Applied Ecology/Environmental Valuation
Humanity and nature
For those wishing to establish a point in history when checking out the impact of human activities on the environment became a thing worth doing, a good date is 1864, and the event is the publication by George Perkins Marsh of his book, 'Man and Nature, or Physical Geography Modified by Human Action'. In his travels as an American diplomat, Marsh was well placed not only to document environmental change, but also to evaluate it. In this respect he is remembered for the way he forcefully pointed out the difference in attitudes between the native people's and European's attitudes to the natural world. The native leaves a slight footprint on the Earth, whilst civilisation "assumes an aggressive attitude, and thenceforward strives to subdue to his control and subject to his uses, all her productivity and all her motive powers". Another way of stating this difference is that preindustrial production systems are characteristic of 'inscribed groups', who organise for the sustained exploitation of local natural resources. They are inscribed, or embedded, into local ecosystems by being linked to the productivity of a narrow range of biophysical flows which limit the number of people who can partake of the local resources. Modern production systems are characteristic of 'constructive groups' who construct a landscape to serve their economic aspirations, populating it beyond the limits of the local natural productivity, importing goods and services from elsewhere, thereby destroying its ecosystems. Costructive groups gather around sites where there is an application of inventions for mass production. Workers migrate attracted by better wages and prospects, taking advantage of improved communications.
'Man and Nature' was the most comprehensive statement about land management that had ever appeared. It was culled from Marsh's own farming experiences in New England and his research into the works of European naturalists, geographers, foresters and hydrologists. There is no better exposition of need for environmental impact assessment and its precautionary principle than the following:
"The equation of animal and vegetable life is too complicated a problem for human intelligence to solve and we can never know how wide a circle of disturbance we produce in the harmonies of nature when we throw the smallest pebble in the ocean of organic life"
GEMS and Surveillance
As far as wildlife was concerned Marsh advised farmers to err on the side of caution rather than risk destroying a vital part of their production system.
Just over a century later the US National Environmental Policy Act of 1970 required the preparation of Environmental Impact Assessments for the evaluation of any detrimental effects of new schemes that would affect landform and drainage. This was followed two years later by the Global Monitoring System (GEMS), which was endorsed by the U.N. Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm. Then followed a spate of conventions and conferences that placed the topic of environmental evaluation at the top of international and national strategies of economic development. The practical outcomes were the application of ecological principles to programmes of surveillance, monitoring and impact assessment at the levels of biosphere, ecosystem, landscape and population. Some of the early milestones are:
- 1946 International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling establishes the International Whaling Commission.
- 1948 UN Charter; International Union for the Protection of Nature (IUPN) established.
- 1955 The Wenner Gren Conference on Man's Role in Changing the Face of the Earth, Wenner Gren Foundation, Princeton, New Jersey, USA.
- 1956 Man's Role in Changing the Face of the Earth (Thomas Ed. 1955) published.
- 1957 The IUPN becomes the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN).
- 1958 Law of the Sea. The first UN Conference on the Law of the Sea approves draft conventions.
- 1958 U.K River quality survey
- 1959 Antarctic Treaty; Economic and Social Council of the u N adopts resolution to publish a register of national parks and equivalent reserves of the world.
- 1961 Establishment of World Wildlife Fund (World Wide Fund for Nature).
- 1961 National Survey of Air Pollution set up the UK government in 1961
- 1962 Silent Spring (Carson 1962) published.
- 1964 International Council of Scientific Unions (icsu) established the International Biological Programme (IBP).
- 1966 IUCN Red Data Books first published.
- 1968 UNESCO 'Biosphere' Conference.
- 1969 Friends of the Earth (FOE) founded.
- 1970 The US National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires preparation of Environmental Impact Assessments.
- 1971 Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Programme of UNESCO launched. Greenpeace International founded.
- 1972 UN Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment; Concept of a Global Monitoring System (GEMS) endorsed by the Stockholm Conference; United Nations Environment (UNEP) Programme established. 'Blueprint for Survival' sponsored by the journal Ecologist. Limits to Growth (Meadows et al. 1972) published.
