Integrating Climate Change in Strategic Environmental Assessments: Blueprint of Just Resilience
Updated: Mar 18, 2022
On Stockholm+50 by Rayhana Akter
Following the founding motto, "Only One Earth," the historic Stockholm conference will commemorate its golden jubilee this year by boosting action for a healthy and prosperous world for everyone. Many strategies and policies will be adopted to accelerate attaining sustainable development goals following a consistent recovery from the pandemic. Yet, amid this chaos of progress, the planet's health will reignite the age-old conflict between development and mother nature.
What is Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA)?
One of the critical approaches to resolving this dilemma is prioritizing the ecocentric approach in our plans, programs, and policies. Strategic impact assessment incorporates nature and strategic decision-making in procedures, policies, and programs. To put it more formally, SEA is –
A strategic framework instrument that helps to create a development context toward sustainability, by integrating environment and sustainability issues in decision-making, assessing strategic development options, and issuing guidelines to assist implementation (Partidário, 2012).
Benefits of SEA
SEA is a fast-growing field that detects and analyses possible implications of policies, plans, and programs (PPPs) to promote more sustainable development patterns. SEA is a well-known member of the impact assessment group in practice in more than 60 nations.
While EIA is primarily concerned with how a project should take place to minimize adverse environmental consequences, it has been postulated that SEA can significantly impact the choice of available alternatives at the early phases of decision-making. SEA's role and goals differ depending on the planning and decision-making scenario in which it is used.
SEA can create a platform for discussion and individual and organizational learning, increase environmental awareness among those participating in the planning process, and improve the transparency of planning and decision-making processes. SEA may also serve as a "checking mechanism" to verify that environmental concerns are considered. It can assist in creating coherence and compatibility between a plan's objectives, strategies, and policies by refining their content and improving the ecological quality of planning policies. Participatory SEA may assist stakeholders in understanding the environmental consequences of strategic choices, improving communication, and lowering the potential of the lawsuit from affected stakeholder groups, all of which can help prevent implementation delays.
Consequences of Climate Change
Climate change is one of the most pressing issues confronting the globe today. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has intensified awareness of the threat by publishing their recent report labeled as “Code Red” for humankind.
Because of our previous acts, climate change will occur regardless of what we do today. Examples are rising sea levels, variations in rainfall and temperature, and changes in the frequency of storms and droughts. There are possible negative consequences for more floods, subsidence, and more people dying from heat exhaustion and natural disasters. Impacts will vary in nature and severity from one place to the next.
Mitigation and adaptation are both required responses to climate change. Mitigation strategies lessen people's influence on the climate system by lowering greenhouse gas emissions, for example, moving to more sustainable forms of transport or using energy generated from renewable sources. Adaptation methods, such as gathering and conserving winter rains for use in the summer, can mitigate the adverse effects while enhancing the advantages.
The severity of the consequences will also depend on the "adaptation strategies" used, i.e., how we react to and develop new behaviors and habits in response to or predict climate change.
Benefits of Considering Climate Change within SEAs
SEA, either separately or in collaboration with Sustainability Appraisal (SA), can ensure that plans and programs address climate change challenges and meet government goals. SEA proposes alternate solutions to critical climate change-related issues. The SEA is the only legally mandated tool that requires planners to consider the environment at an early stage of development, when alternatives are still available, to achieve climate-specific goals for many types of PPs. In the case of climate change, this might include:
• Recognizing the potential for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions as a result of the PP's implementation, as well as various measures to minimise or mitigate these consequences;
• Identifying and resolving any contradictions or synergies between climate change mitigation and adaptation to minimize maladaptation.
Assessing climate change concerns in SEAs would undoubtedly make it easier to comply with the SEA Directive and national SEA regulations. Furthermore, climate change focuses on a slew of laws, regulations, and plans. This indicates a shift in thinking from a solely environmental evaluation of a PP to one that considers the potential long-term dangers of climate change.
Adaptation should not be left until the very end of the PP planning process; resilience should be built in from the start. Hence the SEA process is essential since it can establish a project structure.
Climate change mitigation and adaptation, biodiversity, and other environmental issues can all be considered together for substantial benefits, not to mention cost-effectiveness. Moreover, it allows for win-win scenarios when using ecosystem-based approaches to climate mitigation and adaptation, such as avoiding mitigation actions that lack adaptive capacity or reduce the resilience of other factors.
Challenges of Integrating Climate Change into SEAs
Climate change has a variety of qualities that influence how we should approach them in the context of a SEA. However, the following characteristics of climate change are the most likely to pose a severe threat to SEAs.
• the long-term and cumulative pattern of the impacts;
• the intricacy of the issues and cause-effect links; and
• the uncertainty.
Both mitigation and adaptation are concerned with long-term trends and include changes that are sometimes too subtle to observe throughout a normal PP's lifetime. Climate change's long-term nature makes it more difficult to fit within traditional planning timeframes (five to ten years).
Complex systems and interactions with other environmental components and the human environment are significant aspects of current climate change. The intensity and relevance of an influence must be judged in the context of the situation. While an individual transportation plan's impact on GHGs may be negligible globally, it might be considered local or regional.
Any decision-making system has some level of uncertainty, but it grows in response to the system's complexity and timescale. As a result, there will almost certainly be debate regarding the long-term effects of a PP on climate change and how expected climate change would affect the PP. Uncertainty requires a more qualitative approach when objective quantitative evidence is not accessible or dependable enough to forecast outcomes.
For successful integration of climate change into SEAs, start at the screening and scoping stages to embed the concerns in the thoughts of all essential parties: competent authorities and policymakers, planners, SEA practitioners, and other stakeholders. These parties can benefit from using the SEA as a creative process to assist learning. Climate change challenges must be addressed in light of the PP's unique circumstances.
The decade of actions implies integrating climate change into SEAs and making our policies more robust. Hence, youngsters worldwide must become involved and demand that policymakers incorporate and execute climate action into higher-level policymaking to achieve a just transition to a healthy, sustainable planet.
Rayhana Akter is a Youth Empowerment in Climate Action Platform (YECAP) Fellow and Coordinator at Environment Policy Network, Youth Policy Forum.
Stockholm+50: International meeting to accelerate action towards a healthy and prosperous planet for all (unep.org)
Fundingsland Tetlow, M. and Hanusch, M. (2012) ‘Strategic environmental assessment: The state of the art’, Impact Assessment and Project Appraisal, 30(1), pp. 15–24. doi: 10.1080/14615517.2012.666400.
Jennifer McGuinn and Guillermo Hernandez (2013) Guidance on Integrating Climate Change and Biodiversity into Strategic Environmental Assessment. doi: 10.2779/11869.
The UK Environmental Agency (2011) ‘Strategic environmental assessment and climate change: guidance for practitioners’, (August), p. 13. Available at: http://www.environment-agency.gov.uk/research/policy/40121.aspx.