Guest Speaker Series: Role of Environmental Assessment Reports
On May 28, Bobbi Schijf, Technical Secretary International Cooperation, Netherlands Commission for Environmental Assessment, presented to MEL in Integrated Water Management students. Schijif discussed some of the latest water challenges and the ways that the Impact Assessment field and practices can help create better, more sustainable projects.
Bobbi Schijf has nearly 20 years of experience in the field of environmental management. She is acquainted with a broad range of sustainable development issues but has always been interested in impact assessment. After graduating with a Masters in Environmental Science from the University of Utrecht in 1997, Schijf took a research position at the University of Otago, New Zealand. She was responsible for a research project on the role of impact assessment information in governmental decision-making, which culminated in a PhD.
Since 2006 she has been working at the Netherlands Commission on Environmental Assessment (NCEA). Here she undertakes independent quality review of impacts assessments (ESIAs and SEAs) and capacity development work. Schijf has worked to improve the national frameworks for management of environmental and social risks in different countries in Asia and Africa, and more recently in the Middle East.
During Schijf’s presentation to MEL in Integrated Water Management students, she introduced the tool of environmental assessment – both environmental and social impact assessment (ESIA) and strategic environmental assessment (SEA). This insight provided understanding into industry approaches and an understanding of the reasons impact assessment is a necessary element to many projects.
To Schijf, impact assessment fundamentally helps make better decisions.
She highlighted the reason for its relevancy to sustainable decision-making is that impact assessment acts as a tool to “map out environmental and social consequences,” such as noise pollution or ecological destruction.
Impact assessment delivers valuable information about how to achieve business and technical objectives in the most sustainable and effective way possible, to map out potential consequences and provide alternative suggestions.
This is a key component of all projects, which Schijf demonstrates with an example of SEA for flood management in the Netherlands for the Room for the River Programme. Schijf described the key role of the SEA in the Room, for the River Programme, to be building broad societal and governmental support for a shift in the flood management approach: moving from traditional engineering solutions to multiple-use landscapes to provide the most low-cost environmental and social impacts.
Schijf highlighted that applying ESIA and SEA worldwide is broad but differs from country to country, as some reports are more thorough than others.
This reflects the need for more active industry professionals supporting or joining the Impact Assessment field, which will lead to better collaboration and knowledge distribution.
The NCEA operates across the globe to institute these practices, promoting more strategic approaches with consequences of actions thoroughly investigated and quality advice delivered on projects from a multitude of stakeholders, from private business to government.
Schijf noted that information and dialogue are key components of impact assessment, especially when working with diverse groups and a variety of countries. Building effective communication and leadership skills during the cohort’s time in the MEL programs, would aid and prepare the cohort, to engage in essential practices such as impact assessment.
Lastly, Nazia Zakir, a current MEL in Integrated Water Management student with a background in environment and climate change policy and implementation, gave an example of SEA for hydropower planning in Pakistan.
Her experience has yielded reports that revealed long term impacts of development to decision makers.
The project in Pakistan in which she collaborated alongside the NCEA, in was located in the Poonch Rover system in the Province of Azad Jammu Kashmir. Zakir conveyed that the role for SEA in this project was to help make the shift from project thinking to strategic planning, thereby exposing conflicting claims on the water in the system and the issues that could arise from the projects under Zakir’s review.
Zakir’s involvement demonstrates the variety of projects for ESIA and SEA practices, and the variety of professional backgrounds that MEL students come from.
The MEL in Integrated Water Management students were given the opportunity to learn about Impact Assessment from an industry professional and to learn from applied, current and contextual examples conveyed by both Bobbi Schijf and Nazia Zakir.
The cohort was able to hear about latest industry practices that can help to create more sustainable and effective projects.
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