- The IUCN Academy of Environmental Law series
Edited by Paul Martin and Amanda Kennedy
Chapter 4: Has environmental impact assessment (EIA) lost credibility? Recent concerns from Australia and Canada
A central theme of sustainable development is the need to integrate economic and ecological considerations in decision making. One of the earliest and most widely adopted strategies for this purpose was the inclusion of environmental impact assessment (EIA) within development approval processes. EIA was envisaged as a catalyst for ‘productive and enjoyable harmony between man and his environment’. However, this bold vision has proved to be elusive as our economic system has not yet found an effective way to integrate environmental values, and EIA processes alone do not impose any obligation to prioritise environmental protection. As a result, negative environmental impacts of a development proposal are usually outweighed by economic objectives when making project approval decisions. Meanwhile, the indicators of unsustainable development continue to grow, with the global ecological footprint of human society now exceeding bio-capacity by more than 50 per cent. This growing ecological crisis might suggest a more rigorous approach to EIA is required. Recent regulatory developments in Australia have been aligned more to the contrary, with concerted efforts being made to by-pass and weaken current EIA processes. The main driver of this trend has been persistent lobbying by industry groups like the Business Council of Australia for reductions in ‘green tape’ to ease compliance costs for business.
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