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This glossary will be updated continuously.

Cumulative Impact Assessment - Evaluating Cumulative Effects

This is not a specific tool - but an approach aimed at enhancing the quality of EIAs, SEAs and other such processes. The objective is to ensure that any assessment process takes a full view of ALL the developments which might be taking, or planned to take place, within an area of influence - both as a result of the proposed development under specific investigation, or independent to it.


Environmental Management Programme Reports for prospecting and mining. This is a process developed specifically for the mining industry - to provide guidelines for the development, management, and ultimate closure of mining operations. the primary objective lies in impact mitigation. EMPRs were developed by the Department of Mineral and Energy Affairs.

Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)

EIA is a project specific process which looks at how a proposed development might impact on the environment, and at how those impacts might be mitigated. The EIA is an extremely important and useful tool in South Africa - and the primary legislative check on most forms of development - a check which also allows for the shaping of the development to be more environmentally acceptable. The completion of an EIA is a legal requirement for many types of development project including all forms of land transformation, such as conversion of natural veld to agriculture or forestry. A good EIA will also give consideration to alternative ways in which the land or resource could be used.
The Department of Environment Affairs has the statutory authority to apply EIA to all development, through the National Environmental Management Act (NEMA).

Environmental Management Frameworks (EMFs)

The EMF is a spatial inventory, essentially a filing system of information, with a strong focus on biophysical parameters. Specific environmental management parameters are connected to this information. The national Department of Environment Affairs and Tourism (DEA&T) is in the process of establishing Environmental Management Frameworks for each province. These EMFs are environmental databases providing the information for use in the formulation of management plans. SEAs form a most valuable component at this part of the loop. The EMFs provide a useful gathering of data, which can then readily be made available to provincial planners. Such data will include physical and environmental coverages (such as topography and land cover). Social and economic data available through sources such as the national census would also be included. As with SEAs the EMFs aim to pro-actively identify areas of potential ‘conflict’ in land use, with the emphasis on environmental opportunity. The EMFs are databases of concrete information and do not offer tools, weights, or pictures of visions or understanding.

Integrated Environmental Management (IEM)

IEM has become the umbrella term, or toolbox, within which all environmental assessment processes, and environmental management practices, reside. IEM has become a guiding philosophy - the interface for the various environmental management processes. IEM is the umbrella covering EIA, SEA and EMPs (Environmental Management Planning).

State of the Environment (SOE)

This is an information gathering and reporting procedure providing a report on the current state of the environment. An SOE report sets a baseline but aims also to explain causes (past and present) and effects (present and future). It serves as a useful decision making and management aid. In South Africa SOE reports are currently being undertaken at national and at city level.

Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA)

SEA is a far-reaching and proactive process, differing fundamentally from EIA in a number of ways. DEA&T does not have a mandate to implement or apply SEA. Indeed there is no legal requirement for SEA but SEAs are more and more frequently being undertaken voluntarily by Provinces and by Government as a process toward sound land use planning and management. SEA looks at the whole environment and reviews how that environment can support development, ie what fits with what the environment has to offer, and can be practised in a sustainable way. SEA looks not only at the physical environment, but also at the social and economic context. An SEA will gather information, seek to describe opportunities and constraints, deal with issues and work with stakeholders at all levels. Much of the information which an SEA seeks to gather is unique to the process - for example the demands, needs and visions of stakeholders, an understanding of true social and economic dynamics, prosects for alternatives, and the way in which this information is brought into debate and ultimately made available to both developers and decision-makers, so that choices can be made and decisions understood. A table listing the differences between EIA and SEA is attached - but in reading the comparison it should be remembered that both tools have their place and offer complementary services in environmental management. Indeed a good SEA should provide answers to many of the questions facing an EIA, where these may apply to a region or catchment, and it is the intention of the SEA process to simplify any required EIA by being pro-actively ready with knowledge and data

Any SEA also relies heavily on data - and the EMF can be seen as a good springboard. The SEA builds on EMF and other data to provide a more complex product. In the first instance an SEA is not limited to hard or ‘factual’ data. It may use hard data in attempts to understand and describe an area, situation or landscape, but does not stay limited to this data only. SEA does not only provide data (strictly the role of the EMF) but offers tools for decision-making, ways of weighing up information in its very many forms, and at all scales of influence, for the guiding of decisions. One key difference is that SEA also attempts to capture the way people are thinking, the visions, ideals, needs and demands of the different stakeholders. There is extensive consultation. Through this participation roleplayers assist in identifying, or are otherwise made aware of, opportunities and constraints, and of the nature of information and issues driving decision-makers. SEA requires to look at different forms of land use and to consider whether such use would be (a) acceptable (b) the best possible way of using the resource, and (c) sustainable. In an SEA the process is often considered more important than the product, and this too is one of its defining features. SEA is not a planning exercise - but offers a process, and information from which planning can be generated.

The Department of Water Affairs and Forestry has embraced the concept of SEA as a tool for use in catchment planning and management, and as a support to the National Water Act.

Strategic Environmental Management Planning (SEMP)

Here too there may seem to be overlap with the SEA process, particularly in Mpumalanga where the SEMP process is well advanced. The SEMP is a management plan. It is not strictly spatial (like the EMF) but also includes policy and process issues. The SEMP will take the spatial inventory (provided by the EMF) and, based on extant conditions will look at possible sustainable futures. An Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) will usually result in an Environmental Plan (EMP). So too we can see an SEA resulting in a Strategic Environmental Management Plan (SEMP). This is because the SEA is not a planning process but does provide useful information to planners. The SEMP is a Strategic Plan, generally offered at the scale of the province. SEMPs provide the framework for more site specific studies. SEMPs tend to be broad and may lack, as in Mpumalanga, much of the conflict and visions data which the SEA for SFRAs is providing. There is a good deal of synergy between these processes.

SEMPs are also an important tool in providing the over-arching environmental management system for development clusters or nodes. For example, a SEMP would provide the environmental limits and guidelines for the establishment of an industrial park in which various different companies may be setting up. Typically a SEMP was proposed for the Coega Industrial Zone (Eastern Cape), and a similar framework was prepared for the Capricorn Industrial Park (Western Cape).

Stream Flow Reduction Activity (this is the present working definition)

An SFRA is any dryland land use practice, which reduces the yield of water (with reference to yield from natural veld in undisturbed conditions) from that land to downstream users. Such activities may be declared as SFRAs if found to be significant.