Requirements of gender friendly public participation in Environmental Impact Assessments

Environmental Impact Assessments(EIAs) are used as a regulatory, planning and decision making tool for most medium and large scale development projects around the world. These assessments have three main components: planning and decision making; documentation of potential impacts (positive and negative); and involvement of stakeholders throughout the project life [1]. Unfortunately there is no standard protocol for EIAs and jurisdictions around the globe specify different requirements for public involvement in the EIA process [1]. For example, in the Canadian Environmental Assessment System, public participation has been identified as one of the integral parts of the EIA process [2]. CEAA 2012 has five main domains for public participation: adequate notice, access to information, public comment, public hearing, and participant funding [2]. However, the importance of the involvement of women in the practice of EIA public participation process has not been well addressed. In fact, provision of gender involvement in EIA public participation process is lacking.

Men and women have different priorities, demands, knowledge and skill of the utilization of existing natural resources [3]. Since these differences exist, women play very important role in protecting and managing the natural resources such as forest, land and water at the local level [4]. In fact, women hold unique knowledge of ecosystems and environmental sustainability from being the primary users of natural resources in their daily livelihood and are further most affected by distortion in ecosystems [5]. Equal participation of women in the EIA public participation process would allow for a more comprehensive assessment of impacts by including a wider range of public knowledge. This video 

highlights the importance of gender equality. For these reasons, a gender-friendly policy would help to strengthen the voice of women in the EIA planning and decision making process so both sectors of the community (men and women) are compensated for the negative impacts of the development project.  At the same time, the development project would also benefit from more relevant and important indigenous and traditional ecological knowledge from both men and women.

Involvement of women in the EIA process can also minimize the long term cost of impacts and help to mitigate conflict by creating meaningful roles and responsibilities to facilitate the effective implementation of the project by having inclusive representative public participation from the initial phases of the EIA. Several organizations such as the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations [6] have already indicated the importance of gender equality in access to resources, goods, services and decision making.

Most parts of the world, women still struggle for equality, empowerment, and chance to learn and chance to decide (see this video) 

 Women are the most vulnerable group of the community [6]. Although all human beings are impacted, vulnerable fractions of the community such as women who represent the majority of the world’s poor, are most affected by environmental degradation from development projects [7]. Thus, women need access to information about  proposed developments, and the opportunity to participate in decision making process.

Therefore the equal participation of men and women is important in EIA process. Recognizing the significance of women’s participation in the EIA process, we require policy to focus on encouraging the participation of women in environmental activities. However, the existing policies for EIAs are completely gender blind and do not provide for equal involvement and participation of men and women.


1. Noble, Bram F. 2010. Introduction to Environmental Impact Assessment: A Guide to Principles and Practice. 2ndedition, Oxford University Press, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, 274 pp

2. CEAA. 2012. Canadian Environmental Assessment Act-2012. Available at

3. UNDES (United Nations Development of Economic and Social Affairs). 2004. A Gender Perspective on water Resources and sanitation, submitted by: Interagency Task Force on Gender and Water, background paper 2. DESA/DSD/2005/2.

4. Elizabeth,Byers and Sainju Meeta.1994. Mountain ecosystems and women: opportunities for sustainable development and conservation. Mountain research and development 14(3): 213-228.

5. Ivens, Saskia. 2009. Gender Perspectives in Integrated Water Resources Management.  The 25th session of the Governing Council / Global Ministerial Environment Forum (GC/GMEF) of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Nairobi, Kenya.4 pp.

6. FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations). 2013. Food policy on gender equality: attending food security goals in agriculture and rural development. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome, 11 pp

7. OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe). 2009. Gender 


Posted By: Brian Aboh

Yong Jo Ji Recycled Tire Sculpture

Yong Jo Ji Recycled Tire Sculpture


Tires constitute a serious environmental concern on several fronts as a result of their chemical components. Toxins released from tire decomposition, incineration or accidental fires can pollute the water, air and soil. Forty two states in the United States has succeeded in regulating tire disposal to some extent, the remaining eight states have no restrictions on what you must do to discard tires [6]. Though laws are in place, illegal dumping persists and contributing negative environmental impacts [6]. According to the U.S. EPA (United States Environmental Protection Agency), there are at least 275 million scrap tires in stockpiles in the US alone and in 2003, approximately 290 million scrap tires were generated [8]. The figures are staggering, even the state and local governments have noted the costs because of the landfill space required [8].

The problems and risk of used tires

Toxic effects

The EPA has categorized tires as municipal solid wastes rather than solid wastes which when thrown away instead of recycled can be detrimental to the environment. This occurs when the chemicals they contain are released into the environment – the breakdown of tires discharges hazardous waste [6]. Not only do tires contain oils that contaminate the soil, they also contain heavy metals, such as lead, that are persistent in the environment and accumulate over time [6].

Fire Risk

Improperly discarded tires are a major concern due to their increased fire risk. When heated, they become a fuel source. Fifty percent of recycled tires are used in fuel generation [7]. Fires fueled by tires are difficult to control and extinguish. Tire smokes which contain toxic chemicals and particulate matter can pose serious health consequences detrimental to existing respiratory conditions [7].

Pest Threat

Discarded tires also pose another environmental risk by collecting water which becomes a breeding ground for mosquitoes and pests leading to an increased risk of vector-borne diseases like encephalitis [3]. The U.S Centers for Disease and Control has suggested removing unwanted tires from your properties because of possible health impacts [3].

Creative solutions to the used tire problem

Building with Tires for Energy Efficiency

Tires are quite attractive as building materials because of their strength and durability. Not only do they require minimal processing techniques, forward-thinking designers and builders have utilized tires to accomplish a number of goals for greener more resilient buildings [4]. Used tires are cost effective and in some cases free, and are interesting option for home building initiatives. Michael Reynold’s Earthship concept is a good example of using old tires as bricks which are filled with earth that is pounded to create strength and stability for engineering projects. Though it is labor-intensive the result has much more thermal mass  than ordinary construction with a much higher insulating factor [4].

Michael Reynold’s Simple Model Earthship.


Tires and Disaster Resistance

Tires are also good for disaster-resistant buildings especially for earthquakes because of their flexible nature. The Indonesian aid Foundation Group has employed the use of old tires  for house foundations to provide a “buffer zone” between the shaking earth and the house. The Colorado State University also tested this design on a seismic shake plate on a building initiative which was able to resist progressively stronger quaking [2].

Tire Sculptures

Scrap tires can also serve as a wonderful material for creating wonderful artworks. Yong Ho Ji, a Korean artist has succeeded in transforming scrap tires into recycled masterpieces. Some of his works are represented in the form of animals or mythical creatures like dragons, he also produces magnificent mutants combining two different mutants and animal/human hybrids all carved with scrap tires [1]. His works are so amazing that it can be located at the international Contemporary Art Foundation in the West Collection inside the Seoul Museum of Art [1].

Jewelry, Belts, Footwear and More as By- Products of Used Tires

The uses of old tires are enormous. These include: belts made out of bicycle tires; recycled tire roofs; picture frames; playground materials; book bags; kitchen sinks and upholstery [5]. In Ethiopia, an indigenous company by the name Solerebels Footwear gathers and sorts used tires and hand-cuts them into soles for the production of long-lasting and comfortable shoes. This company not only pays fair wages to its employees but by using locally gathered materials it also promotes a better environment and helps in transforming the economy of Ethiopia [5].  Conclusively, when tires are disposed accordingly in respect to recycling mandate and landfill prohibitions, recycled tires can be advantageous for building homes, playgrounds, road surfaces, erosion control installations to mulch for our gardens [8].


