An overview of SEA as yet another appraisal method in the
Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA), is the most recent addition to
the established list of Integrated Environmental Management tools (IEM).
These tools include Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs)
and Environmental Management Systems (EMS), Strategic Environmental
Management Frameworks (SEMFS) and
Strategic Environmental Management Plans (SEMPS).
The introduction of SEA has resulted from the limitations of
project-specific EIAs and the need to ensure that those environmental issues
are proactively addressed in policies, plans and programmes (Versfeld,
SEA in South Africa
SEA has rapidly emerged as a tool for planning and environmental
management in South Africa. Most South African SEAs have been initiated as a
result of consensus amongst provincial government representatives and
development proponents that environmental issues should be addressed at an
early stage of the project life cycle.
It is often seen that a tiered approach is followed with SEA initiatives
in South Africa. In this approach SEA is intended to be part of an ongoing
process of environmental assessment and management. SEA may tier to stages
of detailed planning, project EIAs or Environmental Management Systems.
SEA and the International Context
Internationally SEA attempts to integrate environmental factors and
sustainability goals into the main stream of development policy making, as
called for by the Brundtland Commission and Agenda 21 (Sadler,
1996). However, the adoption and use of SEA varies both geographically
and with regard to the levels and sectors of decision-making that are
addressed. Only a few countries have established formal SEA systems,
although others are in the process of doing so or have acknowledged the
importance of applying SEA. In general, the acceptance of SEA to plans and
programs is more widely accepted than policy level SEA (CSIR,
SEA is in many ways a prototype of this new approach to environmental
issues. It requires institutions to consider the consequences of a wide
range of alternatives and actions to be considered at an early stage during
the planning process. It also intends to choose the most appropriate action
on environmental as well as socio-economic grounds, and to minimise any
remaining environmental impacts. It is thus characterised by its strategic
nature and its emphasis on preventing environmental damage. SEA requires
environmental data as the basis for its predictions; as well as greater
institutional co-operation to collect the data and to make consistent
predictions. By requiring planning decisions to be made in a more rational
and transparent approach, SEA is likely to promote both equity and public
participation (Therivel et al; 1995).
The methodology behind SEA and its approach
SEA is at present a generic term that is not yet linked to a clearly
established methodology. It is thus important to recognise that there is no
definite approach to SEA, either in South Africa or internationally.
However, commonalties between different SEA processes can be identified and
have been used to develop a set of principles, which provide some
characterisation of SEA. These principles are based on practical experience
in South Africa and the tracking of international trends.
Two of the main principles for SEA are its flexible approach and its
focus on the environment. This flexibility allows it to be applied at high
levels of planning, policy formulation and decision making processes.
Furthermore, SEA can be applied at different spatial scales and across
The focus of SEA is on the environment (social, economic and biophysical)
and the assessment of the effect of the environment on development, whereas
EIAs assess the effect of development on the environment, should development
take place. SEA is therefore an important tool for the promotion of
sustainable development (CSIR, 1997).
Other SEA principles are as follows:
- SEA identifies the opportunities and constraints that the environment
places on development.
- SEA is part of an ongoing process or tiered approach to environmental
assessment and management.
- SEA is a flexible process, which is adaptable to the policy, planning
and sectoral development cycle.
- SEA is a participative process, which is stakeholder driven.
- SEA is set within the context of a vision and presents alternative
- SEA sets the criteria for levels of environmental quality or limits of
- The scope for SEA is defined within the wider context of environmental
- SEA is linked to sustainability.
SEA is not a procedure that can always be taken "off the
shelf". This is because the issues, needs and priorities expressed by
the users or clients of the SEA, define the form of SEA. It is important to
note that the flexibility of SEA is to be applied for different purposes at
different scales. As a result of the flexibility of SEA in its application
and approach, it should be noted that few SEAs would adopt all the
principles outlined above. However, no SEA should contradict any of the
SEA does not attempt to replace or contradict existing planning and
policy-making mechanisms. Instead, it complements these mechanisms by
offering a tool which addresses issues of resource use, efficiency and