1.5 Links to the impact assessment process

Environmental impact assessments (EIAs) have been required by the Australian Government and state governments in Australia for more than three decades. The primary basis for impact assessment is to examine the potential impacts of any project before it proceeds so that a fair and balanced decision can be arrived at as transparently as possible. Impact assessment can also be required before a significant expansion or change in the originally approved project scope, such as changing from an underground to an open-cut operation.

The scope and statutory basis for EIA is continually evolving as community knowledge and expectations mature, technology improves, projects become larger in scale and the status of regions changes. EIA has evolved over the past decade from being largely focused on environmental issues to more explicitly accounting for social or economic impact assessment and planning, with increasing emphasis on combined environmental and social impact assessments. A particular shift in recent times has been the consideration of cumulative impacts. At its highest level, cumulative impact assessment addresses the sum of impacts of a proposed project across the social, environmental and economic dimensions. In the specific context of environmental impact, there is an increasing expectation by regulators that the cumulative effects of existing or proposed multiple operations in a region (such as impacts on water resources in a river catchment) will be addressed as part of the approvals process. Changes in the EIA process are expected to continue, and the emphasis on sustainability is likely to become more important for future mining projects.

Both monitoring and auditing are integral parts of the impact assessment and management process that is ongoing throughout the life of a mining operation. For example, monitoring systems play a key role in the initial assessment of values and likely impacts, while the establishment of environmental management programs to minimise ongoing impacts and facilitate recovery or rehabilitation requires ongoing monitoring, research, auditing and overall performance evaluation.

Leading practice sustainable development increasingly requires the application of impact assessment and management tools in a multidisciplinary manner above and beyond the requirements of legislation alone. 1

What are the different types of impact assessment?

Environmental impact assessment (EIA) is an assessment of the possible impacts—positive or negative—that a proposed project may have on the environment and the affected community, including impacts on heritage values and economic impacts. At the federal level in Australia, EIA provisions are contained in the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act). At the state level, EIA provisions are typically contained in land-use planning law, apart from in Western Australia, where they are in the state’s Environmental Protection Act 1986.

Environmental and social impact assessment incorporates both a social impact assessment and an EIA, which may have been undertaken separately in the past, and explicitly accounts for social or economic impact assessment and planning. Guidelines for EIA in Queensland and some other states now specifically require social and heritage values to be included.

Socioeconomic impact assessment (SIA) is an analysis of the economic impacts of a proposed project on communities, as required by leading practice in both life-of-mine-planning and impact assessment. A new methodological handbook for conducting SIAs was produced in 2012 by the International Mining for Development Centre (Franks 2012).

Primary versus secondary impacts: Primary impacts are often called direct impacts, while secondary impacts are referred to as indirect or induced impacts.

Cumulative impacts and effects are also an important consideration in resource development. Cumulative impacts and effects on the environment, people and communities can occur incrementally and involve a number of different inputs, some of which may be related to the development, while others might not. As the International Finance Corporation (IFC) states, ‘In some cases, the most ecologically devastating environmental effects and subsequent social consequences may result not from the direct effects of a particular action, project, or activity, but from the combination of existing stresses and the individually minor effects of multiple actions over time’ (IFC 2013).

Human rights risk assessments (HRRAs) and human rights impact assessments (HRIAs) constitute a necessary component of a company’s due diligence process in accordance with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (see Section 2.1), based on the company’s responsibility to respect human rights.

HRRAs and HRIAs should complement, and can be integrated into, the company’s pre-existing impact assessment and due diligence processes and should be used across all stages of the project life cycle to inform project design and planning, monitor risks and impacts in development, and evaluate human rights risks and opportunities throughout operations and beyond mine closure.

HRRAs and HRIAs encourage consideration of a broader range of issues than standard SIAs, and touch on cross-cutting themes relevant to every aspect of the business.

Footnotes

1 For example, see http://www.angloamerican.com.au/development/social/community-engagement/~/media/Files/A/Anglo-American-Plc/siteware/docs/seat_toolbox2.pdf.

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