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Importance Of Environmental Impact Assessments

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Environmental Sciences
Wordcount: 3819 words Published: 20th Apr 2017

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The environment that we live in is the foundation on which all life is based on. We need to preserve and protect the natural environment and by implementing environmental impact assessments we can sustain the environment for future development and not ruin it.

Environmental impact assessments (EIAs) are becoming increasingly important all over the world, and the need to perform environmental impact assessments have been made compulsory in a lot of countries. In South Africa the environmental laws are very strict to protect the environment of the country that we live in.

EIAs are performed on the sites where new developments are scheduled to be undertaken or where there is a planned extension of previously developed projects, to assess the impact that the developments will have on the environment. One person cannot perform an environmental impact assessment alone, but rather a team of environmental assessment practitioners (EAPs).

The environment

The word “environment” has a very broad spectrum of areas that it could consist of, but it is most commonly used to describe the naturally occurring environment. “It is the world we live in, work in, play in, and includes all living (and non-living) things that we encounter on earth.” (Aucamp, 2009, p.1).

The environment has the ability to vary as time goes by. Therefore the species or organisms that live in an environment need to be able to adapt to these changes in their living environments in order to survive. The environment provides resources for different types of projects. These resources are all part of the environment and prove to be a very crucial part of our lives.

The environment is the foundation of future life and needs to be protected and preserved.

Environmental Impact Assessment

An environmental impact assessment (EIA) is defined by Canter (1999) as the classification and estimation of the impacts that a planned project could potentially have on various workings of the environment. These impacts can occur directly, as well as indirectly and include both environmental and social implications.

Environmental impact assessment of proposed development should prove that a project does not have a major negative effect on the environment. If a project does have a significant impact on the environment, the environmental impact assessment should show that these impacts can be mitigated to such an extent such that it doesn’t have a great effect on the environment.

An environmental impact assessment is not just a document, but rather a process that is followed. This process can be described as very flexible, since there are many different methods and techniques of performing an EIA. EIAs should only be performed once a well proposed project has been planned.

Main activities that take place during an EIA

During an environmental impact assessment a lot of crucial steps need to be followed and it is very important that all of these steps are completed thoroughly to ensure that the EIA has been performed correctly.

These are the four main activities involved in an EIA:

  • Scoping
  • Stakeholder involvement
  • Environmental assessments
  • Related legal aspects

These activities will be explained individually throughout the remainder of this report.


Screening is the process that needs to be undertaken to establish whether or not an environmental impact assessment has to be done. This process (screening) is done by compiling all the necessary given information or, if there is not enough information, a brief assessment or site visit needs to be done. The level at which an EIA must be performed can also be determined by implementing screening.

The steps that can be followed

After screening has been completed, decisions on how to continue with the development can be made. The steps that can be followed to perform screening are as follows:

Initial meeting with the promoter of the proposed development

The environmental assessment practitioner that has been placed in charge of the specific project needs to meet with the person who is promoting the new development or the extension of an old development. They have to discuss all the aspects of the proposed project. These aspects are things like the reason of the project, the size, cost, main stakeholders, opposition and whether some parts of the project are negotiable or not. The environmental assessment practitioner needs to know who all the people are that are in charge of the different categories of the project in order to assess exactly what all the impacts of the project will be.

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Visit the proposed or existing location of the site

During a visit to the intended site, a lot of necessary information can be gathered that is needed for the screening of the project. The exact co-ordinates of the site can be obtained as well as pictures. This makes the project more realistic to assess and easier to visualize once you are no longer on site. While on site, observation can be made and in situ tests can be conducted. The surrounding areas can also be assessed and therefore the whole screening process becomes more intense, which allows for more accurate results concerning the level of the environmental impact assessment that possibly has to be performed.

A study of all applicable legislation

All the legal requirements that involve an EIA have to be examined. Regulations and rules regarding EIAs according to the National Environmental Management Act (NEMA) need to be adhered to at all times. These regulations could also determine whether a basic or full scale environmental impact assessment is required. Knowledgeable experts should be advised when working with all the legal aspects of a project during screening.


After the screening process has been completed, or even at the same time as the screening process, scoping can commence. During scoping the most important issues are attended to. These are the issues that have been raised during the screening of the proposed development that has caused the greatest concerns among the environmental assessment practitioners, the people in charge of the project and the general public. Therefore this process mainly highlights which impacts will have the greatest effect and provides a trend for the final assessment. Scoping is necessary for projects of all sizes.

Scoping should be performed throughout the project. Once the site for the proposed development has been finalised the angle of the scoping will differ. Then there will be less issues and more attention can be placed on detailed aspects of the assessment.

According to Hamilton (2000) additional time is needed to assess unknown impacts that the project may have on the environment and the social community. This is caused by ineffective scoping.


During the scoping process a number of activities take place. These activities include:

  • Identifying the key stakeholders and introducing them to the project and the stakeholders’ list.
  • Highlighting the most significant issues, values and concerns that need attention during an EIA.
  • Using findings accurately in debating situations as well as in crucial decision making, involving alternatives that could be introduced to a project.
  • The process of identifying all the policies, regulations and detailed aspects of the assessment.

