Here we present definitions of some of the main terms commonly used in the field of strategic environmental assessment.

Competent authority: The organisation (normally a government body) that makes the decision about whether a strategic action can go ahead or not: the decision-making body.

Cumulative impacts: impacts caused by several projects, strategic actions, and existing trends. 

Environmental appraisal: A form of SEA which is relatively quick, subjective and non-quantitative. 

Environmental impact assessment: The process of examining the environmental consequences of development projects in advance of decision-making. Consists roughly of (not necessarily sequentially):

  • deciding whether an EIA is needed ("screening")
  • deciding which impacts and issues need to be addressed ("scoping")
  • describing the proposed project and alternatives
  • describing the environmental baseline (including likely future baseline in the absence of the project)
  • predicting and evaluating the likely impacts of the project on the baseline
  • proposing measures to mitigate any significant negative impacts (and possibly to further enhance positive impacts)
  • presenting the findings in an environmental impact statement
  • involving the public and other interested/affected parties at various stages of the EIA.

Indicator: A piece of information which is used to measure and track the status and progress of a complex system

Induced impacts: Impacts that result indirectly from a project or strategic action, for instance development that takes place around motorway junctions after a motorway has been built.  Also called generated impacts.

Mitigation measure: Measures that avoid, reduce, remediate or compensate for the negative impacts of a strategic action.

NGO: Non-government organisation, e.g. green pressure group, drivers' association, farmers' union.

Objective: the aim of the strategic action or SEA, what it tries to achieve

Plan: A set of co-ordinated and timed objectives for the implementation of the policy: for instance how much nuclear power to produce by 2020; who should be charged how much carbon tax starting when; a staged approach to testing and introducing genetically modified foods.

Policy: An inspiration and guidance for action: for instance whether or not to promote the development of nuclear power in country A; whether to institute a carbon/CO2 tax; whether to promote more intensive forms of agricultural production.

PPP: A policy, plan or programme: a strategic action.

Programme: A set of projects in a particular area: for instance four new nuclear power stations with X capacity in area Y by 2020; proposals for Z hectares of tree planting by 2015 in area A to act as carbon sequesterisation; a series of test sites for genetically modified foods.

Scoping: The process of determining what should be in an SEA (types of impacts, alternatives to consider) and how the SEA should be carried out (timeframe, methodology etc.). Carried out early in the SEA, ideally in consultation with the competent authority and affected groups.

Screening: The process of determining whether an SEA is needed or not. 

SEA report: A document that records the process and findings of the SEA process.  Also called environmental report.

Stakeholder: Someone affected by the strategic action: they have a stake in it.

Strategic action: A decision that is "above" the project level: a policy, plan or programme.

Strategic environmental assessment (SEA): The most basic definition is probably that SEA is the process of predicting and evaluating the impact of a strategic action on the environment, and using that information in decision-making. Lots of other terms are used for SEA-type activities, including sustainability appraisal, environmental appraisal, sectoral assessment, programmatic environmental impact assessment etc. In this course, they are all considered to come under the umbrella term of SEA.

Sustainability appraisal/assessment: An SEA that considers economic and social as well as environmental issues. 

Target: A desired (environmental) end-state, often with a specified timescale

Tiering: Higher-level (policy) SEAs set a context for, and influence, lower-level SEAs or project EIAs.

July 25, 2006 Uncategorized — brendan @ 7:01 pm


  1. I like the way you define these terms. if i may ask, what is the difference between strategic environmental assessment and environmental impact assessment?

    Comment by pertunia — March 18, 2008 @ 6:43 pm

  2. One easy way to distinguish between the two is that SEA focuses on policies, plans and programmes. So for instance, you may do an SEA about the national energy policy (i.e. investing in nuclear power versus renewables). EIA focuses on actual projects. For instance, what are the environmental impacts of a nuclear power station? Hope this helps.

    Comment by brendan — March 27, 2008 @ 10:16 am

  3. Thanks a lot for this education. I wanted to know more, what are the key/basic tools for screening a project in EIA

    Comment by Suleiman Mtoni — November 14, 2012 @ 9:41 pm

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