Conference proceedings article

Where did requirements for alternatives in EIA go?


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Publication Details

Author list: Longueville, Anna

Publication year: 2013


In the 1960s the growing interests for environmental questions became prominent and were worldwide recognized. The safeguard of natural resources, the recognition of the environment´s carrying capacity, and the need for planning to minimize conflicts between environment and development were issues pointed out. In 1969 the US enacted the National Environmental Policy Act, NEPA, with its “action forcing” provisions in section 102(2). The provisions included a procedure and a document and was directed towards activities, with likely significant impact on the environment. What gave this section teeth was the requirement for “alternatives to the proposed action”. This tool, internationally known as EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) was later picked up by other countries and international organisations, where it was considered as a vital component for decision making processes aiming at environmental awareness. EIA was outlined as guidelines and principles by UNEP 1972, reflected in the Espoo convention in 1991 and 1992 declared as principle 17 in the Rio Declaration. This clearly reflects a special degree of acceptance in modern environmental law. However, the postulate to investigate alternatives has been circumvented in practice. Today it can be left out without even being challenged. Many lawyers obviously have difficulties to really understand EIA and the idea behind it. From a sustainability perspective this is indeed fatal. This article puts the request for alternative investigations in perspective of a) effective decision making and sustainable use of natural resources, b) environmental quality standards and environmental planning and c) sustainable assessment tools.


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