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Strategic Environmental Assessment

September 10, 2013

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. 

Colombia CEA highlights need for revising air quality standards

A Country Environmental Analysis of Colombia highlighted the effect of indoor and outdoor air pollution, especially on the poor (Sánchez-Triana, Ahmed, and Awe 2007), but the government was not inclined to immediately revise national air quality standards developed in the 1980s. Wide media

coverage of the results of the Colombia CEA resulted in a broad public debate, which was taken up by politicians. Open public debate increased the number of champions for revising air quality standards (Chavarro Vásquez 2007). In 2007, the first air pollution control bill was discussed in the national Congress. After 13 failed attempts over the course of a decade, a more stringent Fuel Quality Law was finally passed, due in large part to public pressure in response to the CEA’s finding.

SEA Publications:

Strategic Environmental Assessment in the World Bank: Learning from Recent Experiences and Challenges (World Bank, 2012)

Strategic Environmental Assessment in Policy and Sector Reform: Conceptual Model and Operational Guidance (World Bank, University of Gothenburg, Swedish EIA Centre and Netherlands Commission for Environmental Assessment, 2010). Also available as e-reader or book format.

Strategic Environmental Assessment for Policies: An Instrument for Good Governance (by K. Ahmed and E. Sanchez-Triana, ed., 2008). Also available in book format.

Environment Note No. 1 on Guidance Notes on Mainstreaming Environment in Forest Sector Reform (by D. C. Behr and F. Loayza, 2009).

Environment Note No. 2 on Lao PDR Nam Theun 2 Hydroelectric Project SEA Case Study (by G. Morgan, F. Loayza and H. Kobayashi, 2009)

Environment Note No. 4 Mining Sector Strategic Environmental and Social Assessment (SESA) (by F. Loayza and J. Albarracin-Jordan)

Environment Note No. 7 Greening Growth through Strategic Environmental Assessment of Sector Reforms (by F. Loayza, D. Slunge, R. Verheem and A. Axelsson)

CEA Publications

Strengthening Policy Dialogue on Environment: Learning from Five Years of Country Environmental Analysis

Colombia CEA

Indonesia CEA

Ghana CEA

Jordan CEA