[1] Adrian. 2012. The Art of Yong Ho Ji – Recycled Tire Sculptures. Designmodo Accessed th, 2014>
[2] Cararo. A.  2007. Engineering Professor Researching Used Tires as Filler in Roadbeds, Foundations to Combat Expansive Soils. Colorado State University.Accessed <Jan. 19th, 2014>
[3] Center for Disease Control and Prevention. 2013. West Nile Virus – Questions and Answers. Accessed <Jan. 19th, 2014>
[4] Earthship Biotecture. 2009. Tire building Code. Accessed <Jan. 19th, 2014>
[5] SoulRebels. 2013. Trading Towards Hope and Development. Accessed <Jan. 19th, 2014>
[6] United States Environmental Protection Agency. 2012. Wastes – Resource Conservation – Common Wastes and Materials- Scrap Tires. Accessed <Jan. 19th, 2014>
[7] United States Environmental Protection Agency. 2008.  Municipal Solid Waste in the United States- 2007 Facts and Figures. Accessed <Jan. 19th, 2014>
[8] United States Environmental Protection Agency. 2013. Particulate Matter (PM) Research. Accessed <Jan. 19th, 2014>

Should the Insurance Industry Take a More Active Role in EIA?

According to a recent article in the Globe and Mail’s Report on Business the only industry that has firmly embraced the reality of climate change is the reinsurance and insurance industry.  Extreme weather events are happening more frequently due to climate change, and surprisingly the insurance industry is convinced that the change is being caused by human activity [3].  Reinsurers and insurers rely on being able to judge that the risks to the projects that they insure can be accurately modelled over the entire lifespan of the project: their financial well-being depends on it.  With the increased occurrence of extreme weather events over the past 40 years, losses incurred have climbed steadily with the weather-related claims paid out doubling every decade since the 1980s [3].  These ever increasing payouts have motivated the world’s biggest reinsurers and insurers to accept climate change as a reality and become experts at modelling the expected changes over the coming decades.  They have incorporated the results of those models into their calculations about the risks associated with the projects that they insure.Rescue-workers-walk-past-homes-destroyed-by-Superstorm-Sandy-Oct.-31-2012-in-Seaside-Heights-New-Jersey.-Mario-TamaGetty-Images-650x433

(Mario Tama, Getty Images 2012)

The Environmental Impact Assessment process is supposed to identify and predict the impacts of a proposed development over its entire lifespan – from planning through construction and operation to decommissioning [2].  Further, the EIA process is to propose mitigation measures for those impacts along with a plan to monitor them over the project lifespan and beyond.  These mitigation measures along with decommissioning and rehabilitation after the completion of the project involve the highest level of uncertainty in the EIA process [2].  For the insurance industry these activities present the biggest financial risk, especially decommissioning and rehabilitation.  The risk increases with time as the extent of the impacts of the project increase leading to the possibility that more people may be affected over a greater area leading to greater compensation costs for the insurer.  Of special concern are decommissioning costs as there is a higher probability that the project proponent may not fulfill their obligations for site rehabilitation leading to those costs being passed on to the insurer [4].  Environmental insurance policies up until now have generally been for specific impacts of a project such as the damage caused by the release of dangerous materials into the air or water, or onto the land.  The world’s largest insurers, such as Munich Re and Lloyd’s, have come to the conclusion that they must incorporate climatic change into their calculations of the risks involved when insuring various large long-term projects [3].  The Insurance industry is concerned with the accuracy of the projected long term effects, cost of mitigation, cost of decommissioning, cost of damages that may be incurred, but uncertainty in the environmental assessment process makes this difficult.  While it is understood that there are uncertainties in the prediction of the future, the communication of those uncertainties to decision makers needs to be improved [1].  Research by the insurance industry has quantified some of those uncertainties [3] and it needs to be shared with the EA community.

Since the insurance industry is able to quantify some of the uncertainties of the EA process, should they take a more active role in EIA?  If so, at what level should they participate?  Should they function within the regulatory process, or as independent evaluators?  Within the regulatory EA system, proponents could benefit from insurance industry expertise when preparing project submissions and regulatory agencies could benefit from better analysis of the risks of the projects they are evaluating.  Perhaps insurance industry evaluation of a project should be a required component of the regulatory process.  I believe including insurers in the EA process would improve the quality of EA.  The EA process would benefit from the ability of the insurance industry to provide insight into the uncertainties in the EA process, especially with respect to impact prediction and mitigation.  Furthermore, the impacts of climate change would be included in all projects regardless of the acceptance of the magnitude of those changes by both proponents and regulators.  It is time for the insurance industry to work with all parties in the EA process to improve that process and help provide a better future.


(CBC, 2013)


[1] Gunn, J. & Noble, B. (2014). Uncertainty disclosure and consideration in environmental assessment: An agenda for research and practice. Unpublished, presented on Jan. 7, 2014 at Concordia University.

[2] Noble, Bram. (2008). Introduction to Environmental Impact Assessment: A Guide to Principles and Practice, Second Edition. Toronto: Oxford University Press

[3] Reguly, E. (2013, 12). The smartest guys on the planet. Report on Business, 30(5), 66-76.

[4] Susavidge, M. A. (2002, 03 01). Environmental insurance insuring the deal. Retrieved from

Uncertainty in EIA – Do we really want to know?

by: Adam Pinchefsky

The goal of Environmental Impact assessment (EIA) is to assess the socio-economical  / bio-physical impacts of proposed projects and offer ways to mitigate those impacts. One issue that many people have with EIA is the inherent uncertainty in almost every fabric of the process. EIA practitioners must make predictions based on the information available to them and the understanding of the environmental systems present in the project area. The information available to EIA practitioners is often incomplete and has uncertainty present in the way the data was collected and in the data itself. Environmental systems are not perfectly understood and possibly might never be, thus uncertainty exists in the models of these systems that practitioners use to make their decisions. Lastly, we come to the word “prediction”, which in itself eludes to uncertainty. The unavoidable uncertainty in EIA predictions is well-known among EIA practitioners and those familiar with EIA (1).

It has become very common that public policy decisions are heavily influenced by scientific expertise (2). Policy decisions in regards to EIA’s are no different. The science of the natural world is used to model the effects that projects will have on the environment and how these changes will subsequently affect us. These models are then used to generate various scenarios of the effects that the project will have and the data generated by these models are presented to decision makers, which they use to decide if the project should go ahead, go ahead with changes, or be denied. Uncertainty in EIA is generally not communicated or poorly communicated to decision makers, where it is assumed that decision makers know of the uncertainty in the information (2). Often times, when uncertainty is mentioned, the breakdown of the origin of the uncertainty or the justification for that uncertainty is missing (2).

science and policy

Source: Roger Pielke, Jr.

The big question here is: Do decision makers REALLY want to know about the uncertainties in EIA? At first glance, I thought that this was a simple question, with the obvious answer being that decision makers would want all the available information and the uncertainty that goes along with it to make the best decision possible. However, after thinking about the question further, I started to doubt my initial answer to that question. The decision maker is accountable for their decision and too much information and uncertainty can complicate the decision-making process by increasing the effort required to fully understand the information that they are presented with. Decision makers when seeing that there is uncertainty in the predictions, might air on the side of caution and choose the safer option, even though it might not be the best option given the information presented because they might not fully understand what the uncertainty means.

uncertainty owl

Source: Tanya Stan

A situation where there is too much information to process which hinders the ability to make sensible decisions is called “Information Overload” (3). By including all the uncertainty inherent in all the aspects of the EIA process, the complexity of the problem is expanded by adding on more information that the decision maker must take into account (3). This overload of information can lead to the decision maker being unable to come to the best decision. The uncertainty in the data that is presented to the decision maker will increase their own uncertainty about what is best with regards to the project.

