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Centre for Development, Environment and Policy (CeDEP)

Environmental Assessment

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This module is intended to provide a broad understanding of environmental impact assessment (EIA) and strategic environmental assessment (SEA), from project level to the most strategic decision-making. While the procedural coverage is focused on the European Union and UK context, comparative analysis of other contexts is broadened to cover developing country examples and other international perspectives.

The module begins, in Part I, by examining the means of anticipating the environmental impacts of a proposed action. Before the module goes into any detail, Unit 1 provides essential background information on EIA including definitions, the background and history of EIA, theoretical perspectives, and an overview of the different stages of the actual EIA process. Unit 2 takes a similar approach for SEA, with a particular focus on the energy sector as a case study. Unit 3 addresses environmental assessment law, including the important links between EIA and SEA law in the European Union, and international perspectives.

Part II focuses on procedures and methods for EIA and SEA. Units 4, 5, and 6, examine key aspects of:

  • procedures and methods for EIA and SEA and
  • public involvement in EIA and SEA.

Part III of the module then indicates how impacts on specific environmental parameters may be assessed at the project and strategic levels and the importance of scale in environmental assessment. Units 7, 8, and 9, respectively, look at the assessment of impacts upon the physical environment, for example, water, air, and land, and ecology and humans.

Finally, Part IV addresses three aspects of environmental assessment that are particularly important: the consideration of cumulative impacts, alternatives, and quality assurance.

Throughout the module a number of case studies are used to illustrate various aspects of the environmental assessment process in different contexts. These are developed as the module proceeds through the units, but can also be reviewed, for example, for revision, as stand-alone case studies.

Priority topics are environmental impact assessment (EIA), strategic environmental assessment (SEA), procedures and methods for conducting EIA and SEA and the assessment of environmental effects.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

By the end of this module, students should be able to:

  • define environmental impact assessment (EIA) and strategic environmental assessment (SEA), and describe and critically appraise the main stages of their respective processes
  • describe and critically appraise how environmental assessment (EA) is implemented in a range of countries
  • understand and interpret the relationships between EIA and SEA
  • apply a range of methods to various stages of the assessment process and interpret the outcomes
  • understand how impacts on specific environmental parameters may be assessed and the strengths and limitations of these methods
  • critique and apply environmental assessment skills in practical applications
  • critically assess EIA and SEA as practical planning decision support tools.

Scope and syllabus

Part I

This part comprises three units. Units 1 and 2 each provide an introduction to EIA and SEA, respectively – their background and history, theoretical perspectives, and illustrative examples. Unit 3 examines the issues of law in relation to environmental assessment, covering key legislation of the European Union and relevant international conventions. Challenges for EIA and SEA implementation are considered, along with examples of case law to illustrate the problems that can arise when things go wrong.

Part II

This part gets into the detail of how EIA and SEA are undertaken, the procedures that need to be followed, and the appropriate methods and techniques employed at project and strategic levels (Units 4 and 5). The importance of public participation and engagement in environmental assessment processes is addressed in Unit 6 and also how to go about developing a public engagement programme as part of EIA or SEA.

Part III

This part focuses on the impacts that projects, plans, programmes, and actions can have on different aspects of the environment: on the physical environment (Unit 7); on ecology and landscape (Unit 8); and on human beings, including social and health impacts.

Part IV

The concluding unit (Unit 10) explores some common issues across EIA and SEA that present challenges in practical implementation and may give rise to legal (court) action because they are at the heart of what environmental assessment is about: cumulative impacts, consideration of alternatives, and quality assurance (in other words, what makes for a good EIA or SEA process).

Unit 1 Introduction to Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)
Unit 2 Introduction to Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA)
Unit 3 Environmental Assessment Law
Unit 4 EIA Procedures and Methods
Unit 5 SEA Procedures and Methods
Unit 6 Public Participation in Environmental Assessment
Unit 7 Impacts upon the Physical Environment: Water, Air, and Land
Unit 8 Assessment of Ecological and Landscape Impacts
Unit 9 Assessment of Impacts on People
Unit 10 Challenges for Environmental Assessment: (i) Cumulative Effects (ii) Consideration of Alternatives (iii) Quality Assurance

Module sample

P507 module uses a core text which is specially written and will take you through your self-directed study. Exercises, assignments and other activities, such as self-assessment questions, film clips and animations are included to help you with learning. Most module study guides are now provided in electronic format on a USB flash memory stick, but can also be downloaded from the online learning environment. Click the linked image below to view a sample of our e-study guide:

Suggested reading

  • Glasson, J., Therivel, R. & Chadwick, A. (2012) Introduction to Environmental Impact Assessment. 4th edition. London and New York, Routledge.
  • Sheate, W.R. (Ed.) (2010) Tools, Techniques & Approaches for Sustainability: Collected Writings in Environmental Assessment Policy and Management. Singapore, World Scientific.