Public participation in EIA Laws around the world
Since the first formal establishment of environmental impact assessment (EIA) with the United States’ National Environmental Policy Act in 1969, the practice has spread rapidly throughout the world and has been codified by a majority of nations. The environmental impact assessment process provides a critical window of opportunity for the public to ensure that government and industry are making development decisions within the parameters of the public interest. Moreover, environmental impact assessment has become the primary means by which members of the public exercise their right to participate in environmental decision-making.
Today, the EIA regulatory systems in many developing countries are continuously evolving, for better or worse, in response to different development pressures. EIA laws and regulations vary widely across most countries except within the European Community which maintains some consistency in EIA regulations through its EIA Directive. Accordingly, the level of public participation in the EIA processes of each country is equally varied.
Public participation in EIA is critical to ensuring sustainable and just development—especially in resource rich countries in transition where development pressure is constantly felt from extractive industries and governments desiring to entice increased investment. With this in mind, The Access Initiative has begun a comparative analysis of the world’s EIA laws and a qualitative assessment of the citizen engagement provisions within those laws. Our hope is that this research will eventually serve as a resource for citizens, civil society, and governments in promoting greater public participation in the EIA process and ensuring implementation of best practices.
Our research has already revealed:
• A total of 195 countries and island territories have formal EIA laws or official guidance in place; this is an encouraging statistic as it shows that the practice is wide spread and is officially recognized by the majority of nations.
• The majority of laws and official guidance are available online
• As might be expected, most countries where EIA has been common practice for decades tend to have stronger regulations surrounding EIAs and improved provisions for public participation in the EIA process
• The EIA Directive of the European Commission has served as a legislative template for many countries both in and outside of Europe.
• Unfortunately, many of the countries and regions most vulnerable to rapid and uncontrolled development still lack strong EIA legislation providing for citizen engagement spaces within the EIA process.
We shall be launching our EIA map, analysis for those countries we’ve completed assessing, and some initial evaluations this year and hope to begin an online dialogue with citizens, public interest advocates and other interested persons for the need to improve public participation provisions in EIA laws all over the world.
Kristopher Cahoon and Carole Excell