As per Pope et al. (2013), environmental Impact Assessment, commonly known as EIA, is a process which is use to measure the potential and possible effects of a particular project on the environment. The effects of the project must be positive on the environment that means the project should not be harmful to the environment. In case the effects of the project are unacceptable or harmful, certain measures need to be developed to eradicate those effects on the environment (Pope et al. 2013). The main purpose of EIA is to make the decision makers aware of the effects of their business projects on the environment. As per the International Association of Impact Assessment (IAIA), there are various factors in the EIA like identification of the problems, prediction of the effects, and evaluation of the effects so that effective strategies can be made to mitigate those biophysical, social and other effects. EIA practice has been carried on for more than forty years. Currently, EIA has been practiced in the two of the world’s nations. The root of EIA has been found in the United States National Environmental Policy Act 1969, commonly known as the NEPA. There are several branches this field and the function of each branch can be differentiated from the others.
As per the above discussion, the main functions of EIA are to help on a broad range of decision making, to help in the international development along with the development of trade policy (Pope et al. 2013). Thus, it can be observed that EIA has a broad range of operations. However, it can be observed that EIA has only been used for the project level assessment and the other functions of EIA have not been done by EIA (Pope et al. 2013). Here comes the emergence of Strategic Environmental Assessment, commonly known as SEA (Pope et al. 2013). According to Pope et al. (2013), the main operations of SEA are to develop environmental strategies for programs, plans and policies. There are some basic objectives of EIA to bring in the environmental sustainability. These objectives are to address sustainability by creating positive effects on the mind of the people all over the world; to establish the concept of sustainability in the individual decision making process or in individual assessment; to the adoption of formal mechanisms so the unfair trade-offs can be avoided in an effective and accountable manner; to embrace the ethical sustainability in the assessment process and to engender the learning throughout. There are various jigsaw puzzles around the objectives of the impact assessment practices. From these, two important points can be derived (Pope et al. 2013). Firstly, the various impact assessment practices depend upon the main context of the issues. For this reason, different branches of impact assessment practices like EIA, SEA and others have different functions to do. For example, EIA give more emphasis on the socio-economic impacts or on the biophysical impacts. Secondly, apart from the six well established areas of impact assessment, there are various other areas that have yet not been noticed. They are ecological impact assessment which has been considered as a subset of EIA, impact assessment of climate change, impact assessment of the change of culture and others. Hence, it can be observed that the jigsaw puzzles have many more dimensions.
There are mainly three areas of debate as per this article on the environmental impact assessment. They are the effectiveness, theoretical ground and the quality of the impact assessment. The impact assessment theory has many components like political science, various policy theories, decision theories and several planning theories. However, despite of having all these components of theories, there is a lack of effective theory about the impact assessment. In case of effectiveness of impact assessment, there has been a lack of effectiveness in the impact assessment process (Pope et al. 2013). Early impact assessment used to focus on the ongoing environmental issues regarding any project. However, the situation has totally been changed. Now-a-days, various guidelines have been provided to the impact assessment practitioners, but there is a gap between the impact assessment works done before and now. The effectiveness of the impact assessment has been noticed by people all over the world (Pope et al. 2013). As per this article, the effectiveness of impact assessment vastly depends upon the proposed purpose of the assessment and the chosen mechanism for the assessment. The mechanism is selected based on the procedure of the impact assessment. For instance, if the proposed purpose of impact assessment is decision making of any project, the mechanism of the assessment is selected based on the decision making model. Hence, there is an interrelation between the impact assessment procedure and the assessment mechanism. The impact environment impact assessment or EIA has many strengths as well as weaknesses. Based on the above discussion, the strengths and weaknesses can be observed and they are discussed below:
One of the most important strengths is the worldwide incorporation of the EIA and the inclusion of international and legislation agreements as this initiative has made impact assessment acceptable to the people of all over the world. Secondly, impact assessment has an effective procedural guidance. All these guidance make it easy for the selection of the impact assessment mechanisms (Pope et al. 2013). The existence of procedural guidelines helps to increase the effectiveness and the capability of the impact assessment procedures. However, the level of prescription of such guidelines has been a topic of debate all over the world in impact assessment. The fourth strength is the participation of a strong international body of practitioners, a vast number of theorists and many others. There are many instances where the impact assessment has become a grand success through diversification (Pope et al. 2013).
Strengths always accompanied by the weaknesses. In this case, impact assessment has some major weaknesses. First of all, there are many instances where the quality of impact assessment practice is not up to the mark. The quality issues in impact assessment are accompanied by the capacity issues. Secondly, there are other alternative than environmental impact assessment. The weak practice areas are replaced by those alternatives. This is a major drawback. On the other hand, the participation of public in the impact assessment has becoming lower than earlier (Pope et al. 2013). Thirdly, there is some discrete form of practice in the impact assessment. This type of practices follows their own literature and there is not any relationship between the procedure and the selected mechanism of the impact assessment practices. The fourth reason that can be considered as on e of the most important reasons is the lack of consideration of the broader environmental sustainability issues around the world. The increasing number of field of specialization can be considered as one of the reason behind the weakness. The resources of impact assessment cannot be identified properly and this misidentification leads to the misallocation of the resources in the impact assessment (Pope et al. 2013).
There are many major threats that are surrounding the impact assessment process. Political situation is one of the major threats of impact assessment as various political institutions have become the barriers of the impact assessment. Impact assessment is in danger due to the global financial crisis. There are various countries where the procedures of EIA are under review by the respective authorities. There are a lot of procedures that need to be followed at the time of the impact assessment line various guideline, protocols, various checklists, standards and many others. All these steps make the process of impact assessment more complicate and hence, the spirit of impact assessment is becoming lower (Pope et al. 2013). The existence of excess rules and regulations causes in the lost of the creative side and innovation of impact assessment. Another threat of impact assessment is that the responsibility of EIA is to be given to the government agencies whose agenda is development. Impact assessment is not a subject of development; this is a matter of environmental protection. Thus, it is desired that the responsibilities of EIA should go to the people who cares about the environment (Pope et al. 2013).
However, there are some positive sides of the impact assessment as there are some opportunities in impact assessment. Various concepts are taken into consideration for impact assessment like the worldwide growing issue of climate change, systems dynamics, resilience and ecosystem services and many others. However, the state of art of impact assessment can be considered as the greatest opportunity for impact assessment. From the above discussion, it can be considered that the increasing specialization in the field of impact assessment is healthy for the growth and expansion of EIA. However, from the discussion of strengths, weaknesses, threats and opportunities, it is observed that there is a string need for the development in the various fields of impact assessment. As per the study, there is an existence of rich diversity in the impact assessment and this process can create confusion about the effectiveness of impact assessment. However, there is always scope for the improvement. The loopholes in the impact assessment need to be identified and more effective strategies need to be adopted. The survival of the impact assessment needs to be ensured along with the development of it (Pope et al. 2013).
Pope, J., Bond, A., Morrison-Saunders, A. and Retief, F., 2013. Advancing the theory and practice of impact assessment: setting the research agenda. Environmental Impact Assessment Review, 41, pp.1-9.