BIODIVERSITY AND THE EIA PROCESS

Considering Biodiversity in the EIA process

What is Biodiversity?

The Convention on Biological Diversity defines Biodiversity as the variability among living organisms from all sources including terrestrial (land), marine (sea), and other aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are part; this includes diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems.

In simpler terms, Biodiversity is all the living creatures, plants and animals, on and in the earth, water and air in a particular place. Biodiversity also describes the interaction between these living creatures and the area (ecosystem) in which they live.

Why is Biodiversity Important?

Biodiversity supports human life and livelihoods in that it provides a number of ‘ecosystem services’:

How is Biodiversity affected by development?

How to consider Biodiversity in the EIA Process

Typically what happens (or should happen) during the EIA process is that the impacts on Biodiversity are investigated by a specialist – people with the correct qualifications in botany, ecology, entomology etc. usually at a postgraduate level. Specialists who can focus broadly on the impacts across the ecosystem should be brought in early. These specialists will not focus merely on fish for example, but more generally on the entire freshwater ecosystem, or not merely on mammals but on the entire terrestrial ecosystem. Later, once the general impacts are identified, specialists on fish, botany (plants), mammals, birds, geology etc could be involved where relevant. The specialist could be an ecologist from the local conservation agency or a consultant. These specialist studies are usually conducted in the following fields of Biodiversity (depending on the type of development):

The specialist has to look at how ecosystems and species could be affected by development, and how best the development can be designed, located and managed to avoid negative impacts or result in benefits to Biodiversity.

When assessing the likely significance of an activity, it is important to take the following into consideration:

In addition it is important to consider the impacts of the proposed activity/s on

It is not only essential to assess the impacts on the affected site, but also to consider the impacts beyond the site (in a regional and catchments context). In addition, it is important to think of both direct (eg. clearing of vegetation) as well as indirect impacts (eg downstream impacts of on-site changes in water flow) and cumulative (additive) impacts. For more detailed guidance on the above, please access the DEADP Guidelines and CBBIA Guidelines provided below.

Generally, the impacts are assessed by the specialists according to the following criteria drawn from the EIA Regulations, published by the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (April 1998) in terms of the Environmental Conservation Act No. 73 of 1989. These criteria may change according to the specialist field. These criteria include:

Criteria for Impact Assessment Specialists
Criteria Description of elements that are central to each issue
Nature of impact This is an appraisal/evaluation of the type of effect the construction, operation and maintenance of a development would have on the affected environment. This description should include what is to be affected and how.
Extent of the impact Describe whether the impact will be:
Site specific
Extending only as far as the activity, or
Limited to the site and its immediate surroundings
Regional
Will have an impact on the region

A development can often have a regional impact on Biodiversity. If a feeding site for birds or mammals is destroyed, the population might leave the area or go extinct if they don't find other suitable areas. The same applies for national and international if one considers the cumulative impacts. Studies have shown that housing developments can lead to losses of up to 90% of the species in an area where as stock farming on natural veld ensures that up to 80% of the species remain.
National
Will have an impact on a national scale - particularly if an ecosystem or species of national significance is affected
International
Will have an impact across international borders or will impact on an ecosystem or species of international significance
Duration of impact
Short term
(0-5 years)
Medium term
(5-15 years)
Long term
(16-30 years)
Impact will cease after the operational or working life of the activity, either due to natural process or by human intervention
Permanent
Impact will be where mitigation or moderation by natural process or by human intervention will not occur in such a way or in such a time span that the impact can be considered transient or temporary
Discontinuous or intermittent
Impact may only occur during specific climatic conditions or during a particular time of year
Intensity The specialist should establish whether the impact is destructive or benign (mild) and should be qualified as:
Low Impact
Affects the environment in such a way that natural, cultural and soil functions and processes are not affected
Medium
Affected environment is altered by natural, cultural and soil functions and processes continue although in a modified way
High
Natural, cultural or social functions or processes are altered to the extent that they will temporarily or permanently cease
The specialist study must attempt to quantify (or measure the amount of) the extent of the impacts and outline the rationale or reasoning used.
Probability of occurrence The probability of the impact actually occurring and should be described as:
Improbable
Low likelihood
Probable
Distinct possibility
Highly probable
Most likely
Definite
Impact will occur regardless of any prevention measures
Determination of significance Based on a synthesis or combination of the information contained in the above-described procedure; and drawing on standards, targets for Biodiversity conservation, known thresholds for ecosystem services, species or ecosystem viability, and/or carrying capacity of ecosystems; the specialist is required to assess the potential impacts in terms of the following significance criteria:
No significance
The impacts do not influence the proposed development and/or environment in any way
Low significance
The impacts will have a minor influence on the proposed development and/or environment. These impacts require some attention to modification of the project design where possible, or alternative mitigation (a choice of other methods to alleviate the impacts)
Medium significance
The impacts will have a moderate influence on the proposed development and/or environment. The impact can be ameliorated (lessened or improved) by a modification in the project design or implementation of effective mitigation measures. Should have an influence on decision, unless it is mitigated
High significance
The impacts will have a major influence on the proposed development and/or environment. The impacts could have the no-go implication on portions of the development regardless of any mitigation measures that could be implemented. Influence decision, regardless of any possible mitigation
Confidence The specialist should state what degree of confidence there is in the predictions based on the available information and level of knowledge and expertise.
Low
Medium
High

The impacts should also be assessed in terms of the following aspects:

  1. Legal requirements

    The specialist should identify and list the relevant South African legislation and permit requirements relevant to the development proposals. He / she should provide reference to the procedures required to obtain permits and describe whether the development proposals contravene or oppose the applicable legislation.

  2. Status of the impact

    The specialist should determine whether the impacts are negative, positive or neutral (this is a cost - benefit analysis). The impacts are to be assessed in terms of their effect on the project and the environment. For example, an impact that is positive for the proposed development may be negative for the environment. It is important that this distinction is made in the analysis.

  3. Risk or likelihood of irreversible or irreplaceable loss of natural capital

    The specialist should state clearly whether or not the impacts may be irreversible, or may result in an irreplaceable loss of Biodiversity (e.g. loss of a population, species, special habitat, threatened ecosystem). The specialist should also state the levels of uncertainty associated with making predictions of impacts.

  4. Effects on valued ecosystem services

    The specialist should state clearly whether or not the impacts could result in either a degradation or deterioration of ecosystem services, and the associated implications to affected communities or society as a whole should be explained.


Guidelines

  1. BSSACU - Recommended Terms Of Reference For The Consideration Of Biodiversity In Environmental Assessment And Decision-making   38KB
  2. IAIA - Biodiversity In Impact Assessment   94KB
  3. CBBIA Guidance Document on Biodiversity, Impact Assessment and Decision Making in Southern Africa   3.1MB
  4. CBD - Voluntary Guidelines On Biodiversity, including Impact Assessment   168KB
  5. DEADP Guideline For Involving Biodiversity Specialists In EIA Processes   904KB
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