Incorporating Climate Change in EIA

by: Adam Pinchefsky

Climate Change has been recognized as a serious global issue for decades, but to date our actions have been inadequate to deal with the problem. Governments around the world dodge the issue, agreeing that actions must be taken to prevent serious climate change but are not doing much to stop it because climate change is not high on the list of voter priorities. One main challenge in dealing with climate change is that its causes are greatly embedded in almost every facet of our daily lives.

climate-change-science-v-politics-cartoon

Source: Don McLenaghen, 2012 [5]

Sources of greenhouse gases (GHGs), the culprit for climate change, are endless. Burning fossil fuels is woven into almost every factor of society such that halting their use is, at least for now, not a viable option. Such an action could precipitate a collapse in the farming industry, heavily reliant on fossil fuels, which could lead to widespread food shortages and possibly to famine. Industry and manufacturing could collapse, most mechanized transportation would cease, and most energy demands would not be met as existing renewable energy sources account for a fraction of our energy supply. The effects of climate change can already be seen with rising sea levels caused by increased melting of ice caps and glaciers and thermal expansion of water (caused by increasing temperatures). If governments and corporations continue to focus primarily on economic issues rather than on environmental protection, steps will need to be taken to force them into action. This is where I believe the environmental impact assessment (EIA) process can be an effective tool.

Claire Carter, 2013

Source: Claire Carter, 2013 [6]

An effective way of mitigating the effects of climate change is to incorporate climate change impacts and adaptation into pre-existing project structures [1]. EIAs could be very effective in this regard as they are already well established in most developed countries and are a legal requirement for many projects. EIAs already include direct and indirect effects of climate in its guidelines [4]. While regular EIAs would be effective at addressing the site specific impacts that projects will have on climate change, strategic environmental assessments (SEAs) can impact project development over entire regions [2, 3]. EIAs occur before projects are approved and can be used to determine the impacts the projects will have on climate change (amount of GHG emissions) and propose ways to mitigate those impacts prior to project approval. Canada and Australia have already incorporated climate change into the EIA process, however it is more focused on the impacts that climate change will have on the project than the other way around[1].

With GHG emissions rapidly increasing across the globe, action must be taken now to curb this increase. EIAs are an effective existing tool that can be used to lower emissions at the project planning stage, and can help such projects become more environmentally sustainable. Countries should include measures for incorporating climate change mitigation into existing EIA guidelines.

References:

[1] Agrawala, Shardul et al., 2012. Incorporating climate change impacts and adaptation in environmental impact assessments: Opportunities and challenges.  Climate and Development, 4:26-39.

[2] Carter, Claire. Environmental Secretary accused of ‘immoral’ stance on climate change. The Telegraph (October 1, 2013). <Last accessed March 17, 2014: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/environment/climatechange/10346050/Environment-Secretary-accused-of-immoral-stance-on-climate-change.html

[3] Institute of Environmental Management & Assessment, 2014. EIA & Climate Change. <Last accessed March 17, 2014: https://www.iema.net/eia-climate-change&gt;.

[4] Justice and Environment, 2012. Climate change aspects in environmental impact assessment procedures. <Last accessed March 17, 2014: http://www.google.ca/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=14&ved=0CDcQFjADOAo&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.justiceandenvironment.org%2F_files%2Ffile%2F2012%2FCC%2520in%2520EIA%281%29.pdf&ei=j7YoU73ZFaOTyQHK_oHADw&usg=AFQjCNFmVGjErd-q49DX6LZ4Pbtw0c2e-w&sig2=rAfgqB_SsUsNudtpAhjBmQ&gt;.

[5] McLenaghen, Don, 2012. The double standard of climate scandal. <Last accessed March 17, 2014: http://radiofreethinker.com/tag/climate-change/&gt;.

[6] Smith. The role for EIA in Climate Change. National Environmental Assessment Service. Environment Agency. <Last accessed March 17, 2014: https://www.iaia.org/publicdocuments/affiliates-and-branches/ireland-uk/IAIA%20Ire-UK%20Branch_Smith.pdf>.

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