8. Limitations of SEA

SEA is a relatively new tool for integrating sustainability into decision making, and has a number of technical and procedural limitations.

Technical and Procedural Limitations of SEA
Type Limitation Outcome
Technical SEAs generally cover a large area - sometimes several countries - and a large number of alternatives This makes collecting and analysing data for SEAs very complex

SEAs are subject to greater levels of uncertainty than project EIA Uncertainty, in terms of future environmental, economic and social conditions, likely development as a result of the PPP, and likely future technologies

SEAs often have to cope with limited information Environmental data collected in different countries are often incompatible or limited

SEAs have to deal with information at a different level from project EIAs A national-level SEA needs to focus on national -level concerns, and thus may have to disregard impacts that are important at a local level but that do not influence a national-level decision
A strategic action may have no formal authorisation stage Instead it evolves in fits and starts through to implementation. There may be issues of confidentiality. Decision-makers may also be concerned that SEA should not take over the process of decision-making. SEA is also inherently a political process.

The concept of SEA, particularly sustainability-led SEA, is not yet politically accepted Many countries' traditional approaches to policy-making, the worldwide emphasis on economic well-being (e.g. GNP) rather than total quality of life, and the sheer effort involved in determining sustainability criteria/targets all frustrate this concept.

On the technical side the relative lack of case studies and experience of SEA exacerbates these limitations. On the procedural side decision-makers, competent authorities and stakeholders must be aware that SEA is inherently a political process, and should ensure that SEA informs decisions but does not make them.

Every SEA system and methodology needs to be able to cope with these issues. SEA must be able to deal with a more nebulous decision-making process, with uncertainty, with larger scales and with induced, secondary and cumulative impacts. The techniques used in SEA are often a combination of those used in traditional policy analysis and those used in EIA.

SEA and the decision makers or "Homo Politicus"

SEA can also be perceived as a cynical political exercise, carried out by politicians in order to delude their constituents into incorrectly thinking that they care about the environment.  The following is an extract from Kleinschmidt and Wagner(1998):

"Politicians, independently of their national origin, are almost everywhere identical and the same kind of human species which ecologically or in a systematic taxonomy can be called as "homo politicus". Let's attempt to draw a quick profile for these special creatures in order to trace their ways of thinking and acting. Such an analysis is important in order to understand with whom we have to deal for EIA and SEA.
A politician or 'homo politicus' is a person who comes out from a human group because he or she can become as leader. Leadership is a magnetizing word for this type of person. He pretends that he understands the problems of the society and he has the solution at his hands for each one of them. When he is among other politicians he has a flock behavior. He is obedient, follows instructions, has a limited opinion -- not exceeding his leader's views -- and works to fulfil the assigned flock tasks successfully. When he is out, in society's open field, he runs up and down hearing, smelling and searching the environment to secure the food for his fellow politican flock. Society and its members are grazing peacefully in the green fields of life always looking towards the leader's shepherd who promises to drive them in better fields with more food.
The leader, the politician, believes that he has a global understanding of the society's needs and that the solution of any problem can come through his thoughts... He never works in depth with the problem. He hears the problem and through his special mental process develops solutions. The results of such solutions cover only a small portion of the real society's problems while the rest are focusing upon his personal ambitions ... reelection ..., his party's requirements and to the transfrontier political obligations...
Environment is a modern issue which sells. Politicans smelled the society's anxiety on the environmental issues very early and moved fast and swiftly to cover the gap. They make it first page when they realize the flock's sensitivity for it. They never admitted that their prior decisions were these which have driven our planet to the edge of the crag. They cry over the open tomb of the environment and promise that they are in a position to resurrect it.
SEA appears to be a new procedure scheduled to prevent environmental damages from decisions on programmes, plans and policies made by decision makers, in other words, the politicians. This is another fake tool at their hands in order to violate all the environmental objections, by pretending that they are interested in the environment, but at the end are interested in their own goods... The new SEA procedure will generate the same political "noise" towards environmental consideration... while at the end it will become another "green" wrap up paper for their environmental violation.
'Homo politicus' will never change... their decisions... will be the same as in the past with the only exception that now will say that they have included into them the society's flock demands for more 'green fields'... So let's face SEA as another scientific and social challenge but let's keep our hopes limited that the environment will become better off..."

June 12, 2006 Uncategorized — brendan @ 4:20 pm

1 Comment »

  1. Whatever limitations SEA may have, any improvement/ value addition to the available Environmental Assessment tools certainly will have a positive impact on the available however minimal.

    Comment by Waiswa-Ayazika — August 7, 2007 @ 7:59 am

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