10. The SEA Directive and SEA Protocol

This section discusses two landmark SEA systems - 'landmark' because they have been agreed and implemented by many countries, and are setting a broad international model for SEA systems:

  • The European 'SEA Directive' in July 2001, which affects all 25 European Member States, and
  • The UNECE 'SEA Protocol' which was adopted by 35 countries in May 2003, and a few more since then.


In July 2001, after about 25 years of discussion, the European Commission agreed the European 'SEA Directive': Directive 2001/42/EC 'on the assessment of the effects of certain plans and programmes'.  The Directive was meant to be operational in all 25 European Member States since July 2004.  In practice, it was fully operational on time in less than half of the countries, but this is improving over time.

The SEA Directive requires SEA for those plans and programmes that meet a complicated set of screening requirements, shown in the figure below (do you remember what 'screening' means? see the bottom of this page for the answer).

For those plans that require SEA under the SEA Directive, the table below shows the SEA process required.  Note that consultation occurs twice in the process: the first time at the 'scoping' stage with environmental bodies only, and the second time after a draft plan has been prepared, with the public and environmental bodies. 

If you are familiar with the European EIA system, you will see that the SEA Directive borrows heavily from the EIA Directive.

SEA requirements for plans and programmes that require SEA
Directive 2001/42/EC Of the European Parliament and of the Council of 27 June 2001
Competent authorities must:
Prepare an environmental report in which the likely significant effects on the environment of implementing the plan, and reasonable alternatives taking into account the objectives and geographical scope of the plan, are identified, described and evaluated. The information to be given is (Article 5 and Annex I):

a) An outline of the contents, main objectives of the plan, and relationship with other relevant plans and programmes;
b) The relevant aspects of the current state of the environment and the likely evolution thereof without implementation of the plan;
c) The environmental characteristics of areas likely to be significantly affected;
d) Any existing environmental problems which are relevant to the plan including, in particular, those relating to any areas of a particular environmental importance, such as areas designated pursuant to Directives 79/409/ and 92/43/EEC;
e) The environmental protection objectives, established at international, Community or national level, which are relevant to the plan and the way those objectives and any environmental considerations have been taken into account during its preparation;
f) The likely significant effects on the environment, including on issues such as biodiversity, population, human health, fauna, flora, soil, water, air, climatic factors, material assets, cultural heritage including architectural and archaeological heritage, landscape and the interrelationship between the above factors. (These effects should include secondary, cumulative, synergistic, short, medium and long-term permanent and temporary, positive and negative effects);
g) The measures envisaged to prevent, reduce and as fully as possible offset any significant adverse effects on the environment of implementing the plan;
h) An outline of the reasons for selecting the alternatives dealt with, and a description of how the assessment was undertaken including any difficulties (such as technical deficiencies or lack of know-how) encountered in compiling the required information;
i) a description of measures envisaged concerning monitoring in accordance with Article 10; and
j) a non-technical summary of the information provided under the above headings.

The report must include the information that may reasonably be required taking into account current knowledge and methods of assessment, the contents and level of detail in the plan, its stage in the decision-making process and the extent to which certain matters are more appropriately assessed at different levels in that process to avoid duplication of the assessment (Article 5.2)
* authorities with environmental responsibilities, when deciding on the scope and level of detail of the information which must be included in the environmental report (Article 5.4);
* authorities with environmental responsibilities and the public, to give them an early and effective opportunity within appropriate time frames to express their opinion on the draft plan and the accompanying environmental report before the adoption of the plan (Article 6.1, 6.2); and
* other EU Member States, where the implementation of the plan is likely to have significant effects on the environment in these countries (Article 7).
Taking the environmental report and the results of the consultations into account in decision-making (Article 8 )
Providing information on the decision:
When the plan is adopted, the public and any countries consulted under Article 7 must be informed and the following made available to those so informed:
* the plan as adopted;
* a statement summarising how environmental considerations have been integrated into the plan and how the environmental report of Article 5, the opinions expressed pursuant to Article 6 and the results of consultations entered into pursuant to Article 7 have been taken into account in accordance with Article 8, and the reasons for choosing the plan as adopted, in the light of the other reasonable alternatives dealt with; and
* the measures decided concerning monitoring (Article 9).
Monitoring the significant environmental effects of the plan's implementation (Article 10).

The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe's SEA Protocol was formally adopted and signed by 35 countries in Kiev on 23 May 2003.  The protocol's requirements are broadly similar to, and compatible with, those of the SEA Directive. Broadly the same types of plans and programmes require SEA; the environmental report required by the Protocol comprises similar information to that required by the Directive; and it has similar consultation requirements.  The main differences are:

  • the Protocol focuses more on health impacts;
  • it is more explicitly a document for public participation, and has more stringent public participation requirements;
  • although it also only applies to plans and programmes, it also mentions policies and legislation; and
  • it has more complex requirements about ratification, implementation etc.


If you are involved in implementing either the SEA Directive or the SEA Protocol, we suggest that you follow a guided audio presentation from Riki Therivel on the SEA Directive.  This explains the structure, contents and more detailed requirements of the Directive.  This can also be helpful to others who are interested in how to interpret SEA legislation.  Warning: the whole process takes an hour.

OPEN the SEA Directive in pdf format (and print it out or view it on your computer).

Download the mp3 audio file and listen to it on a media player or MP3 player.



(answer to question above: screening = deciding whether SEA is needed or not )

August 15, 2006 Uncategorized — riki @ 8:22 pm

1 Comment »

  1. The audio material helped me. Thank you.

    Comment by Daniela — January 16, 2010 @ 6:51 pm

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