WHAT IS AN 'IMPACT'?
Examples of different types of impacts are:
Impact assessments will also consider how impacts are distributed across time, space and different groups of people.
The terms “impact” and “effect” are frequently used synonymously. In New Zealand under the framework of the Resource Management Act 1991, "effect" is the more commonly used terminology.
WHAT IS THE ENVIRONMENT?
Impact Assessment takes a holistic view of the environment, to encompass physical, socio-economic and cultural factors. The RMA definition of the environment is a good place to start:
a) ecosystems and their constituent parts, including people and communities; and
b) all natural and physical resources; and
c) amenity values; and
d) the social, economic, aesthetic, and cultural conditions which affect the matters stated in paragraphs (a) to (c) or which are affected by those matters".
Environmental impact assessment (EIA) is a proactive planning and decision-making process that has an important role to play in identifying impacts, assessing risks, and evaluating the costs and benefits of development projects. Environmental impact assessment aims to avoid adverse and costly changes in the environment, to strengthen positive development outcomes and resilience.
Developers may see the EIA process as another set of hurdles to jump before they can proceed with their project. However, EIA can be of great benefit to them, since it can provide a framework for considering location and design issues and environmental issues in parallel.
Some EIA systems or jurisdictions constrain EIA to the analysis of impacts on the biophysical environment while others include the social and economic impacts of development proposals. Some systems (e.g., African Development Bank) use the expression “Environmental and Social Impact Assessment” to emphasize the inclusion (and the importance) of the social impacts. Other forms of IA focus on specific type of impacts (e.g., Social IA, Health IA, Ecological or Biodiversity IA). These may be carried out independently, but also in a joint exercise with other IA. It is desirable to integrate the environmental, social and economic dimensions of impact assessment (unless you are legally constrained from doing so).
Owing to the different professional skills involved, it is common practice in EIA Reports to address environmental issues separately, for example:
Integrated IA is often employed for:
KEY BENEFITS OF EIA
Early identification of environmental constraints and impacts
EIA can result in an improved project design that:
Early identification and improved calculation of project costs
Provision of a level of certainty for all stakeholders
EIA can provide a level of certainty for all stakeholders because it outlines environmental performance and management standards that must be met by the project proponent. Proponents know what levels of performance and management they are expected to adhere to; government knows what levels of performance and management it must monitor; and the community knows the performance and management conditions on which development consent has been granted.
Fostering of social acceptance of a project
If the EIA process is participatory and inclusive of local stakeholders, including the directly affected community and land/resource owners, it can help to foster social acceptance of a project. Proponents are more likely to avoid major objections to their project, as well as delays in project implementation or disruptions to project operation, when the EIA process invites stakeholder participation in development planning and assessment, and requires proponents to recognise and address stakeholder concerns.