- 1972 Landsat1 launched by U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
- 1974 UNEP Regional Seas Programme established.
- 1975 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES); The Kenya Rangeland Ecological Monitoring Unit (KREMU) established as a result of collaboration between Kenya and the Canadian International Development Agency.
- 1976 The Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment (SCOPE) -reports to the International Council of Scientific Unions (icsu) on global trends in the biosphere most urgently requiring international and interdisciplinary scientific effort.
- 1977 UN Conference on desertification.
- 1979 World Climate Conference organized by the World Meteorological organization recognizes the 'greenhouse effect'.
- 1980 World Conservation Strategy (IUCN) launched; IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre (now the World Conservation Monitoring Centre) established.
- 1988 Publication of BAOBAB Journal on Arid and Semi Arid Areas by Arid Lands Information Network
- 1997 The Human Impact Reader: Readings and Case Studies Andrew Goudie Ed. Blackwell, Oxford
Annual Directories of environmental data and trends
The Green Globe Yearbook- Fridtjof Nansen Institute with Oxford University Press
Vital Signs- WorldWatch Institute with Earthscan Publications
State of the World- Worldwatch Institute with W.W.Norton
Environmental impact assessment
Environmental Impact Assessment can be defined as:
The process of identifying, predicting, evaluating and mitigating the biophysical, social, and other relevant effects of development proposals prior to major decisions being taken and commitments made. The aim of an assessment is to address biodiversity at all appropriate levels and allow for enough survey time to take seasonal features into account. It should focus on processes and services which are critical be conserved and protected in this context, it is essential that it is linked to the issue of securing sustainable livelihoods for local people based on biodiversity resources.
The starting point of every environmental assesssment is that biodiversity must be conserved to ensure it survives, continuing to provide services, values and benefits for current and future generations. The aim is to identify, protect and promote sustainable use of biodiversity, so that yields/harvests can be maintained over time. This involves examining the likely impacts of development on the benefits of biodiversity arising from the provision of essential life support systems and ecosystem services such as:
- water yield;
- water purification;
- breakdown of wastes;
- flood control;
- storm and coastal protection;
- soil formation and conservation;
- sedimentation processes;
- nutrient cycling;
- carbon storage;
- and climatic regulation.
An assessment process also takes into account the costs of replacing these services.
Areas with "important biodiversity" are those that:
- Support endemic, rare, declining habitats/species/genotypes.
- Support genotypes and species whose presence is a prerequisite for the persistence of other species.
- Act as a buffer, linking habitat or ecological corridor, or play an important part in maintaining environmental quality.
- Have important seasonal uses or are critical for migration.
- Support habitats, species populations, ecosystems that are vulnerable, threatened throughout their range and slow to recover.
- Support particularly large or continuous areas of previously undisturbed habitat.
- Act as refugia for biodiversity during climate change, enabling persistence and continuation of evolutionary processes.
- Support biodiversity for which mitigation is difficult or its effectiveness unproven including habitats that take a long time to develop characteristic biodiversity.
- Are currently poor in biodiversity but have potential to develop high biodiversity with appropriate intervention.
In 2005 the International Association for Impact Assessment (http://www.iaia.org/) published a public document on the guiding principles intended to promote "biodiversity-inclusive" impact assessment (IA), including Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for projects, and strategic environmental assessment (SEA) for policies, plans and programs.
The aim was to help practitioners to integrate biodiversity in IA, decision-makers to commission and review IAs, and other stakeholders to ensure their biodiversity interests are addressed in development planning. This document serves as a useful introduction to the concept.
It centralises biodiversity as a cross-cutting theme relevant to all fields of IA, where the aim for conservation is to work to biodiversity-related Conventions that are based on the premise that further loss of biodiversity is unacceptable.
Impacts of development projects are assessed in terms of:
- avoiding irreversible losses of biodiversity.
- seeking alternative solutions that minimize biodiversity losses.
- mitigation to restore any loss of biodiversity.
- compensation for unavoidable loss by providing substitutes of at least similar biodiversity value.
- highlighting opportunities for enhancement.
