What are the issues?
The World Summit on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro (1992) emphasised the importance of biodiversity as the basis of our very existence. Biodiversity supports many livelihoods as it is a source of income, water, food, safety, medicine, building materials and leisure opportunities. In addition, it is a source of spiritual enrichment essential to human well-being.
Under the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) almost 200 countries have agreed on the following principles:
- conservation of biological diversity, i.e. maintaining earth's life support systems and future options for human development;
- use its components sustainably, i.e. providing livelihoods to people, without jeopardising future options;
- share the benefits arising from the use of genetic resources in a fair and equitable manner.
The CBD requires parties to apply impact assessment to projects, programmes, plans and policies with a potential negative impact on biodiversity. In addition, a focus on mainstreaming biodiversity in the following sectors: infrastructure, mining, energy and regional development is required.
Role of ESIA and SEA
Biodiversity is an inherent part of environmental assessment. It is widely recognised as exceptionally important and of high priority. Nevertheless, biodiversity is perceived as a ‘difficult’ topic in assessment and tends to be given less attention than it deserves. But ESIA and SEA can assist in paying attention to some very important issues, for example:
- Legal and international obligations: for example relating to protected areas and species, areas for indigenous groups, or valued ecosystem services;
- Identification of stakeholders: through ecosystem services potentially affected groups who have a stake in the SEA process, can be identified. Especially people who belong to poorer and less educated strata of (rural) society with limited access to decision making;
- Sound economics: ecosystem services such as erosion control, water retention or tourism potential can be valued by making use of for example social cost-benefit analysis.
- Sustainability: any long-term sustainability assessment has to make provisions to safeguard the capacity of biodiversity to adapt to changing environments (e.g. climate change) and continue to provide viable living space for people.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is developing guidance for assessment of biodiversity in ESIA and SEA for different sectors such as wind farms, hydropower and cultural heritage. This guidance is used by the NCEA in our advisory work and capacity development on ESIA and SEA.