At the end of the day, it comes down to whether or not the added benefit of knowing the uncertainty of the information presented in EIA documentation is worth the added complexities and difficulties that decision makers must work through to come to a decision. I personally believe that uncertainty should be included in EIA documents but should be stated in a simple and clear way, with an explanation of what the uncertainty means so that it is as easy as possible for decision makers to read and understand. Although uncertainty adds an extra layer of complexity to the decision-making process, projects can have significant effects on the environment and decision makers should have all pertinent information in order to come to a logical, well thought out decision. The possibility of making a wrong decision due to missing information is greater than the possibility of making a wrong decision with as much information as possible, even with the possibility of information overload.


1- Tenney, Aud, Kvaerner, Jens & Djerstad, Karl Idar, 2006. Uncertainty in environmental impact assessment predicitions: the need for better communication and more transparency. Impact Assessment and Project Appraisal. Volume 24, number 1, 45-56.

2- Hellström, Tomas & Jacob, Merle, 1996. Uncertainty and values: The case of environmental impact assessment. Knowledge and Policy. Volume 9, Issue 1, 70-84.

3- Infoengineering. Understanding Information Overload.

Pielke Jr., Roger. The Linear Model of Science and Decision Making, 14 June, 2010.>

Stan, Tanya. Uncertainty Factors used to Ensure Protection of Public Health. Based on Chapter 14-4: Toxicity Assessment, 4 september, 2010. <Accessed January 19, 2014:>

Integrating Rapid Environmental Assessment and Community EA for Post-Disaster Rehabilitation

Natural disasters like tsunamis or earthquakes can devastate large populations and in some cases entire countries. In states of emergency, we must account for many things such as people’s lives and health, infrastructure damage, natural resources and contamination. However, it can be difficult to keep track and prioritize these things in many cases. With natural disaster and environmental awareness on the rise, environmental assessment is starting to be used in a post-disaster context [1]. It can help identify the degree of damage and assess the resources still intact as they may be important for reconstruction and rehabilitation, as well as identifying community concerns so that disaster victims can start to rebuild their lives.


A coastal Indonesian village devastated by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

Standard EIA procedure in a post-disaster situation is not always suitable. There are several contextual differences to consider when performing an EA post-disaster rather than a standard EIA. These differences are outlined in the table below. Natural disasters rarely allow for any planning and fast action is often needed in these urgent situations. After basic human needs are met (food, water, shelter), rapid environmental assessment (REA) should be used as soon as possible, typically within 120 days of the disaster occurrence [2]. REA is a tool to identify and prioritize environmental damage as well as social and economic impacts [3]. Relief efforts will be more effective in the long run if these issues are identified early on because the information gathered from the REA can be incorporated into plans for rebuilding. Since certain areas have higher risks for natural disasters, information collected in a REA can help to better prepare for a future disaster [4].

Although REA helps to identify environmental issues and damage, it does not propose solutions to these problems [5]. There needs to be an additional process to put the information obtained in the REA to use. After the initial emergency response following a disaster, there are many urgent, small scale reconstruction projects that are needed, such as housing projects. Often times following a disaster EIA legislation is suspended, or there may not be enough time or human resources to conduct a full EIA. Community environmental assessment would be a good process to follow REA in a post disaster context. Community EA is local and project-related and has a large emphasis on community involvement. Public participation is not a separate step, as in regular EA, but is the main part of the assessment. Community EA involves quick assessment of existing data, interviews and site visits rather than scientific study and analysis. Community concerns, which otherwise may have been overlooked by aid organizations, are collected, prioritized and incorporated into project design [6]. World Vision and The Canadian International Development Agency funded a project to rebuild in Layeun Village in Indonesia after the 2004 tsunami destroyed four coastal villages nearby. At the time, Indonesian EA laws had been suspended.  A community approach was taken and several concerns were identified, such as lack of gardening space around the home, which families rely on to be self-sufficient; proximity of outdoor latrines to kitchen windows, which could cause a foul odor; and accessibility of the land plots [7]. Their concerns could then be incorporated into the project design.

