Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) is a varietyof approaches that aim to integrate environmental considerations into policies, plans and programmes and evaluate their inter-linkages with economic and social considerations. More specific, SEA is a tool to:
- structure public and government debate in the preparation of policies, plans and programmes;
- feed this debate through a robust assessment of the environmental and, where required, social and economic consequences;
- ensure that the results of assessment and debate are taken into account during decision making and implementation.
This means that public participation, transparency and good quality information are key principles. Consequently, SEA is more than the preparation of a report; it is a tool to enhance good governance.
The applicability of SEA is extensive. It aims at better strategies, ranging from legislation and country-wide development policies to more specific sector and spatial plans. SEA is widely applied in different shapes and forms, and in countries as diverse as Canada, Nepal, Mozambique and Bolivia. This wide variation inspired the OECD-DAC to come up with a more harmonised SEA Guidance supported by a large number of countries. The information on this website is in line with the OECD-DAC Guidance.
Starting point for SEA design is the national context and the characteristics of the planning processes to which SEA is applied. Traditionally, SEA is often applied as a stand alone process, parallel to planning. This is a good way of learning how to carry out SEA. From here, SEA can be further developed into its most effective form: integrated in the planning process, bringing stakeholders together during key stages of the planning process and feeding their debate with reliable environmental information.
SEA can be divided into key stages, consisting of different steps. However, an SEA should always be tailored to the planning process that it is supporting. This means that sequence of steps below can be adapted case by case.
A. Establishing the context for SEA
- Identify stakeholders in the planning process and prepare a communication plan;
- Screen and decide on the need for SEA;
- Set objectives: develop with all stakeholders a common vision on (environmental) problems, objectives and identification of alternatives;
B. Implementing SEA
- Scope the content for the SEA, including a look at synergies or conflict with existing (environmental) policy objectives
- Collect baseline data
- Assess alternatives;
- Identify how to enhance opportunities and mitigate impacts;
- Assure quality through independent review and public involvement of draft reports;
- Document results and make these available;
C. Informing and influencing decision-making
- Organise a dialogue among stakeholders on the SEA results and make recommendations for decision making;
- Justify in writing the (political) choices that have been made in the finally adopted policy or plan;
D. Monitoring and evaluation
- Monitor decisions taken and the implementation of the adopted policy or plan;
- Evaluate both SEA and policy or plan.
SEA is flexible, the scope and level of detail can differ depending on time and resources available. Available time mainly depends on the timing of the planning process. Costs for SEA may vary correspondingly from a couple of thousand to half a million Euros.
Ideally SEA is integrated throughout the development process of a specific legislation, policy, plan or programme, starting as early in the process as possible. However, even when decisions have already been taken, SEA can play a meaningful role in monitoring implementation. For example, to decide on necessary mitigating actions or to feed into future renewal of decisions. SEA may even get the form of a sector assessment used to set the agenda for future policies and plans.