Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is a tool that allows developers and decision-makers to understand the impact of a project on the environment and how they can avoid or reduce any negative environmental effects whilst maximising the opportunities presented by the natural environment. EIA is a legal requirement under European (Council Directive 97/11/EC) and UK law and requires that certain development proposals that are felt to have potentially significant environmental effects are examined in detail using the EIA process.

What is Environmental Impact Assessment?

The image in the EIA full guidance document shows the EIA process and how ecosystem services may be included. The schematic of the process includes the key questions and challenges the EIA can tackle with respect to the consideration of ecosystem services.

Case study - Heysham Road EIA

A 2007 study examined ways in which an ecosystem-based approach could be applied to the retrospectively to an EIA of a link road development project.

This study recommended that the concept of ecosystem goods and services should replace the more fragmented, topic-based approach taken by the EIA for the project, to maximise sustainability of the project for the long-term. Well-planned stakeholder participation is also crucial to identify the benefits arising from local ecosystem goods and services, assess their ‘value’, and ensure that they are secured into the future.

Furthermore, extending the scope of the EIA beyond the immediate siting of measures and infrastructure may be required to adequately map and quantify the supply and quality of ecosystem goods and services.

Added value of the Ecosystem Approach

  • Using ecosystem services in EIA explains to decision-makers why and where the environment matters.
  • It allows a value (monetary in some instances) to be placed on the multiple benefits we receive from the environment thus alerting people to opportunities.
  • By using ecosystem services, the idea that the environment is a constraint to development is reversed, as it considers the way that the environment supports the delivery of a project. This can lead to more resilient, effective and risk proofed projects.
  • The Ecosystem Approach is an integrating concept and using and Ecosystem Services Framework can support assessment of cumulative effects consistently.

The wider use of the EIA tool

EIA is well established around the world covering issues as diverse as water quality and quantity, flood risk, biodiversity, carbon sequestration, valued landscapes and access for amenity. The following points, along with the case study, capture when EIA can be used.

  • When? Any development or infrastructure project potentially qualifies for an EIA, case law and the Directive make these requirements clearer.
  • Why? Ecosystem services are an important asset in any location and the benefits gained from ensuring they are maintained are significant.
  • How? An EIA is already used to assess such things as the ecology of an area of land, so the Ecosystem Approach will simply be an extension of the process to understand related services.
  • Who? Developers, authorities, stakeholders and consultants would all be involved in the process.
  • Where? In any circumstance where there is an ecosystem affected by a project.

The following principles of the Ecosystem Approach are evident (light green) or significant (dark green) within this tool: