Financial stimulus plans could pose a threat to Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) around the world.
The severe effects of economic recession have precipitated the need for governments to act quickly in structuring recovery plans to limit negative impacts. In several countries, the need for immediate action has led to proposed rollbacks or reductions of EIAs.
In Canada, for example, some EIA procedures have been suspended for two years in order to expedite stimulus spending. The proposed waiving of existing public participation and consultation mechanisms is significant in that it undermines efforts to integrate environmental initiatives into stimulus packages and limits transparency measures to influence and track how bailout money is spent.
EIAs were developed in the U.S. as an “action-forcing mechanism” to assess and mitigate the environmental and human impacts of government funded projects. Now adopted by over 100 countries worldwide, EIAs are considered an important tool for the inclusion of environmental decision-making and public participation in infrastructure development projects.
Recent U.S. experience stands in contrast with that of Canada. Following the passing of the second U.S. stimulus bill in February, Senator Barbara Boxer (D–CA) successfully halted Senator John Barrasso’s (R-WY) efforts to suspend the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The Boxer amendment was passed and served to strengthen NEPA procedures and protect EIA procedures.
At the G-20 summit in London last April, global economic leaders pledged $1.1 trillion to address the global financial crisis. This infusion of capital into the International Monetary Fund (IMF) came at critical time when the financial institution is preparing to revise lending conditions in order to enhance transactional transparency.
EIAs vary widely in scope and depth from country to country, and the new lending terms of IMF stimulus loans have great power to strengthen or diminish existing procedures. Preliminary findings from The Access Initiative partners in nearly 20 countries, suggest that there is a need to champion EIAs as a mechanism to increase public participation and improve transparency (see Table).
In countries like Hungary, India, and Sri Lanka, recent attempts to rollback EIAs have resulted in the removal of public participation requirements in environmental decision-making. Additional campaigns in Mexico and Nigeria could result in similar rollbacks.
As international fiscal stimulus measures take form, the IMF and other international financial institutions ideally should adopt lending conditions that strengthen public participation and external consultation in environmental decision-making. Meanwhile, it is increasingly important to monitor and report on simultaneous actions to rollback back EIAs, so that proposed green stimulus initiatives are realized in the structuring as well as the implementation of fiscal stimulus plans.
NOTE: The table below presents the results of an informal survey by members of The Access Initiative Network. WRI serves as the secretariat of the Access Initiative.
|Country||Fiscal Stimulus (B$US)||IMF Loan||EA rolled back||Proposed rollback of EA and/or public participation in active legislation or regulation||No reported rollbacks||EA safeguarded as part of stimulus|
|Sri Lanka||2.9 (requested)||X|