By using REA we can assess damage, prioritize relief efforts and identify safe and suitable locations for temporary or permanent resettlement. Community EA will then identify the main concerns of the residents of devastated communities. There are no doubt some weaknesses in this process: some larger and more complicated projects may require a more detailed assessment; communication and coordination may be difficult in this context; and the concerns of residents may vary greatly from person to person. It will never be easy to organize and re-establish an area after a disaster, but overall the integration of these two assessments in a disaster situation could help with the sustainable rebuilding of communities and restoration of livelihoods.


[1] Gore, T. & Fischer, T. (2013). Policy Integration between EA and Disaster Management. IAIA 2013 Annual Conference Draft Paper. Retrieved from

[2] Kelly, C. (2003). Guidelines for Rapid Environmental Impact Assessment in Disasters. Benfield Hazard Research Center. Retrieved from

[3] UNHCR (n.d.) Framework for assessing, monitoring and evaluating the environment in refugee-related operations. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Retrieved from 

[4] Kelly, C. (2003).

[5] Kelly, C. (2003).

[6] Spaling, H., & Vroom, B. (2007). Environmental assessment after the 2004 tsunami: a case study, lessons and prospects. Impact Assessment and Project Appraisal25(1), 43-52.

[7] Spaling, H., & Vroom, B. (2007).

Is EIA a fool’s paradise for conservationists?

Is it naive to believe that environmental impact assessment (EIA) serves as a tool to conserve biodiversity? Given EIA’s primary purpose, which is to reduce the negative impacts of proposed developments on the natural environment, this idea is not far-fetched. However, in practice, biodiversity has yet to be successfully and effectively incorporated into the EIA process. A few authors have identified the major problems associated with how biodiversity issues are being addressed in EIA [4] [8] [12]. A poor understanding of the concept of biodiversity, a lack of appropriate methodologies, and a deficiency in assessments at the ecosystem level are listed as key reasons for why biodiversity is still neglected in many environmental impact statements. Another important cause of the failure to account for biodiversity in EIA is the strong emphasis being placed on protected species [4] [6].

Threatened species lists, despite being extremely valuable tools, should not be used alone to forecast the biological effects of a proposed activity. “Why are such lists – like the famous International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List – a problem for EIA?” you might ask. First, threatened species lists are typically influenced by survey efforts, changes in biological knowledge, and the focus preferences of experts [6] [7]. Therefore, endangered species lists do not always reveal the real patterns and processes in biodiversity; rather, they tend to be biased towards research interests and funding [3]. For example, large, visible, and charismatic species are usually at the heart of threatened species lists, while insects, fungi, and invertebrates are generally overlooked [3]. Moreover, species that play a crucial role in supporting the structure of ecological communities – such as keystone species, dominant species, or indicator species – are often not legally protected. These flaws in the listing process, coupled with the misuse of threatened species lists, have the potential to intensify the threats to biodiversity instead of encouraging conservation. Put into the context of EIA, sole reliance on endangered species legislation in biodiversity assessments can lead to the following paradox: large and disruptive projects affecting only nonlisted species are more likely to be given the green light than those with small impacts on a single listed species [6].

Fig. 1: Process to list a species at risk at the federal level, in Canada [11]

Another problem with the use of threatened species lists to predict the ecological impacts of developments is that they are extremely influenced by politics. In Canada, for example, although the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) is responsible of determining, based on rigorous and empirical criteria, whether a species should be listed or not, the Federal Cabinet has the power to override the decision (Fig. 1) [2] [3] [10]. Due to this political interference, several species that have been assessed as at risk by COSEWIC have been left off the Species at Risk Act (Fig. 2). Without legal protection, a threatened species is not entitled to benefit from a Recovery Strategy, and is thus susceptible to extinction [2]. In addition, recovery strategies are often incomplete: the ‘critical habitat’ of a species, which is defined as “the habitat that is necessary for the survival or recovery of a listed wildlife species” [9], is frequently not identified [2]. This crucial missing information could result in significant biodiversity loss if proponents are given the go-ahead on projects located in unidentified high-risk ecosystems or habitats.

