6. Need for SEA: promotion of sustainable development

The second main reason for SEA is that it can enhance the integration of environmental concerns in policy and planning processes, thereby helping to implement sustainable development.  It can help to ensure that environmental and sustainability criteria are fully considered throughout the planning process, for instance in the identification of suitable (or unsuitable) locations for development, and in the assessment of alternative strategic actions.

SEA as currently practised reflects the Brundtland Commission's approach to sustainable development, which suggests that environmental protection and economic development can only progress hand in hand.  Under this model, SEA is used to fine-tune strategic actions and mitigate their most negative environmental consequences.  Cynically viewed, it allows decision-makers to enter the heaven of environmental righteousness after having survived the purgatory of writing an SEA report. On the scale from light to dark green (where dark green would allow development only within ecological constraints), SEA as currently practised is near the light-green end, although it has the potential to be dark green.

As part of the development of a strategic action, SEA can:

  • interpret and implement sustainability principles from policy to lower decision-making levels;
  • help to ensure that environmental and sustainability considerations are incorporated into the objectives of a strategic action;
  • identify environmental and sustainability targets by which the effects of a strategic action can be tested; and
  • appraise whether the impacts of a strategic action are likely to be in accordance with sustainability objectives.

The illustration below demonstrates how SEA can complement EIA and lead to the development of more sustainable strategic action.

Sustainability-led approach for SEA?

Ultimately, as a result of the influence of sustainability in strategic decision-making, a wider framework of "sustainability-led" SEAs could include:

  • commitment to the principle of sustainability;
  • determination of carrying capacity;
  • SEA of all relevant tiers of PPPs and their alternatives;
  • EIA of specific projects within the constraints set by SEA; and
  • monitoring and iterative feedback to stages 2-4.

SEA is in many ways a prototype of the new approach to environmental issues. It requires institutions to consider the consequences of a range of actions early on in the planning process, to choose the most appropriate action on environmental as well as socio-economic grounds, and to minimise any remaining environmental impacts. It is thus characterised by its strategic nature and its emphasis on preventing environmental damage.  SEA requires institutional cooperation to collect data and to make consistent predictions.  By requiring planning decisions to be made in a more rational and open way, SEA is likely to promote both equity and public participation.

June 12, 2006 Uncategorized — brendan @ 4:18 pm


  1. The sustainability principles set out in SEA makes it a very good tool of environmental assessment. By requiring institutions to cooperate in data collection it promotes equity and public participation.

    Comment by Waiswa-Ayazika — August 7, 2007 @ 7:17 am

  2. Hi I am currently a student at plymouth university and approaching my exams and I was wondering if you can possibly provide me with some information regarding efficacy of environmental assessment techniques (SEA) in terms of achieving sustainable development in the UK. If you can provide me with any litriture on this I would greatly appreciate your help. Best grards Dan

    Comment by Dan — April 10, 2009 @ 10:16 pm

  3. I need a quick response to the following objectives set out for a certain SEA, whether its realistic/consistent or over ambitious? Specifically the SEA shall: • Review existing policy, plans and programs • Review legal and institutional framework • Develop and analyze scenarios for existing and future petroleum related activities in the study area in order to describe the activities and evaluate risks and opportunities of impacts and to identify mitigation measures and monitoring plans • Propose options of how to deal with ecosystem vulnerability and conservation of biodiversity and the most valuable and sensitive areas • Analyze the fragmentation of habitats and propose minimization mechanisms • Propose mechanisms for biodiversity offsetting • Assess impacts related to settlements within the area of influence and build trust among the impacted communities • Analyze the socio-economic issues related to the petroleum developments including impacts on cultural heritage • Participate in discussions regarding best exploration/construction/production technologies from an environmental and social point of view • Give options to ensure a sustainable co-existence with other sectors such as tourism, agriculture and fisheries • Assess potential pollution and production of waste, and suggest mitigation measures • Identify possible oil spill scenarios and link to ongoing work regarding a framework for oil spill contingency plans • Consider issues related to climate change • Propose ways of improving (institutional) capacity of different stakeholders to enforce laws using the ongoing needs assessment study and deal with negative consequences of the petroleum development • Discuss options for compensation frameworks • Assess transboundary impacts and suggest how to deal with these • Identify cumulative impacts of the oil and gas developments related to national/regional socio-economic and political developments • Advice on how to pace the further exploration and development stages (based on a stepwise approach of activities starting from the least vulnerable areas and gradually entering the more vulnerable areas with the experience acquired)

    Comment by Odota Deo — May 13, 2012 @ 7:22 pm

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