Guidelines for conducting a comprehensive study of a project's environmental aspects

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A. Necessity of an environmental study

Ascertainment and consideration of likely environmental impacts is an essential part of project planning1). The necessary scope of a study on environmental impacts and environmentally sound project design will depend on the extent of the anticipated environmental stresses, the sensitivity of the environmental components requiring protection, the complexity of the project, the availability of information and the stage of appraisal. Particular attention must be focused on projects which typically involve major environmental risks, such as industrial plants producing significant emissions (e.g. refineries), infrastructure measures whose potential impacts are difficult to assess (e.g. construction of new cross-country roads/effects resulting from accessibility) and projects involving extensive interference with the balance of nature (e.g. mining, wood production, utilisation of water etc.). A detailed study will generally be required in such cases.

1) The purpose of the study is to provide a basis for project planning and appraisal. The results may be presented in the form of a separate study or as part of a feasibility study.

The following key environmental aspects must also be considered for other environmentally relevant projects:

- actual ecological situation in the project region or with respect to specific ecosystem
- existing stresses on the various ecosystems in the planned project location and their likely development if the project is not implemented (baseline state)
- description of the additional stresses imposed by the project and its alternatives
- estimation of future overall stresses
- interaction between ecological, economic, cultural and social effects
- impacts on women to be considered separately
- recommendations for environmentally sound options (alternative methods, emission-limiting requirements), including determination of suitable location
- overall evaluation

In order to lay down the framework and likely focal areas of an environmental study, the nature, reach and significance of the planned project's potential environmental impacts must be estimated with the aid of the usual documentation and relevant materials. The basis is provided by information about the project's design and context, the occurrence, dispersal and eventual whereabouts of pollutants, direct and indirect physical interference with ecosystems that affects natural cycling systems, and primary and anticipated secondary impacts on the socio-economic situation of the project region's population. Appropriate terms of reference for the study must then be elaborated on the basis of this information.

B. Basis for investigating environmental impacts

1. Initial information can be derived from the project documents. It must be ensured that these documents provide concrete details that can be drawn upon in assessing environmental aspects. This applies in particular to areas of significance both in technical and economic terms as well as from the ecological viewpoint. Foremost among these are the following:

- use of natural resources
- use of land
- transport situation
- (waste) disposal
- energy consumption
- socio-economic and cultural context
- impacts on upstream and downstream sectors

Where necessary, more detailed information is to be collected during elaboration of a feasibility study, making use of local knowledge where appropriate.

2. In order to determine who is to compile the study and with whose assistance, it is necessary to ascertain the existing scientific and technical expertise, the regulations applied and the extent to which statutory requirements and relevant findings are put into practice. If the structures for ensuring compliance with environmental requirements are considered effective, for example, the environmental study may be confined to particularly difficult and atypical problems.

C. Content and structure of the environmental study

The structure set out below is intended to help ensure that account is taken of all significant environmental impacts in the project region as well as upstream and downstream sectors. Experience has shown that serious environmental damage occurs in cases where follow-on problems were not spotted in advance; one way of preventing such a development is to lay down comprehensive terms of reference. The structure given should be regarded as the maximum scope for a study and is to be used in its complete form whenever complex environmental impacts (as described in A above) are anticipated.

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