Fig. 2: “Left off the List”, a report from the David Suzuki Foundation [5]

Despite living in an age of increased awareness and understanding of biodiversity, its role continues to be a recurrently neglected aspect in most EIA systems around the world. To solve this issue, many solutions have been put forward, but we have yet to apply them to the framework of EIA. Hereunder are a few recommendations to improve the proper integration of biodiversity into the process of EIA:

  • Improve legislative strategies: for example, develop biodiversity-specific legislation to give formal recognition to biodiversity [3] [12]
  • Improve CEAA’s “Guide on Biodiversity and EIA” [1]: for example, create biodiversity-specific screening criteria and detailed checklists for scoping on biodiversity, as suggested by Slootweg & Kolhoff (2003) [8]
  • Move the focus away from threatened species lists: for example, use multiple and quantitative methods in biodiversity assessments (including GIS-based ecological models as suggested by Gontier et al., 2006) [4]
  • Clarify the concept of biodiversity to avoid misinterpretations among the different groups involved in the EIA process [12]
  • Invest in a centralized, reliable, exhaustive, and accessible repository of information on wildlife species in Canada to help improve data quality and availability [12]
  • Because biodiversity depends on ecosystem integrity, conduct a strategic environmental assessment across Canada to identify no-go zones, sensitive habitats, and areas where development is encouraged [3] [4]


[1] CEAA’s “Guide on Biodiversity and EIA”:

[2] David Suzuki Foundation. (n.d.). Canada’s Species at Risk Act. Retrieved Jan. 15, 2014, from David Suzuki Foundation:

[3] Farrier, D., Whelan, R., & Mooney, C. (2007). Threatened species listing as a trigger for conservation action. Environmental Science & Policy, 10(3), 219-229.

[4] Gontier, M., Balfors, B., & Mörtberg, U. (2006). Biodiversity in environmental assessment—current practice and tools for prediction. Environmental Impact Assessment Review, 26(3), 268-286.

[5] Plotkin, R., & Wallace, S. (2007). Left off the List: A profile of marine and northern species denied listing under Canada’s Species At Risk Act. David Suzuki Foundation.

[6] Possingham, H.P., Andelman, S.J., Burgman, M.A., Medellin, R.A., Master, L.L., & Keith, D.A. (2002). Limits to the use of threatened species lists. Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 17(11), 503-507.

[7] Rodrigues, A. S., Pilgrim, J. D., Lamoreux, J. F., Hoffmann, M., & Brooks, T. M. (2006). The value of the IUCN Red List for conservation. Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 21(2), 71-76.

[8] Slootweg, R., & Kolhoff, A. (2003). A generic approach to integrate biodiversity considerations in screening and scoping for EIA. Environmental Impact Assessment Review, 23(6), 657-681.

[9] Species at Risk Act, SC 2002, c 2.

[10] Species at Risk Act, SC 2002, c 27.

[11] Status Report of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development: (2008). Chapter 12—Previous Audits of Responses to Environmental Petitions—Listing of Species at Risk:

[12] Wegner, A., Moore, S. A., & Bailey, J. (2005). Consideration of biodiversity in environmental impact assessment in Western Australia: practitioner perceptions. Environmental impact assessment review, 25(2), 143-162.

Small steps for the World Bank Group, still waiting on their big step

by Sara Munčs

It is not immediately obvious to most environmentalists the huge role that banks have to play in terms of achieving environmental goals. Banks, being the lenders of the money, have the power to set conditions on the money they lend. Of course, at the individual or small business scale, these conditions generally involve having a good credit rating and enough personal assets to potentially cover losses. When we look to larger scale businesses and projects these conditions start to become more demanding. The World Bank Group (WBG), among the largest financial institutions in the world, has been setting environmental conditions on their borrowers since the late 1980s.

