Investigating South African Environmental Practitioners’ perceptions on the integration of specialist studies in EIA reports
Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is an important tool used globally to manage the impact of human activities on the environment, by identifying, predicting, evaluating and introducing mitigation measures for sustainable development. Therefore, EIA need inputs of expert specialist studies within the EIA reports. Despite EIA’ many benefits, many problems are experienced in EIA practice; these include EIA reports being inadequately detailed, thus resulting in reports which are poorly integrated. The aim of this study was to investigate South African Environmental Practitioners’ perspectives of the integration of specialist studies into EIA reports. Specific Objectives were to identify problems associated with the integration, investigate perspectives of practitioners on the integration and make recommendations on the integration of specialist studies into EIA reports in South Africa. A literature review, self-administered survey questionnaire, IAIAsa poster session as well as panel discussion were used for data collection. The key findings of the literature review were that lack of experience and regulatory bodies allows people from different fields without relevant experience to start practising as EAPs. Limited budget allocated to carry out the EIA process, unclear term of reference and insufficient time leaves room for omission of important assessment phases. The way inputs from different practitioners are managed and communicated in EIA reports makes it difficult to understand the contents of the report. Some of the key problems identified by specialists associated with the integration was lack of knowledge from practitioners, limited allocation of budget to carry out specialist studies, time, misinterpretation of specialist studies and specialists not having access to the final EIA report. However, EAPs were of the opinion that receiving specialist studies reports late and complex findings is one of the major problems. Specialists disagreed that their studies were successfully integrated into EIA reports. They also agreed that important information is often omitted from the EIA reports. However, EAPs were of the opinion that specialist studies were successfully integrated and information is accurately communicated into EIA reports. According to the practitioners, the most successful ways of integrating specialist studies into EIA reports are to have integration meetings which can be used to integrate specialist findings to the reports, the person carrying out this task should understand the work sharing of executive summaries and that specialists should be allowed to review their part in EIA reports prior to submission to Competent Authority. It can be concluded that despite the development of EIA in this country, there is still room for improvement in report writing to address these problems. Therefore, in order to achieve an effective integration of specialist studies into EIA reports, there needs to be clear communication between specialists and EAPs regarding relevant information which needs to be in the EIA report.