Environmental impact assessment (EIA) is the process of identifying potential environmental effects of proposed development and the required mitigation measures.It is one of the most widely used planning tools today, but its ability to promote biodiversity conservation is largely unexplored.
We studied the ecological component of the Israeli EIA system by reviewing a representative sample of 52 environmental impact statements (EISs) produced since 1995 and their corresponding guidelines issued by the Ministry of the Environment. Quality of both EISs and guidelines was determined using a simple scoring approach. Lack of quantitative data, meaningful analyses, and ecosystem perspective was apparent throughout.
"Guideline quality scores were the most important factor determining the quality of EISs; second was the involvement of an ecological consultant in preparing the EIS".
Many EISs failed to perform field surveys and their qualitative nature hampered meaningful impact prediction. Most EISs concentrated on aesthetic mitigation measures and did not assess their feasibility and likely success. Most of these flaws reflect poor standards rather than true scientific limitations. Guideline quality scores were the most important factor determining the quality of EISs; second was the involvement of an ecological consultant in preparing the EIS.
We found a decreasing trend of EIS quality scores over time. Improvements in EIA procedures, particularly in ecological guidelines and the incorporation of ecological consultation, are important for upgrading ecological impact assessment so that the potential of EIA to advance biodiversity conservation can be realized.