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

Draft for Consultation and Comment
Version 22 August 2016

3.2 Key principles of EIA

  1. The effectiveness of EIA as a decision-making tool depends on the application of the following key principles:
    1. Legally established, clear and effective process
    2. Proponent bears cost of application and assessment
    3. Meaningful public participation at all steps of the process
    4. Access to information by PAP and other stakeholders
    5. All relevant information is available
    6. Open and evidence-based decision making
    7. Effective monitoring, compliance and enforcement
  1. Legally established, clear and effective process

    A specific legal framework is important for the establishment and functioning of the EIA system within each jurisdiction. EIA therefore needs to be underpinned by a clear legal requirement, which outlines the process to be followed. This provides certainty for all stakeholders – including the PAP, the project proponent, the EIA consultant, government regulators (not just environmental), and other interested parties – and consistency in approach over time. Such certainty and consistency helps ensure accountability in the system. Following a legal process that is widely understood also reduces the potential for disputes to arise once a decision is ultimately made.

  1. Proponent bears cost of application and assessment

    The EIA process is an investment of the project proponent in the design, planning, and management of the project, especially for major development proposals that involve many aspects and phases. Consistent with the “Polluter Pays Principle” [8], the project proponent should bear all costs associated with the EIA process, including for the provision and implementation of public participation in their project. Public participation is a required element of the EIA process and the project proponent and EIA consultant must ensure that the budget is sufficient to cover the public participation.

  1. The general public should not have to bear the costs of participating in EIA processes, or for government assessments of EIAs. All of these costs need to be included in the overall EIA budget covered by the project proponent. The EIA will also likely result in a range of monitoring and management duties should the project proposal proceed to implementation, some of which may involve affected communities. The project budget should provide adequate funding for these activities – whether they are undertaken internally, by an external third party or by community representatives. All of these expenses associated with undertaking an EIA and implementing the endorsed EMMP are understood to be part of the normal costs of doing business.
  1. Meaningful public participation at all steps of the process

    A key goal of EIA is to reduce the risk of social conflict arising from projects by ensuring that all PAP and other stakeholders are involved, valued, and respected in the decision-making on development proposals. To be effective in this regard, public participation must occur in a structured and planned way throughout the EIA process (and throughout project implementation and operations). Efforts to involve the public must also be meaningful, not tokenistic or undertaken to complete a regulatory requirement. This public participation must be tailored to the particular needs and circumstances of the participants.

  1. Access to information by PAP and other stakeholders

    In order to effectively participate in the EIA process and make an informed decision on an EIA, PAP and other stakeholders must have access to all relevant information. This includes access to technical information. Information needs to be provided in a form and language that is easily accessible and can be used by the target audience, and with sufficient time for it to be understood, considered and responded to.

  1. All relevant information is available

    For an EIA to be a useful planning and decision-support tool, it needs to be based on all relevant information. This covers scientific information as well as local and indigenous knowledge, which can only be obtained through genuine and meaningful public participation. Identifying all relevant information involves a balance between relying on the most up-to-date and comprehensive knowledge and what can be feasibly (and affordably, in the context of the particular development proposal) be obtained.

  1. Open and evidence-based decision making

    An effective EIA process requires both the preparation of an EIA by the project proponent (and/or the EIA consultant) and the review of the EIA by government, to determine whether the project should proceed or not. This process needs to be conducted transparently and on the basis of sound analyses. The government’s review of the EIA should be separate from the EIA preparation work and may need to involve a technical review, along with inputs from the public participation process. The ultimate decision on whether or not to approve the EIA and the project should be made according to the evidence contained in the EIA report and in public submissions made to the government. The entire review and decision-making process should be transparent, with the general public able to follow and provide input into the process and access the ultimate decisions and reasoning.

  1. Effective monitoring, compliance and enforcement

    The EIA process formally ends with a decision, but an approved EIA report and its EMMP are critical instruments for ensuring the project’s impacts are addressed in the way intended when it was approved. It is vital for the overall integrity of the EIA system that government and other external parties, including the local community, are able to monitor the performance of projects and ensure they comply with all commitments and duties contained in the EIA report and EMMP. This includes having access to monitoring information as well as the opportunity to undertake monitoring activities themselves. The monitoring mechanisms and findings adopted within a project must be made publicly available for all stakeholders to have confidence in both the project at hand and all future EIAs. Monitoring is critical to ensure that any adverse residual impacts are no greater than indicated at project approval, and to identify any additional mitigation measures that might be needed

[8] The Polluter Pays Principle supports the commonly - accepted practice that those who produce pollution must bear the costs of managing it to prevent damage to human health or the environment.