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Connecting the Dots: ELI Discussion Series Helps Align Impact Assessment with Environmental Compliance and Enforcement

Monday, June 11, 2018
Emmett McKinney

Emmett McKinney

Former Research Associate

Environmental and social impact assessment (ESIA), as well as compliance and enforcement, form two essential pillars in the foundation of sustainable development. To produce lasting benefits, these systems must work in tandem. As the Secretariat for the International Network for Environmental Compliance and Enforcement, ELI brought together over 160 people from 31 countries to exchange ideas on how to strengthen and harmonize these two frameworks. The presentations and recordings are available on the INECE website, here.

ESIA provides essential data for establishing benchmarks, understanding risks, and setting limits in environmental licenses and permits. ESIA is also essential to enhance development outcomes, assess and manage potential risks, and strengthen social acceptance and support to a project.

Moreover, the terms of the licenses and permits resulting from ESIAs must be monitored to gauge compliance, identify violations, and assign appropriate penalties for environmental harms. If the environmental obligations are not complied with and/or enforced, the licensing program will not have the expected environmental outcomes.

Over the course of four sessions from April 17 to May 16, 2018, experts from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), Asian Environmental Compliance and Enforcement Network (AECEN), Brazil's Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA), and the World Bank shared insights rooted in practical experience. Davis Jones, Senior Environmental Consultant at the IDB, moderated the series.

The first session explored the legal, social, and institutional frameworks related to ESIA and enforcement at the national and domestic level. Davis Jones and Gunnar Baldwin of the IDB drew on case studies from throughout Latin America to highlight common challenges and best practices fostering compliance with the terms of environmental licenses and permits. The speakers stressed the importance of bi-directional feedback between compliance and enforcement authorities and ESIA practitioners. For example, vague language in environmental licenses and permits can make it difficult to verify compliance. Poor feedback from enforcement officials about noncompliance, in turn, can stymie improvements in future permits.

In the second session, Govinda Terra (Environmental Analyst, IBAMA) and Peter King (Head of the AECEN Secretariat) explored ESIA and ECE issues in transboundary contexts. Govinda Terra provided examples from IBAMA’s enforcement effort in the Amazon Basin, where new road construction and hydroelectric dams, as well as illegal logging, mining, and land-grabbing threaten the region’s immense biodiversity. The Latin American Compliance and Enforcement Network (RedLAFiCA) provides one forum for Brazil to collaborate with its neighboring countries to address these threats, for example through remote inspections and cross-border cooperation.

The Mekong River flows through 6 countries, creating significant transboundary ESIA challenges (Photo: Laos DFAT).

Peter King highlighted similar challenges with respect to ESIA in the Mekong River Basin. The Mekong River, which flows through 6 countries and provides water to a population of 65 million people, has increasingly been tapped for its enormous hydropower potential. Two authorities, the Mekong River Commission and Lancang-Mekong Cooperation, have been formed to address the resulting environmental impacts – though overlapping legal frameworks and competing economic interests have hampered the implementation of an effective transboundary ESIA framework.

The third session spotlighted the essential role that public participation must play in effective ESIA regimes. Caroline Giffon Wee, Social Sustainability Consultant at the IDB, provided insights from the IDB’s 10-point framework for Meaningful Stakeholder Consultation. Proper consultation helps developers capture and integrate the views of people that may be affected by a project, while also providing an avenue for relevant authorities to verify inspection data. Ultimately, this consultation supports project sustainability by enhancing trust between developers and communities, as well as instilling a sense of local ownership.

Peter King reinforced these points by pointing to international frameworks such as Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration, as well as national legislative frameworks from Mekong Countries. Building on these national frameworks, AECEN worked with the Mekong Partnership for the Environment from 2015-2017 to convene representatives from Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, and Myanmar to develop the Guidelines on Public Participation in Environmental Impact Assessment for the Mekong Region.

Charles Di Leva, Chief of Environmental Safeguards at the World Bank, concluded the series with a discussion of the World Bank’s new Environmental and Social Framework (ESF). Scheduled for implementation in 2018, the ESF will govern the processes for new investment projects moving forward. The ESF aims to “boost protections for people and the environment; promote capacity- and institution-building; and enhance efficiency for both the Borrower and the Bank.” The ESF integrates many of the insights shared throughout the series, namely by aiming to harmonize the standards and processes used by other development partners and establishing comprehensive documentation processes for implementing the ESF’s goals.

Meaningful stakeholder consultation is essential to effective impact assessment. Here, head of the World Bank gathers input from the local community (World Bank).

Together, these conversations revealed how effective environmental governance requires extensive collaboration, both within the governing institutions and between the government, the private sector, and the public. Mechanisms must be established to ensure the public is not only informed of decisions, but also has a seat at the table as those decisions are made. The improved outcomes far outweigh the burden of outreach.

Moreover, solutions to environmental problems require broad approaches that must extend beyond geographic borders and institutional walls. These solutions throughout the process of development and the use of natural resources – from project planning, to implementation, and finally to monitoring and enforcement of commitments made along the way.

The recordings and presentation slides from this series are available at the INECE website, here.

The Environmental Law Institute serves as Secretariat for the International Network for Environmental Compliance and Enforcement. Learn more about the Network and how to become a Member at www.inece.org.