Around the world, it is increasingly being recognized that for sustainability goals to be reached, efforts need to go beyond compliance with standards and mitigation of adverse impacts, to identifying environmental sustainability as an objective of the development process. This requires a focus on policies that promote integration of environmental, sustainability, and climate change considerations into development strategies and sector reform.
Because sector reform brings about significant policy change involving adjustments in laws, policies, regulations and institutions, it is a sensitive political process often driven by strong economic interests. Policy makers are subject to a number of political pressures that originate in vested interests. The weaker the institutional and governance framework in which sector reform is formulated and implemented, the greater the risk of regulatory capture.
In situations such as these, the recommendations of environmental assessment are often of little relevance unless there are constituencies that support them, and with sufficient political power to make their voices heard in the policy process. While strong constituencies are important during the design of sector reform, they are even more important during implementation. It follows that effective environmental assessment in sector reform requires strong constituencies backing up recommendations, a system to hold policy makers accountable for their decisions, and institutions that can balance competing and, sometimes, conflicting interests.
The World Bank recognizes strategic environmental assessment (SEA) as a key means of integrating environmental and social considerations into policies, plans and programs, particularly in sector decision-making and reform. The Bank is committed to promoting the use of SEA as a tool for sustainable development.
SEA is a family of approaches that lie on a continuum. At one end, the focus is on impact analysis, at the other end, on institutional assessment. SEA incorporates environmental considerations across different levels of strategic decision-making: plan, program, and policy.
The country environmental analysis (CEA) is a tool the World Bank developed to help inform dialogue with countries, raise awareness of environmental problems affecting poor people, and improve understanding of the linkages between environment and growth sectors. CEAs have contributed to understanding how the burdens of environmental degradation are distributed within societies. This work has shown that poor people carry a disproportionate burden of illness, death, and loss of productivity and livelihoods as a result of environmental degradation.