The World Bank created its central Environmental Department in 1987 and issued its Operational Directive 4.00 on Environmental Assessment (EA) in October 1989 (1). This EA directive established a screening process undergone by all projects seeking loans, where projects posing serious or medium environmental risks (A or B category respectively) would have to undergo environmental impact assessments (1). This process has evolved and improved over time; today the International Finance Corporation’s (IFC) (one of the WBG’s member institutions) performance standards on Environmental and Social Sustainability are largely regarded as best EA practice (2). However, many ambiguities in the WBG’s EA policy have led some to question their dedication to the environment.

For one, while the WBG establishes the requirement for EA to take place and gives general guidelines and standards, it is the borrower that conducts the assessment at their own discretion (1,2). There is, therefore, room for the borrower to submit insufficient assessments and get their projects approved. Furthermore, these assessment requirements do not strictly apply to projects being funded by a financial intermediary (3). That is, when the bank funds smaller financial institutions, who play the role of intermediary between the WBG funding and the project, as is generally the case with micro, small and medium-sized projects or enterprises (SME), these projects are no longer screened directly by the bank and IFC performance standards are not a requirement (2,3). Many projects with environmental impacts can escape scrutiny in this manner. Finally the Bank, historically, has put more emphasis on mitigation measures than on pursuing alternative projects with less impact (1). This demonstrates an acceptance by the bank that development cannot take place without environmental damage: a position that should be accepted as a last resort not as an unavoidable truth (1).

The WBG does seem to be changing this idea though, as can be seen in the following video outlining their new environmental strategy, which was adopted in 2012.

The concept that real development cannot take place without some level of environmental security seems to be taking hold, and it is recognized that neglecting to account for environmental damages will only continue to exacerbate social and economic problems, particularly in the developing world  (4). This position is even being accepted by smaller scale financial institutions as demonstrated by the increasing number of banks adhering to the Equator Principles for environmental and social risk management (5). The new environmental strategy proposes a number of actions to make the world greener, cleaner and more resilient, but what do they propose in terms of EA? Despite being an already existing tool that has a number of flaws, the answer to this question is “not much”.

Capacity building (as the usual go-to solution) is suggested, particularly to deal with the second problem that was mentioned about intermediary financial institutions. The WBG proposes to help financial institutions establish Environmental and Social Management Systems and to reach Equator Principle Member status. However, if one looks at Equator Principle membership it becomes obvious that institutions from developing countries are still lagging behind: only a handful of members are from Africa and none are from Asia with the exception of Japan (5). Granted this strategy has not been in place long, but clearly capacity building needs to be stepped up a notch.

What would have even more of an impact on EA and the environment than capacity building is, of course, not even acknowledged as a problem. It is clear that the WBG is playing the role of regulating authority for the EA’s conducted for the projects it finances: The WBG determines if an EA is required or not, has guidelines regarding how the EA should be conducted and makes the decision on whether the project will be approved for funding. However, the WBG is being lazy in this role and giving the proponents too much rein in how the EA is conducted. While general guidelines are given, project specific guidelines, similar to typical terms of reference documents would perhaps be more effective at ensuring the EA process is conducted properly. The WBG has to stop taking tiny, typical steps and make more drastic changes if they really want to support sustainable development.

1-Haeuber, R.(1992) “The World Bank and Environmental Assessment: The Role of Nongovernmental Organizations” Environmental Impact Assessment Review, Vol 12: 331-337.
2- IFC (2012) IFC Peformance Standards on Environmental and Social Sustainability.
3-Faubert, K. et al. (2010) “Environmental Assessment in Multilateral Development Bank Intermediary Lending” Journal of Environmental Assessment Policy and Management, Vol 12, No. 2: 131-153.
4-World Bank Group (2012) Towards a Green, Clean and Resilient World for All: A World Bank Group Environment Strategy 2012-2022.
5-Equator Principles Association (2013) “Members and Reporting” Retrieved from