Giving climate change impact its reasonable place in Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA)

Environment Impact Assessments (EIA) are extensively used from medium to large projects as a decision making tool to minimize the impacts of development on the environment.   In most of the countries of the world, EIAs are used as a regulatory requirement of project planning, development, operation, and decommissioning (Noble, 2010; Wathern, 2002). However, climate change component has not been included in many EIA studies.  In reality, risk of impact from climate change is becoming one of the major threats to infrastructure development projects (Klein et al., 2007). For example, in the past few years, we have observed increases in natural disasters such as flash floods which destroy a number of infrastructures types, including roads, bridges and hydroelectric power dams. Worse still, these events generally cause human causalities. The frequencies of events such as these have been increasing every year. In fact, climate change due to global warming is predicted to produce annual temperature rise and greater frequency and intensity of flash flooding, drought, tornados etc. (Hurrell, 2003; IPCC, 2000). Additionally, increasing temperatures is one of the main causes attributed to Glacier Lake Outbursts (Kumar and  Murugesh Prabhu, 2012). In turn, we have seen many infrastructure wash outs by unexpected floods originating from Glacier Lake Outbursts. Please see these following videos if you would like to know more about impact of climate change.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZN8a-pP60wk

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8rPDYG8NZYs

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ScHkS_cqk4

Despite these facts, in addition to the wealth of data on the potential risks to our economies, climate change has yet to be been fully incorporated in EIA studies. Infrastructure projects throughout the world, such as highway development, mine tailings facilities, and energy infrastructure generally have relatively long life expectancies, ranging from a few years to over a hundred years (NSE, 2011). It is therefore important to consider how the impact of climate will trim down the project’s life span, and how this will affect the environmental, physical (direct impacts) and financial (e.g. insurance premiums, maintenance, etc.) viability of the project (NSE, 2011).  If a climate change component is incorporated into EIA studies, it will help identify impacts of climate change on that particular project and aid best practices that in adapting to a variable climactic future (NSE, 2011). Furthermore, incorporating the impacts of climate change into EIA studies may avoid future costs to the project, as well as help prevent the loss of biodiversity and human deaths caused by natural disasters related to climate change. In summary, the component that deals with the impact of climate change needs to be incorporated into EIA studies in order to identify how changing patterns of the climate can affect development projects and local communities as a whole.

References

Kumar, B., Murugesh Prabhu,T. S. 2012. Impacts of Climate Change: Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOFs). In Arrawatia, M. L., Tambe,S. (Eds), Climate Change in Sikkim Patterns, Impacts and Initiatives. Information and Public Relations Department, Government of Sikkim, Gangtok.

Hurrell, J. W., Y. Kushnir, G. Ottersen, and M. Visbeck (Eds.) 2003. The North Atlantic Oscillation: Climatic Significance and Environmental Impact, Geophys. Monogr. Ser., vol. 134, 279 pp., AGU, Washington, D.C.

IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). 2000. Emission Scenarios, a Special Report of IPCC Working Group III, UNEP and WMO, 27 pp.

Klein, R.T., Eriksen, S.H., Næss, L., Hammill, A., Tanner, T., Robledo, C., O’Brien, K., 2007. Portfolio screening to support the mainstreaming of adaptation to climate change into development assistance. Clim. Change 84, 23–44.

Noble, B.F. 2010. Introduction to Environmental Impact Assessment: A Guide to Principles and Practice,  (2nd edn.), Oxford University Press, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, 274 pp

NSE (Nova Scotia Environment). 2011. Guide to Considering Climate Change in Environmental Assessment in Nova Scotia. Nova Scotia Environment, Canada, 20 pp.

Wathern, P. 2002. Environmental impact assessment: theory and practice. Routledge, USA, 198 pp

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