Regional Guidelines on Public Participation in Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)

Draft for Consultation and Comment
Version 22 August 2016

1. Introduction and Rationale

  1. Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is a widely-applied and internationally-accepted process of identifying, predicting, evaluating, and mitigating potential impacts of development projects on the environment prior to decisions and commitments being made. [2]
  1. While EIA procedures are in place in all Mekong region countries – Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam – critical gaps remain in its effective implementation. These gaps involve a number of factors, including the overall quality of assessments, consideration of alternatives, monitoring and compliance, and meaningful stakeholder engagement, among others. Such challenges result in poor projects with adverse social and environmental impacts; project delays and conflicts with communities, leading to higher costs for project developers; and an undermining of the long-term sustainable development in the region.
  1. For these reasons, EIA has recently emerged as an issue of common concern among governments, civil society organizations, and business sector actors. This concern is reflected in the current wave of EIA reform efforts currently underway across the region. Another important regional trend includes the emergence of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) in 2015. The AEC is expected to boost a single regional market and production base, increase competitiveness for the region, promote equitable economic development, and further integrate its ten member states into the global economy.  The AEC Blueprint highlights an urgent need to simplify, harmonize, and standardize trade and customs processes to facilitate the free flow of goods, services, and capital across the region. However, without effective social and environmental safeguards in place, increased investments and trade may result in unintended consequences leading to accelerated deterioration of the region’s rich natural capital, loss of livelihoods, and other short- and long-term consequences.
  1. Challenges also exist in developing effective mechanisms to assess the environmental and social impacts of projects that may have transboundary impacts, including air pollution, impacts on biodiversity, and social impacts. The current interest in EIA, along with increasing investments in large-scale regional development projects, reflects the importance of advancing EIA policy and practice that address the increasingly regional dimensions of investments and their impacts.
  1. Effective involvement of relevant stakeholders in the EIA process has been identified as a critical gap, and thus as a key mechanism to contribute to addressing these challenges. Engaging with relevant stakeholders in the EIA process - and in particular those directly and indirectly impacted by development projects - increases the efficiency of the process by helping to identify and address key issues and concerns, while ensuring better, more equitable, and more sustainable development outcomes. Public participation serves as the foundation for building strong, constructive, and responsive relationships that are essential for the successful management of a project’s environmental and social impacts.
  1. Public participation is a process to involve those who are directly and indirectly affected by a decision in the decision-making process, promoting sustainable decisions by providing the public with the information they need to be involved in a meaningful way, and communicating to the public how their input affects the decision.
  1. The Regional Guidelines on Public Participation in EIA (‘the Guidelines’) present a common approach, rooted in the context of the Mekong region, that can strengthen the implementation of public participation and access to information within existing national EIA frameworks. As such, they are intended to contribute as a reference and resource for strengthening the policy and practice of EIA in the Mekong region, in the context of increasing regional investments and impacts, to help realize the sustainable development of the region.

[2] Key Terms and Definitions used in this document are provided in Annex II.