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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. They can be very different from simply the addition of the impacts of individual projects.

Environmental appraisal: A form of SEA which is relatively quick, subjective and non-quantitative. The approach used predominantly in the UK.

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.

For more information on EIA see Glasson et al. (1999)

The EIA findings are used to help inform decision-making about that project. Ideally the findings of the EIA should be monitored. More information on EIA can be found in Glasson et al. (1999).

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.

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.

Regional appraisal: SEA for a specific region. A term used particularly by the World Bank.

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. An example of this is Article 3 of the proposed European SEA Directive.

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

Sectoral assessment: SEA for a specific sector. A term used particularly by the World Bank.

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: An SEA that considers economic and social as well as environmental issues. Used particularly in the UK: there it denotes a specific approach to SEA, which is relatively subjective, quick and non-quantitative.

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.

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