These activities should provide a comprehensive scope and could point to means of mitigation or alternatives (Aucamp, 1999; Bekker, 2006).

Stakeholder involvement

In order to comprehend the stakeholder involvement it is first necessary to understand who a stakeholder is. Howlett and Nagu (1997) define stakeholders as “all those people and institutions who have an interest in the successful design, implementation and sustainability of the project. This includes those positively and negatively affected by the project. Stakeholder participation involves processes whereby all those with a stake in the outcome of a project can actively participate in decisions on planning and management. They share information and knowledge, and may contribute to the project, so as to enhance the success of the project and hence ultimately their own interests”.

Stakeholder involvement is the process where the affected parties of a proposed development or activity participate in the project and includes the full range of communication between the stakeholders and the decision makers of the proposed development. The stakeholders of a project should therefore be part of decisions that are made during a project and they should always be briefed as to the status of the project. Stakeholders should have a right to their opinion and always be brought into consideration during and after a project has been completed.

Reasons why stakeholder involvement is important according to Hughes (1998)

Stakeholders help identify and address issues that are relevant during an EIA.

The involvement of stakeholders helps to connect traditional knowledge of the environment to the project.

During an EIA the stakeholder involvement improves the communication between the promoters of the development and the stakeholders.

The involvement of all the different stakeholders allows the promoters to identify each stakeholder’s requirements concerning the project.

Stakeholders could identify problems and come up with promising opportunities for the mitigation of problems.

Stakeholders make sure that the EIA is performed thoroughly and assure that no aspects have been neglected.

When satisfactory attention is spent on stakeholder involvement during an EIA, the class prediction of the environmental assessment improves. Stakeholder involvement allows for more information to be gathered when an assessment is being done. Some local stakeholders have cumulative knowledge about their environments and more availability to information concerning the area of the development.

Environmental assessments

An environmental assessment (EA) is the process of determining the consequences or effects of change (positive or negative) that a proposed development or activity might have on the environment. The environmental assessment therefore studies the effects that these changes will have on both the physical as well as the social environment. Some changes won’t have any effect on the environment. Jain (2004) concluded that some projects that undergo an environmental assessment won’t experience any changes caused by the actions, but the present status of the project might have been unacceptable from the start.

Methods used to perform environmental assessments according to (Aucamp, 2009)

Comparisons with EIA projects in similar projects


Environmental cost-benefit studies

Expert opinions and systems

Indicators of environmental media or resources

Laboratory testing

Landscape evaluation

Interaction matrices

Impact tree networks


These are just a few examples and there are many more methods used to perform environmental assessments.

Most important environmental legislation controlling the undertaking of an EIA in South Africa

In South Africa there are environmental laws that need to be followed when one plans on performing an EIA. This body of rules and guidelines forms part of the structure of the South African environmental legislation.

Multinational environmental agreement (MEA)

This is part of an international law and includes the following:

Treaties – Attending to endangered species.

Protocols – These include the Kyoto protocol that controls carbon emissions.

Conventions – This includes the likes of the Montreal convention.

The Constitution

The constitution addresses the rights of all South African citizens. The South African Constitution environmental right – section 24 (Republic of South Africa, 1996a) says that:

Everyone has the right –

(a) to an environment that is not harmful to their health or wellbeing; and

(b) to have the environment protected, for the benefit of present and future generations, through reasonable legislative and other measures that –

(i) prevent pollution and ecological degradation;

(ii) promote conservation; and

(iii) secure ecologically sustainable development and use of natural resources while promoting justifiable economic and social development.

Statuary law

Written statuary laws are signed by ministers and presidents. The following are general statuary laws:

Environmental Conservation Act (ECA) No. 73, 1989.

National Environmental Management Act (NEMA) NO. 107, 1998 – Chapter 5 amended 2008.

Specific law

The following are specific laws that are pert of the South African environmental legislation:

Air: VEMA Air quality Act No. 39, 2004.

Water: National Water Act No. 36, 1998.

Soil: Conservation of agricultural resources Act No. 43, 1983.

Biodiversity: NEMA Protected areas Act 2003

NEMA Environmental Biodiversity Act No. 25. 1999.

Heritage: National Heritage Resources Act No. 25, 1999.

Civil law

The civil law is one that is unwritten. It is based on precedent and it is between individuals or between individuals and companies or governmental organizations.

All of the above mentioned laws form part of the structure of the most important environmental legislation controlling the undertaking of EIAs in South Africa.

When an environmental impact assessment should be undertaken in South Africa

Every country has their own environmental legislations and follows different procedures when they plan on performing environmental impact assessments. South Africa has one of the best environmental legislations in the world, which covers every aspect of the environment in order to protect and preserve it for sustainable development. South Africa is very prosperous in terms of natural environment, since the country has a great deal of wildlife and resources.

Knowing when to perform an environmental impact assessment is crucial and no short cuts should be taken when determining this.

Knowing when to perform an EIA

A certain criteria of requirements need to be met in order to ensure whether or not an environmental impact assessment should be performed or not. In South Arica there are rules and regulation controlling this decision. These requirements are all covered in the National Environmental Management Act (NEMA), the three listing activities and the EIA regulations. New projects that have started after the 2nd of August 2010 need to adhere to the new regulations. These regulations are discussed in the following subsection.

