Environmental Impact Assessment

Environmental impact assessment (EIA) is a tool to aid environmental decision making. It is a process that allows for public involvement when positive and negative impacts (opportunities and constraints) that are associated with a proposed course of action are assessed. The aim of this is to determine the best practicable course of action.

Legal provisions for EIA in South Africa were first incorporated in the Environment Conservation Act, 1989 (Act No. 73 of 1989) (ECA), and Regulations for EIA were promulgated in terms of Sections 21 and 26 of ECA on 5 September 1997. These initial EIA Regulations applied to only nine scheduled activities that were identified as having the potential to have a “substantial detrimental effect” on the environment. They were subsequently replaced by new EIA Regulations promulgated on 21 April 2006, 18 June 2010 and 4 December 2014, in terms of Section 24 of the National Environmental Management Act, 1998 (Act No. 107 of 1998) (NEMA), which is the framework legislation for environmental management in South Africa.

An EIA evaluates the potential impact of human actions, for example, development proposals, on the receiving environment, and how the opportunities and constraints in this environment influence the intended human actions.

EIA in South Africa is therefore a means for giving effect to the ”environmental right” enshrined in Section 24 of the Constitution, which calls for the securing of ecologically sustainable development and the promotion of justifiable economic and social development. It is, however, important to remember that while one strives for the best environmental option, there are limitations to what is in fact feasible and practical in terms of time, cost and technology. The aim of EIA in South Africa, therefore, is to follow a process that will determine the best practicable environmental option, that is, to promote sustainable development through the effective management of social, environmental and economic impacts, so that:

  • Valuable environmental resources are safeguarded by avoiding unacceptable negative irreversible changes through implementing acceptable mitigation measures;
  • Human health and safety is protected; and
  • The social and economic dimensions of the proposed development are enhanced.

Environmental impact assessment process includes

The environmental impact assessment is a project-based process that consists of five distinct phases, namely:

  • Screening
  • Scoping
  • Specialist studies
  • Integration and Assessment
  • Public Participation (which happens throughout the EIA process)
  • Authority review and decision-making
  • Implementation of EIA Decision; and
  • Monitoring
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