This approach can be called "positive planning for biodiversity." It helps achieve no net loss of biodiversity by ensuring:
- Priorities and targets for biodiversity at international, national, regional and local level are respected, and a positive contribution to achieving them is made.
- Damage is avoided to unique, endemic, threatened or declining species, habitats and ecosystems; to species of high cultural value to society, and to ecosystems providing important services.
The ‘Convention on Biological Diversity’ advocates an "ecosystem approach" to impact assessment because people and biodiversity depend on healthily functioning ecosystems that have to be assessed in an integrated way, not constrained by artificial boundaries. The ecosystem approach is participatory and requires a long-term perspective based on a biodiversity-based study area and adaptive management to deal with the dynamic nature of ecosystems, uncertainty and the often unpredictable nature of ecosystem functions, behavior and responses. Biodiversity concerns are not limited to protected areas. Elements of natural systems remain in even the most urbanized cities and play an often important role in the quality of life in those cities.
Traditional rights and uses of biodiversity are recognized in IA and the benefits from commercial use of biodiversity are shared fairly. Needs of future should be considered as well as current generations (inter-generational needs). Alternatives should be sought that do not trade in biodiversity "capital" to meet short term needs, where this could jeopardize the ability of future generations to meet their needs.
The precautionary principle is applied in any situation where important biodiversity may be threatened and there is insufficient knowledge to either quantify risks or implement effective mitigation. Application of the precautionary principle requires that development consent should be delayed while steps are taken to ensure that best available information can be obtained through consultation with local stakeholders/experts and/or new information on biodiversity can be obtained/consolidated.
An environmental assessments involves consulting widely to ensure that all stakeholders have been consulted and that important biodiversity values are taken into account. Valuation of biodiversity can only be done in negotiation with the different groups or individuals in society (stakeholders) who have an interest in biodiversity. Use traditional and indigenous knowledge wherever appropriate. Work carefully with indigenous communities to ensure that knowledge of biodiversity is not inappropriately exploited.
Biodiversity inclusive screening criteria are used to determine whether important biodiversity resources may be affected.
Biodiversity screening "triggers" for IA should include: • Potential impacts on protected areas and areas supporting protected species. • Impacts on other areas that are not protected but are important for biodiversity. • Activities posing a particular threat to biodiversity (in terms of their type, magnitude, location, duration, timing, reversibility). • Areas that provide important biodiversity services including extractive reserves, indigenous people's territories, wetlands, fish breeding grounds, soils prone to erosion, relatively undisturbed or characteristic habitat, flood storage areas, groundwater recharge areas, etc. Encourage development of a biodiversity screening map indicating important biodiversity values and ecosystem services. If possible, integrate this activity with the development of a National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP) and/or biodiversity planning at sub-national levels (e.g., regions, local authorities, towns) to identify conservation priorities and targets.
Scoping leads to Terms of Reference for IA, defining the issues to be studied and the methods that will be used. Use scoping as an opportunity to raise awareness of biodiversity concerns and discuss alternatives to avoid or minimize negative impacts on biodiversity.
It is good practice to produce a scoping report for consultation. This should address the following issues (on the basis of existing information and any preliminary surveys or discussions):
- The type of project, program, plan or policy, possible alternatives and a summary of activities likely to affect biodiversity
- An analysis of opportunities and constraints for biodiversity (include "no net biodiversity loss" or "biodiversity restoration" alternatives)
- Expected biophysical changes (in soil, water, air, flora, fauna)resulting from proposed activities or induced by any socioeconomic changes
- Spatial and temporal scale of influence, identifying effects on connectivity between ecosystems, and potential cumulative effects
- Available information on baseline conditions and any anticipated trends in biodiversity in the absence of the proposal
- Likely biodiversity impacts associated with the proposal in terms of composition, structure and function
- Biodiversity services and values identified in consultation with stakeholders and anticipated changes in these (highlight any irreversible impacts)
- Possible measures to avoid, minimize, or compensate for significant biodiversity damage or loss, making reference to any legal requirements
- Information required to support decision making and summary of important gaps
- Proposed IA methodology and timescale
- For practical use, develop in-country (sectoral) guidance translating this generic scoping sequence into tools, such as guidelines and sample Terms of Reference.
