Proceedings Report: Regional Workshop on Mainstreaming Climate Change Adaptation in Environmental Impact Assessment in Asia
As the fastest growing and most populated region in the world, Asia-Pacific is highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and related natural disasters. This vulnerability is due in large part to the projected increase in annual rainfall, sea-level rise and frequency of intensifying climate-related events that lead to extreme floods and droughts. Island nations, coastal regions and other low-lying areas with high population density are especially vulnerable.
Improved development planning is at the heart of a country’s ability to adapt to these impacts of climate change. One way for decision-makers to enhance resilience to climate impacts is to mainstream climate change adaptation in environmental impact assessment (EIA) which is a principal planning tool for major infrastructure projects.
Climate impacts on infrastructure are a function of several factors including changing climate variables (gradual and extreme); life expectancy of assets; location, geomorphology and existing environment of the infrastructure; condition of existing assets; and critical assets chain and cascading consequences. Climate change could also affect infrastructure through other impact channels including degradation of materials and long terms losses, and increased demand for infrastructure and services (such as for irrigation and water storage services in a case of drought).
Current infrastructure is designed based on past climate not future climate projections, leading to potentially risky design flaws. Addressing climate change in infrastructure planning means dealing with the uncertainties associated with future climate projections and incorporating them into project designs. This requires localized climate projections applied to the current weather pattern to make it robust—a major challenge given the current state of knowledge on climate predictions.
In designing new infrastructure, there are several potential entry points for incorporating climate change considerations throughout the EIA cycle which can be explored. Several countries have already begun to address climate change issues in EIA. Progress can be classified into three stages: 1) the policy intention stage; 2) the operational guidance and legal and regulatory modification stage; and 3) the implementation stage. Canada, Australia, and the Netherlands are most advanced globally. The three countries have reached the implementation stage in mainstreaming climate change in EIA, while other countries have made varying progress at the policy intention and operational guidance and legal framework levels.
Key challenges in integrating climate change considerations in EIA are technical capacity, institutional capacity, and availability of resources and improved information, including downscaled climate data. To move forward, there is a need to develop a clear methodology for climate risk assessment and vulnerability mapping, and to adjust existing EIA standards and guidelines, especially for risk assessment, materials selection, maintenance requirements, and technology choice for new projects.
Finally, a combination of project-level and strategic level tools is required to address climate change as an upstream planning challenge. While EIA addresses project level issues, strategic environmental assessment (SEA) is a family of analytical and participatory approaches which aim to integrate environmental considerations into policies, plans and programmes, and evaluate their inter-linkages with economic and social considerations to inform high-level decision making. As in the case of the Netherlands and Vietnam, SEA can effectively incorporate climate change issues into economic development and sectoral plans and 7 potentially avoid environmentally sensitive projects that may trigger EIA requirements. Dialogue and public participation is an important aspect of SEA and the process is often as important as the final outcome document. A successful SEA requires a dialogue process which is flexible, faciliated jointly by all relevant agecies, and based on intensive stakeholder consultation.