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Talking Point

TALKING POINT

This space is dedicated to expert comment and opinion on issues surrounding climate & environment, infrastructure and livelihoods. The page is updated regularly with contributions from top academics and people on the front line of development work, and we want to hear your thoughts on what they say, too. So if you'd like to contribute a talking point or comment on something you've read below then email enquiries@evidenceondemand.org and join the debate...
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Integrating a strategic environmental and social perspective into national and sector policy

Peter Croal addresses the increasing demand for Strategic Environmental Assessments

National and sector policies in developing countries have traditionally lacked the consideration of environmental and social aspects as well as an integrated and strategic perspective of overall national objectives and goals. The achievement of their sector goals has in some cases compromised other sectors or national goals as well as achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Therefore, there is an increasing number of Strategic Environmental Assessments (SEA) being undertaken in developing countries. SEA, simply stated, addresses the direct and indirect, positive and negative environmental issues that can result due to the development and implementation of a proposed policy, plan or program (PPP). Over 60 countries now have SEA requirements stipulated by law or policy. This increasing demand for SEA is due to the increasing burden on the project level Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) in developing countries. There is now realisation that engaging in SEA earlier in the decision making process will address some of the policy issues and principles that can stall the EIA process at the project level. As well, in keeping with the rationale for EIA, governments are viewing SEA as an instrument that can assist in demonstrating the value of environmental assets. This supports the groundbreaking work that The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity project is doing with international environmental and economic institutions (www.teebweb.org)

The environment is now recognized as an integral component of economic development and societal well-being. SEA is understood to be one decision support tool, among others, than can address environmental integration in policies, plans and programs for better development outcomes. A critical issue that countries need to take into account is that, in many countries, there is a strong history and experience of approaches to integrate environmental issues into planning and decision-making. SEA is a maturing decision support tool that can advance environmental integration and mainstreaming approaches.

In the last 5 years, meteorological events due to climate change has accelerated the frequency of severe weather related events. Disaster management planning, again at the district and state levels, has also meant that more agencies are looking for and applying environmental assessment tools to address these issues. In the last two years vulnerability assessments and adaptation planning to address climate change has also increased in use. Currently this is more being undertaken at the state level with a few pilots at the district level. Within the next few years, more districts will also be undertaking these assessment and planning exercises using SEA.

As a result of the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), there is widespread recognition that human activities are changing the global climate system, and that every part of the globe will be affected by the impacts of climate change. While climate change may generate economic opportunities in some parts of the world, the adverse impacts of climate change are projected to outweigh its benefits, particularly in developing countries. Climate change has the potential to exacerbate disaster risks, water stress, food insecurity, health risks, natural resource depletion, gender inequalities, social and economic marginalisation, conflict and migration. Climate change impacts are also expected to adversely affect transport networks and other infrastructure, and activities such as tourism. Sea-level rise and accelerated coastal erosion pose an existential threat to some populated areas as well as to critical infrastructure such as coastal oil rigs and power plants. Through these mechanisms, climate change can undermine or even reverse human development, posing serious challenges to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). This is elaborated in the 2007/2008 Human Development Report, which focuses on climate change, and concludes that successful climate change adaptation, coupled with stringent mitigation, holds the key to human development prospects for the 21st century and beyond. Ultimately, adaptation is an exercise in damage limitation and deals with the symptoms of a problem that must be addressed through mitigation. However, failure to deal with the symptoms will lead to large-scale human development losses. The OECD Declaration on Integrating Climate Change Adaptation into Development Co-operation (2006) and the OECD Guidelines on Integrating Climate Change Adaptation into Development Co-operation (2009) detail the importance of integrating climate change considerations into national development frameworks and international aid efforts.

The OECD DAC Good Practice Guidance on Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) highlights the need to address environmental risks and opportunities in the development and appraisal of policies, plans and programmes (PPPs). It also provides a framework for assessing and managing a broad range of environmental risks which may contribute to the integration (or "mainstreaming") of climate change considerations into PPPs. The integration of climate change into strategic planning through the application of SEA should lead to better informed, evidence-based PPPs that are more sustainable in the context of a changing climate, and more capable of delivering progress on human development. As evidence for and awareness of the risks associated with climate change and its impacts grows, PPPs often need to incorporate considerations of climate change. Experience and empirical evidence on the inclusion of climate change adaptation considerations in PPPs through SEA is growing. This is in part attributable to the fact that awareness of the need for adapting to climate change is relatively recent. The impact of environmental change on a PPP is now a real development issue, which SEA is capable of addressing.

A short video on SEA is available here. Useful resources on SEA can be found at www.SEAtaskteam.net

Peter is the senior environmental specialist in the Strategic Policy and Performance Branch of CIDA and is responsible for all corporate issues related to Strategic Environmental Assessment and development cooperation. He was also Chair of the OECD DAC SEA Task Team from 2009-2013.