Climate Change & the Amended EIA Directive: What Does it Mean for Industry?
By Jamie Lynch
On 16th May 2014 the amended European EIA Directive came into force and included new requirements on the consideration of climate change within the EIA process. This requires consideration of both the effects of climate change on a project and a project’s effect on the climate. These requirements must be transposed into UK legislation by May 2017.
Paragraph 13 of the revised Directive encompasses the main considerations of climate change within an EIA, stating: “Climate change will continue to cause damage to the environment and compromise economic development. In this regard, it is appropriate to assess the impact of projects on climate (for example greenhouse gas emissions) and their vulnerability to climate change.”
As it is seen as the key environmental challenge of the age, climate change was inevitably going to be introduced into the EIA Directive; it was just matter of how. As with all technical aspects of EIA, the Directive is not prescriptive in setting out the approach to assessing climate change. For all other technical studies, guidance is provided separately by various institutes but there is currently no accepted guidance to assist Local Authorities to determine whether an EIA has sufficiently considered climate change.
An increasing trend in Local Plans is to require the assessment of the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with a project to determine the impact of a development on the climate. However, the scope of this is unclear – which GHGs linked to a development should be assessed? Should this include all GHGs associated with construction activity, the processing of raw materials and the emissions from new residents’ cars? There needs to be clarification what GHGs should be assessed for categories of development and guidance is needed in respect of what level of emissions is considered significant. Without clear boundaries it could be suggested that climate change within an EIA could be a tick box exercise, with no real grounding or justification for the assessment process.
In terms of designing in resilience to climate change, flood risk assessments have lead the way in this regarding, with an allowance for future climate change now built in to assessments. However, how climate change manifests itself locally is largely unpredictable. Therefore attempting to determine the significance or how resilient a development will be to climate change is incredibly difficult. Again, resilience is a debated concept, and determining how resilient/vulnerable a development may be to the effects of climate change will be challenging for consultants or Local Authorities making a decision on an application.
Developers may see the requirement simply as another cost added to an already expensive process. Furthermore, there is a lack of practitioners with the skills and knowledge to effectively assess a project’s climate change impacts. Further integration and skill sharing may be required between environmental assessment, life cycle assessment and management systems disciplines to make this work and to develop appropriate methodologies. The saving grace of the amended legislation is that it will not be transposed into UK legislation until 2017. This gives the industry time to consider the approach for climate change assessments and to develop and consult on best practice. Consultants and developers now have the opportunity to take the lead in developing the methodology to make the process reasonable and proportionate.