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Best Practice Engagement of Stakeholders in Environmental Impact Assessment
Angus Morrison-Saunders
1. Introduction
The purpose of this paper is to identify two key aspects of best practice engagement of stakeholders in environmental impact assessment (EIA) based on a review of contemporary international literature.
2. Understanding stakeholder engagement in EIA applications
Engaging stakeholders in EIA relates to the broad best practice principle of “participative” promoted by the International Association for Impact Assessment (IAIA & IEA 1999, p3). Being participative means that an EIA process should provide opportunity for stakeholders to be informed and involved with their concerns being explicitly addressed in
documentation and (approval) decision-making (e.g. Andre et al. 2006; Fundingsland Tetlow & Hanusch 2012; IAIA & IEA 1999). The broader principle of providing natural justice in decision-making; i.e. that people affected by a decision have a legal right to have input to the making of that decision (e.g. Bates 1997; Aarhus Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters 1998) is central to stakeholder engagement in EIA (Morrison-Saunders 2018). However, it translates into only “minimum levels of public participation” (Morrison-Saunders 2019, p9). Full environmental justice extends beyond input and inclusion to remedying the environmental and social impacts identified (Dilay et al 2019) and ensuring that projects overall are in the public interest (Joseph et al 2020). There is a further psychosocial effect on communities arising from their involvement in EIA processes (Baldwin and Rawstorn 2018).
A distinction can be made between stakeholders affected by a proposal (IAIA and IEM, 1999; Morrison-Saunders, 2018) and those simply having an interest in it. The implication is that greater participation opportunity should be extended to directly affected parties, relative to others having only a broad interest. This this is consistent with the position of UNEP (2018, p63) and Morrison-Saunders (2019) who wrote that ‘in some jurisdictions face-to-face meetings are only available to those directly affected by a proposal undergoing EIA’ (p10).
The extent to which the ‘participative’ principle outlined by IAIA & IEM (1999) is 'best practice' is debatable in light of the spectrum of public participation possibilities (e.g. Arnstein 1969; IAP2 2014; Sheedy 2008) which extends from informing to consulting, and involving through to empowering community participants. Hartz-Karp et al (2015, p398) argue that a transition to sustainability necessitates moving towards 'deliberative collaborative governance' in which assessment processes pursue a ‘coherent public voice' implemented by means of 'consensus-oriented decision-making' (i.e. affected persons actually help make the decision). This means that best practice stakeholder engagement would extend beyond simple participation.
Stakeholder engagement in EIA varies according to the local political and cultural values, traditions and institutions in place (Petts 1999; Noble 2015). Examples here include the tension between Western and non-Western views (Morgan 1998, p152 & 155), that increasing levels of maturity in democracy may lead to higher levels of public engagement (O’Riordan and Sewell 1981), and suggestions that public participation in EIA practice in China is limited because procedures are poorly defined, ignored or missing (Bina et al 2011). Thus, ‘local socio-political context must be taken into consideration when deciding on what might constitute best practice’ (Morrison-Saunders 2019, p11).
3. Conclusion
Drawing these points together, best practice engagement of stakeholders in EIA should:
• inform and address the concerns of all interested parties during EIA; and
• explicitly engage with affected parties and incorporate their values and viewpoints into EIA decision-making through consensus-based approaches where appropriate.
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