What are the issues?
Climate change affects various human and natural systems and poses a serious challenge to economic development and ecosystem sustainability. Adverse effects should - alongside potential benefits - therefore be explicitly considered in decision making about proposed policies, plans, programmes and projects. Addressing risks and opportunities is essential for taking decisions that will remain robust under future conditions, when many climate change impacts are expected to become more significant.
Role of ESIA and SEA
Environmental assessment, including Environmental (Social) Impact Assessment (E(S)IA) and Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA), play an important role. It ensures that the design of policies, plans, programmes and projects properly addresses the necessary mitigation of climate change to minimise greenhouse gas emissions, as well as adaptation to the effects of climate change. This can be very helpful in reducing vulnerability to a changing climate and thus increasing the resilience of
natural and human systems.
To ensure that climate change adaptation is considered in environmental assessments, the NCEA recommends to use a stepwise approach.
Step 1 - Assessing climate change risks
The first step is to assess the vulnerability of the project or plan area to the effects of climate change in the short and long term, and the related risks the area faces. Climate change scenarios in combination with other scenarios (for example, relating to socio-economic development) provide the information required for a vulnerability assessment. After this assessment, the probability of the proposed plan or project changing the vulnerability is analysed and the likely extent of any changes is estimated.
Step 2 - Policy compliance
The second step is to assess the compliance of the proposed project or plan with the objectives of the existing government policy plans for climate change. This step, combined with a vulnerability assessment (step 1), provides policy or decision makers with insight into the urgency of acting to make plans or projects more climate robust. Ideally, the national climate change policy plan is translated into sector plans with measurable objectives for climate change adaptation. If there are no national or sector policy plans for climate change, or these are at an early stage of development or lack measurable objectives, the compliance assessment has to rely on expert judgment or consultations with local experts representing the different sectors involved.
Step 3 - Climate-robust alternative measures
The third step is what we would consider the core of the environmental assessment process: developing alternatives, including measures that reduce the effects of climate change or improve the adaptive capacity of stakeholders in the project area. To this end, the Netherlands has explored the “building with nature” concept. This concept focuses on innovative measures to improve the resilience of flood-prone areas (e.g. controlled flooding or growing salt-tolerant crops) where it is too costly to limit the actual risk of flooding.