Sustainability principles and EIA report quality in renewable energy projects
Mahloko, Moleboheng Patience
MetadataShow full item record
The concept of sustainability is the principal objective of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), but the uncertainty that sparks the EIA and sustainability debate has resulted in the EIA process being criticized. The EIA process is criticised for overlooking some aspects of the environment while others are prioritized. Sustainability Assessment is a more holistic process that can better integrate the objectives of sustainability as opposed to project-level EIA. Gibson (2006) advocates sustainability principles as a preferred approach to Sustainability Assessment since the principles allow for a specific project to be evaluated based on the requirements of the principles of sustainability. These principles include “Socio-ecological system integrity”, “Livelihood sufficiency and opportunity”, “Intragenerational equity”, “Intergenerational equity”, “Resource maintenance and efficiency”, “Socio-ecological civility and democratic governance”, “Precaution and adaptation” as well as “Immediate and long-term integration”. This study makes a contribution to the EIA and sustainability debate by investigating how the EIRQ of Renewable Energy Projects corresponds to Gibson’s (2006) Principles of Sustainability. This would outline the extent to which EIRQ represents EIA in Sustainability Assessment and reveal how much of Sustainability Assessment is currently being achieved through EIA. The results indicate that the quality of the EIRs of Renewable Energy Projects is satisfactory with 2Bs (Generally complete and satisfactory with only a few exclusions and weaknesses) and 4Cs (Has weaknesses and omissions but is considered satisfactory). Review Areas 1 (Description of the development, local environment and baseline conditions) and 4 (Communication of results) were the best performing while most of the weaknesses can be ascribed to Review Areas 2 (Identification and evaluation of key impact) and 3 (Alternatives and Mitigation). The sustainability principles were satisfactorily contemplated (C grades) in three of the reports while the other three were just unsatisfactory (D grades). The requirements of Review Areas 1 (Socio-ecological system integrity) and 5 (Resource maintenance and sufficiency) were the most well contemplated while weaknesses were observed in Review Areas 3 (Intragenerational equity), 7 (Precaution and adaptation) and 8 (Immediate and long-term integration). The comparison between the EIRQ requirements and the sustainability principles requirements indicates that a part of Sustainability Assessment is achieved through EIA. However, not all of 5/140 the sustainability principles requirements were considered in the EIRQ criteria and this suggests imbalances in EIA. This study confirms that project-level EIA achieves a part of Sustainability Assessment whereas Sustainability Assessment provides an all-inclusive alternative to achieving sustainability where all biophysical, social and economic impacts are contemplated. It is concluded that the correspondence between the EIRQ of Renewable Energy Projects and Gibson’s (2006) principles of sustainability is poor, since the EIRQ criteria are not fully reflective of the sustainability principles requirements. Therefore, to move closer toward Sustainability Assessment in Renewable Energy Projects, the formulated sustainability principles criteria should be integrated into the EIRQ review criteria of Solar CSP projects.