quality assurance system.

Be transparent throughout the process, and communicate the results.

Be cost-effective.

Encourage formal reviews of the SEA process after completion, and monitor PPP outputs.

Build capacity for both undertaking and using SEA.

In designing effective SEA approaches, practitioners need to be aware of the following:
Strategic planning is not linear, but a convoluted process influenced by interest groups with conflicting interests and different agendas; it is therefore important to look for “windows of opportunity” to initiate SEA during cycles of the decision-making process.

Relationships between alternative options and environmental effects are often indirect; so they need to be framed in terms relevant to all stakeholders (e.g. politicians, government agencies and interest groups). One way of doing this is by linking environmental effects to their specific policy priorities.

While the SEA Directive specifies where an SEA is compulsory, it also identifies circumstances under which an SEA may be required but is not necessarily compulsory. Where those plans and programmes identified in 0 only cover small areas at local level or minor modifications, they only require an SEA if Member States determine that they are likely to have significant environmental effects, as detailed in Box 1. The significance of the environmental effects is assessed using criteria in the SEA Directive (Appendix 3).

The other criteria for fisheries plans and programmes that might require an SEA are those that set the framework for future development consent of projects that are likely to have significant environmental effects. The plans and programmes to which it applies are all those that set the framework for future development consent of projects but are not covered by Article 3(2). There is, therefore, no requirement for the projects to be limited to those listed in Annex I or Annex II of the EIA Directive.

Although not legally binding, according to the European Commission SEA Guidance document the definition of “project” in the EIA Directive would apply. As noted in 0, fishing activities would arguably qualify as projects under the EIA Directive definition as “interventions in the natural surroundings”.

“Development consent” in the EIA Directive is defined as “the decision of the competent authority or authorities which entitles the developer to proceed with the project”. There is no definition in the Directive of “set the framework for”. The SEA Guidance document interprets it normally to mean that the plan or programme contains criteria or conditions that guide the way the consenting authority decides an application for development consent.

Such decision-making criteria could place limits on the type of activity or development that is to be permitted in a given area; or they could contain conditions that must be met by the applicant if permission is to be granted; or they could be designed to preserve certain.

characteristics of the area concerned. Examples could include the amount of quota that may be taken in a specified area or the type of gear permitted or prohibited.

Given that fishing activities arguably qualify as projects under the SEA Directive, any plans and programmes that set the framework for permitting or restricting fishing would need to be screened to assess whether the activities have a significant impact on the environment. SEA IN DEVELOPING COUNTRIES
Developing countries have limited SFA experience to date, particularly outside the context of programs and plans financed by international aid. However, there are clear signs that SFA is being studied with growing interest in many countries and some, such as South Africa, Indonesia, Chile, Colombia, and Brazil (São Paulo State), are already develop- ing policies or guidelines on SFA. Indeed, some of the most interesting applications of SFA have been undertaken in developing countries (see, for example, Appendix B).

Some of these experiences may illustrate the claim that has been made that SFA may carry larger benefits in developing than in industrial countries by helping to clarify the costs and benefits of strategic development alternatives and the tradeoffs among economic, social, and environmental objectives. On the other hand, some of the poorest countries may still see SFA as yet another potentially constrain- ing and resource-demanding burden on their economic growth and on industrialization.

Issues related to openness, democracy, and governance may also influence the rate at which SFA systems are being or will be implemented. For example, in political systems that rely on closed and nonparticipatory traditions, it is hard to conceive of Cabinet decisions or the legislative proposals of government departments being open to public scrutiny as part of an SFA (Thérivel and Partidário 1996).

A brief overview of SFA experience in differ- ent regions is provided here (largely based on George 2000). †his is not meant to provide comprehensive coverage; past and current initiatives across the developing world are considerably more numerous than the ex- amples provided.

Therivel, R. (2004), Strategic Environmental Assessment in Action, Earthscan: London, contains an Appendix with SEA prediction and evaluation techniques. It covers expert judgement, quality of life assessment, overlay maps, land use partitioning analysis, geographical information systems, network analysis, modelling, scenario/sensitivity analysis, cost- benefit analysis, multi-criteria analysis, life cycle analysis, vulnerability analysis, carrying capacity, ecological footprint, risk assessment, and compatibility appraisal.

Rauschmayer, F. and N. Risse (2005), A Framework for the Selection of Participatory Approaches for SEA, Environmental Impact Assessment Review, 25(6): 650-666, covers: mediation, mediated modelling, consensus conference, citizens’ juries and co-operative discourse.

Finnveden, G., M. Nilsson, J. Johansson, A. Persson, A. Moberg and T. Carlsson (2005), Strategic Environmental Assessment methodologies – Applications within the Energy Sector, Environmental Impact Assessment Review, 23(1): 91-123. This paper covers: future studies, LCA, environmentally extended input/output analysis, risk assessment of chemicals and accidents, impact pathway approach, ecological impact assessment, multiple attribute analysis, environmental objectives, economic valuation, surveys, and valuation methods based on mass, energy and area.

hérivel, R. 1997. “Strategic Fnvironmental As- sessment in Central Furope.” lmpact Assess- ment anb Pro¡ect AppraisaK 12(3).
Partidário, M. R. 1994. “Key Issues in Strategic Fnvironmental Assessment.” NA†O/FFARO (unpublished report).


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