Address biodiversity at all appropriate levels and allow for enough survey time to take seasonal features into account. Focus on processes and services which are critical opportunity to raise awareness of biodiversity concerns and discuss alternatives to avoid or minimize negative impacts on biodiversity.
The CIAI recommends basing the assessment on the following questions:
At the gene level, to what extent will the proposal have significant effects on:
- Genetic diversity of species, particularly rare and declining species and those with identified as priorities in NBSAPs and/or subnational biodiversity plans?
- Opportunities for species populations to interact, e.g., by increasing habitat fragmentation and isolation?
- Risk of extinction?
- Persistence of locally-adapted populations?
At the species level, to what extent will the proposal:
- Alter the species-richness or species-composition of habitats in the study area?
- Alter the species-composition of communities?
- Cause some species to be lost from the area?
- Affect species identified as priorities in NBSAPs and/or subnational biodiversity plans?
- Increase the risk of invasion by alien species?
At the ecosystem level, to what extent will the proposal:
- Change the amount, quality or spatial organization of habitat?
- Affect plans to enhance habitat availability or quality?
- Damage ecosystem processes and services, particularly those on which local communities rely?
- If habitats will be lost or altered, is alternative habitat available to support associated species populations?
- Are there opportunities to consolidate or connect habitats?
Take an ecosystem approach and involve relevant stakeholders (including local communities). Consider the full range of factors affecting biodiversity. These include direct drivers of change associated with a proposal (e.g., land conversion and vegetation removal leading to loss of habitat-a key driver of biodiversity loss, emissions, disturbance, introduction of alien and genetically modified species, etc.); and indirect drivers of change which are harder to quantify, including demographic, economic, socio-political, cultural and technological processes or interventions.
Evaluate impacts of alternatives with reference to the baseline situation. Compare against thresholds and objectives for biodiversity. Use NBSAPs, sub-national biodiversity plans and other conservation reports for information and objectives. Take into account cumulative threats and impacts resulting either from repeated impacts of projects of the same or different nature over space and time, and/or from proposed plans, programs or policies.
Biodiversity is influenced by cultural, social, economic and biophysical factors. Cooperation between different specialists in the IA team is thus essential, as is the integration of findings which have bearing on biodiversity. Provide insight into cause-effect chains. If possible, quantify the changes in quality and amount of biodiversity. Explain the expected consequences of any biodiversity losses associated with the proposal, including the costs of replacing biodiversity services if they will be damaged by a proposal. Find out how these relate to relevant biodiversity priorities and objectives or any legal obligations? Indicate the legal issues that create the boundary conditions for decision making.
Remedial action can take several forms, i.e., avoidance (or prevention), mitigation (including restoration and rehabilitation of sites), and compensation. Apply the "positive planning approach," where avoidance has priority and compensation is used as a last resort measure. Avoid "excuse"-type compensation. Look for opportunities to positively enhance biodiversity. Acknowledge that compensation will not always be possible; there will still be cases where it is appropriate to say "no" to development proposals on grounds of irreversible damage to biodiversity.
Review for decision-making
Peer review of environmental reports with regard to biodiversity should be undertaken by a specialist with appropriate expertise, where biodiversity impacts are significant. Depending on the level of confidentiality of public decision-making, consideration should be given to the involvement of affected groups and civil society.
Avoid pitting conservation goals against development goals; balance conservation with sustainable use for economically viable, and socially and ecologically sustainable solutions. For important biodiversity issues, apply the precautionary principle where information is insufficient and the no net loss principle in relation to irreversible losses associated with the proposal.
Management, monitoring, evaluation and auditing
It is important to recognize that all prediction of biodiversity response to perturbation is uncertain, especially over long time frames. Management systems and programs, including clear management targets (or Limits of Acceptable Change (LC)) and appropriate monitoring, should be set in place to ensure that mitigation is effectively implemented, unforeseen negative effects are detected and addressed, and any negative trends are detected. Provision is made for regular auditing of impacts on biodiversity. Provision should be made for emergency response measures and/or contingency plans where upset or accident conditions could threaten biodiversity.