The perceived value of Environmental Assessment (EA) for the Government of South Africa
Van Staden, I.
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Environmental Assessment (EA) is a fundamental environmental management tool in South Africa that plays an important role in the management of environmental impacts in the country. EA aims to ensure that development takes place in an environmentally sustainable manner while also generating social, economic, and governmental benefits. The exact nature of these benefits and the extent to which they are realized have, however, not been determined, resulting in uncertainty around the value of EA. The aim of this study was to explore the benefits, and subsequently the value, of EA for the South African government. These insights contribute to the current debate on the value of EA and could potentially facilitate the process of specifying focus areas to which EA resources could be directed to ensure the realization and overall enhancement of sustainable development in South Africa. A total of 175 semi-structured questionnaires were completed by EA government officials testing their views on the benefits of EA for the South African government. Questionnaires were transcribed and analyzed through coding and content analysis. The findings suggest that EA offers numerous potential benefits for government of which the most significant was its ability to promote legal compliance and enforcement. In terms of realized benefits, most officials mentioned the protection of biodiversity and sensitive environmental features as a key contribution of EA. To breach the gap between the potential benefits offered by EA and the realization of these benefits, most officials suggested that more effort should be invested into environmental education, capacity building and raising awareness on environmental issues. The findings from this study provide new insights into the value of EA, especially for the government sector. EA value, characterized by identifying benefits and gaps, should contribute to governmental introspection which should lead to more informed decision-making on issues affecting the environment and people, and assist government in dealing with current environmental issues.