Research Handbooks on Impact Assessment series
Edited by Davide Geneletti
Chapter 2: Spatial ecosystem service analysis for Environmental Impact Assessment of projects
Environmental Impact Assessment policies have been widely adopted by governments and financial institutions, based on the recognition that avoiding societal harm from environmental losses is critical to maximizing the economic and social benefits of development. Assessments of environmental impacts have traditionally focused primarily on quantifying change on the basis of area, habitat quality or ecological processes, without linking clearly to people and their well-being. A spatially explicit accounting of impacts on ecosystem services – not just ecosystems – is needed to make the impacts on people transparent and to facilitate equitable distribution of benefits from mitigation. Recently developed approaches and tools now make such accounting possible. In this chapter, we present an approach for carrying out spatially explicit assessments of development impacts on ecosystem services. With this approach, environmental impacts are not only quantified, but importantly also tracked between ecosystems and people to account for where and to whom the costs and benefits accrue. We demonstrate the flexibility of this approach with two case studies in which we have used free, open-source, science-based software tools and commonly available data to assess the impacts of mine and road development on ecosystem services in Latin America. In a case study from the Cesar Department in Colombia, we evaluate the impacts of existing and proposed coal mining permits on water quality for downstream communities. We identified which mining blocks under consideration would have the greatest impacts on water quality regulation services, as well as which cities would experience losses in drinking water quality. In our second case study, focused on a proposed road through the Peruvian Amazon, we illustrate how this approach can be used to trace distributional effects, or how impacts are likely to accrue to different segments of society. We follow these case studies with a discussion of how this approach can be extended to other impact assessment contexts. The benefits of applying a spatially explicit, ecosystem services-based approach include more a transparent accounting of the impacts of development to people and the potential to avoid unintended social consequences. In addition, spatial assessment of ecosystem service impacts can improve project efficiency both by reducing unexpected delays in meeting environmental safeguards obligations and by enabling more effective placement of mitigation activities on the landscape, leading to better outcomes for people and the environment.
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