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New regulations

When determining whether an EIA should be performed the new regulations that have been promulgated in June 2006 should be taken into consideration. After the EIA legislation was introduced to South Africa it was reviewed in 2006. This review brought a number of amendments to the National Environmental Management Act (NEMA) which improved certain acts that wasn’t up to standards.

On the 2nd of August 2010 these regulations were changed slightly. The following regulations have come into effect:

Projects that run through this transitional period and cross over into the new regulations only need to adhere to all the old environmental impact assessment regulations, which were still in effect when the project started.

Differences between basic and full scale environmental impact assessments in South Africa

Full scale EIA

Acknowledge receipt

Check application

Submit application



Submit scoping report


Notification of decision



Basic EIA

Submit application

Basic assessment report

Public participation

Await authorisation

Acknowledge receipt

Check application


Notification of decision

Images of environmental impacts in South Africa

Moses Mahbida Stadium in Durban


This photo shows the construction of the soccer stadium. This huge structure covers 89600 m2 and is 45 m in height. A 350 m long arch that stretches across the stadium’s length reaches a height of 100 m.

Type of project

This was a construction project for the development of Durban’s Fifa World Cup 2010 venue that replaced the old King’s Park Soccer Stadium.


This stadium’s biggest negative impact was its visual impact on Durban, since it is such a massive structure and it was an upgrade of an existing stadium.

Mitigation of impacts

The design of this stadium was done to world class standards. The stadium was designed to be a great engineering accomplishment and by doing this the big structure no longer had a negative impact on the social environment. Everyone was looking forward to the completion of the great stadium and they were proud to include this stadium to the image of Durban.

Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC)


This is a photo of the Cape Town International Conference Centre that is stated to be the greenest building in South Africa. This project is attempting to set international standards in sustainable building design and management.

Type of project

A 30000 m2 extension project of the Cape Town International Conference Centre was performed to improve the facility.


This building didn’t have any significant negative impacts on the environment, but it didn’t have any positive impacts either.

Mitigation of impacts

The mitigation process for this project was turning a project with no impact on the environment into a project with an overall positive impact on the environment. According to Harcourt (2008) they accomplished this by designing the building to use 40 percent less energy per m2, 25 percent less waste to landfill and 95 percent potable water.

The port of Ngqura


This is a development of a deep water port at the Coega River Mouth. It is situated about 20 km from Port Elizabeth and will be the deepest container terminal in Africa.

Type of project

This is a brand new project that has been built from scratch. It will have a fixed embedded jet pump sand bypass system. It will include major earthworks as well as road networks.


The natural environment around this area has been severely changed and damaged. This was a very simple piece of land and there were no endangered species. It will surely also positively impact the economical environment of a previously undeveloped and poor region.

Mitigation of impacts

The areas all around the Port will be developed once Ngqura is promoted to South Africa’s hub port. These damaged areas will then be created into an industrial area and create thousands of jobs and economically strengthen the region

Gautrain Project


The Gautrain will be a Rapid Rail Link system that can improve transportation in the Gauteng area. It is a world class railway system and will produce high speed trains for speedy transportation that stretches from Johannesburg to Pretoria.

Type of project

This will be South Africa’s most technological transportation project to date. This Rapid Rail Link system has been under construction for several years and is currently up and running. This project has a lot of potential of expanding in the future.


Due to the size of this project there are a lot of impacts. There are both bio-physical and socio-economical impacts. The bio-physical impacts are the following:

Fauna and flora along the path of the construction.

Ground and wetlands that are destroyed.

Soils along the route and the geology of the earth.

Air quality around the construction sites.

The socio-economical impacts are as follows:

Noise and vibration that will be caused during the construction and once the trains are running every day.

Land use and the property values.




Mitigation of impacts

The developers of the Gautrain project have held several meetings with the public and their stakeholders in order to mitigate all of the problems that have arisen from this project. All endangered plant species have been saved and protected. Wetlands have been rehabilitated to previous conditions as well as damaged ground and soils. The noise levels have been lessened considerably since the project has been running and there have been no major complaints. All heritage sites have been protected during the construction. Overall this project has shown a very large potential for economic growth.


The most significant impacts involved with this project are the transmission integration factors, seismic suitability of the sites, impacts on dune geomorphology, impacts on wetlands, impacts on vertebrate fauna, impacts on invertebrate fauna and economic impacts.

Mitigation of impacts


This report has shown the importance of environmental impact assessments. It is definitely a fundamental step in the life of a project. Performing an EIA is critical for a successful project and that projects are done without performing EIA’s are destined for failure and devastation to all the people involved in the project.

The South African law proves to be very up to date when it comes to environmental legislation and is of world class standards. These laws protect all environments and help enforce developers to build according to the regulations.

EIA’s very detailed processes and all developers should gain insight as to what the procedures are when performing EIA’s and when EIA’s should be performed to basic or full scales.

EIA’s are there to protect the environment and ensure sustainable development. They ensure that we leave something behind for future generations.


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