The origin of the SEA
In 1969, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) introduced the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) as a way to incorporate the environmental effects of human actions in decision-making (Partidario 2006).
Although the EIA conceived by the NEPA was aimed at all levels of the decision-making process (from policy to projects), over time the EIA began focusing only on projects (Espinoza 2007). This situation led to the search for more appropriate tools for strategic decisions, thus the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) appeared.
The relationship between SEA and EIA
The SEA was not designed to replace the EIA, but to complement it (OECD 2007). Sequentially, the SEA is used to examine the policies, plans and programs and select the best development proposals, and then the EIA determines the potential environmental impacts of the projects that will make these proposals come true (see Figure 1).
Figure 1. SEA: Up-streaming environmental considerations into the decision-making hierarchy
Source: OECD 2007
The following table shows a comparison of the main features of SEA and EIA:
|It applies to policies, plans and programs||It applies to projects|
|It is proactive and establishes development proposals||It is reactive to a development proposal|
|It has a broad strategic perspective, of long-term and low level of detail||It has a narrow perspective, relatively short-term and highly detailed|
|It considers a wide range of scenarios||It considers a limited range of project alternatives|
|It is performed independently with regard to any project||It is commissioned by the project owner|
|It focuses on choosing the best development proposals||It focuses on getting permission for a project|
|It is a comprehensive review of cumulative impacts||It is a null or limited review of cumulative impacts|
Source: Adapted from Espinoza, 2007 and OCDE, 2007.
The case of Peru
The correct application of the SEA can contribute to developing countries, such as Peru, overcome many environmental challenges. However, precisely in these countries SEA experience is scarce, both at a conceptual level and in practical application, which lead to committing serious errors that distort its nature.
In Peru, the SEA became a regulation in 2008 (Legislative Decree No. 1078). Despite this, the lack of guidelines and terms of reference is not conducive to proper implementation.
A review undertaken for this post only identified the development of three SEAs in the case of Peru. The first example is the SEA for the Lima Urban Transport Program (2003). At that time there was no regulation or experience with regard to a SEA, which is reflected in the use of inappropriate methodologies (extracted from EIAs).
The second experience was the SEA for the Northern Amazon Corridor (2004). This being a road project, the study that should have been applied was an EIA not an SEA, demonstrating the conceptual deficiencies of ProInversión, which was the government entity that requested the study.
Finally we have the case of the SEA for the Hydrocarbons Development Program in Lower Urubamba (2005). At the time that this study was commissioned by the CONAM (environmental authority) the concession of the 5 hydrocarbons blocks in Lower Urubamba had already been given, and one of them was already operational (Barandarian 2008), which clearly goes against the preventive nature of any SEA (see Figure 2).
Figure 2. Concession of 5 hydrocarbons blocks (90, 57, 56, 88 and 58) in the Lower Urubamba (Cusco, Peru) prior to SEA
Source: CONAM 2005
It is curious that all these SEAs were made before the regulation existed, and since the regulation exists, there has been no other SEA (as far as I could find)! We’ll see how it evolves in the future.
 ECSA Ingenieros. “Evaluación Ambiental Estratégica del Programa de Transporte Urbano de Lima”. PROTRANSPORTES. Municipalidad Metropolitana de Lima. 2003.
 ECSA Ingenieros. “Evaluación Ambiental Estratégica del Corredor Vial Amazonas Norte (CVAN)”. PROINVERSIÓN. 2004.
 ECSA Ingenieros. “Evaluación Ambiental Estratégica del Programa de Desarrollo de Hidrocarburos en el Bajo Urubamba (PDHBU)”. CONAM. 2005.
- Barandarian, Alberto. “Evaluación Ambiental Estratégica en el Perú: Propuestas para el diseño de esta herramienta”. Derecho, Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (DAR). Lima. 2008.
- Espinoza, Guillermo. “Gestión y Fundamentos de Evaluación de Impacto Ambiental”. Banco Interamericano de Desarrollo (BID) y Centro de Estudios para el Desarrollo. Santiago de Chile. 2007.
- Organización para la Cooperación y el Desarrollo Económico (OCDE). “La Evaluación Ambiental Estratégica: Una guía de buenas prácticas en la cooperación para el desarrollo”. 2007.
- Partidario, M.R. “Conceptos, evolución y perspectivas de la Evaluación Ambiental Estratégica”. Seminario de expertos sobre la Evaluación Ambiental Estratégica en Latinoamérica en formulación y gestión de políticas. Santiago de Chile. 2006.
- CONAM. Evaluación Ambiental Estratégica en el Bajo Urubamba. 2005.