Assessment of Environmental Effects
This volume is a very useful contribution to the ongoing evolution of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) in all its complexities. My investigations as Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment mostly involve either assessment of environmental effects in some form or the quality of such assessments by others. From these studies a few themes are emerging. The Resource Management Act (RMA), which imbeds Assessment of Environmental Effects (AEE) into its core processes, may be devaluing EIA because of the poor quality of many AEEs and hence delays in resource consent processing. An essential problem is that AEE’s are all too often seen by applicants as an imposed burden rather than a quality assurance process and hence a benefit. To truly contribute to environmental health EIA will have to evolve into assessments of environmental or ecological sustainability as discussed by Barry Sadler in this volume. EIA was born in the 1960s when the focus of environmental problems was primarily local, often on pollution in nature and with relatively simple cause/effect relationships. Today’s environmental sustainability problems are recognised as being much more complex. Many of them are global in effect, most have many interwoven causes. They require detailed focus on systems in ecological, economic and institutional terms. Effects will often be cumulative with many unknowns. The application of genetic science/genetic engineering to land-based production and protection is an example of where there are many unknowns. Assessment of environmental effects necessitates innovative methodologies that will probably draw as much from ecological adaptive management research as from current risk management approaches. For EIA to truly contribute to advancing the sustainability of our natural capital it will need to develop capacities to be more forward looking and assess such attributes as the institutional capacity to truly advance sustainable development. This will require techniques to assess a number of matters including environmental/ecological literacy, how science contributes to policy, the role of the judiciary in shaping the input of environmental sciences to resource management and accommodating diverse yet deeply held values and beliefs regarding resources and their management. There are plenty of great opportunities to advance the “science” of EIAs. Fields that will stretch current methodologies include water, waste water and stormwater management, energy supply and management, mobility provision and management, the New Zealand dimensions of global climate change, intensive landuses and agricultural applications of genetic engineering. These areas will be the test beds of EIAs over the next decade. There is great potential for the discipline – provided it becomes very much more system and future focused. I look forward to watching – and hopefully contributing in some small way to that evolution. Finally, my congratulations to the Centre for Advanced Engineering for bringing this collection of papers together.