Introduction to environmental assessment: purpose and procedures
Since the enactment of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in the USA in 1970, around 200 systems for environmental assessment (EA) have been introduced in countries, states and international organisations around the world. EA may be described as an environmental management tool whose objective is to identify, predict and evaluate the potential biological, physical, social and health effects of a proposed development action and to communicate the findings in a way which encourages environmental concerns to be adequately addressed by stakeholders, including decisionmakers and communities prior to development decisions being made. It plays a crucial role in environmental protection and meeting the challenges of sustainable development, a view which was recognised within the provisions of the declaration of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), or the Earth Summit meeting, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 1992 and the recommendations made in the resulting global programme of action (Agenda 21). Principle 17 of the UNCED Declaration states that 'Environmental impact assessment, as a national instrument, shall be undertaken for proposed activities that are likely to have significant adverse impacts on the environment and are subject to a decision of a competent national authority'.