Abu Dhabi's latest plan will help flag any potential concerns about new projects Image Credit: Supplied

Abu Dhabi: Abu Dhabi has launched a new initiative to help evaluate the environmental impact of any development initiatives and projects.

The new programme will help guide the investigation of alternatives, and potential mitigation and monitoring efforts associated with the implementation of strategic projects, plans, and development programmes, the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi (EAD) said in a statement. It will also ensure sustainable development, and promote a healthy and resilient environment for future generations in accordance with the goals set in the NetZero by 2050 plan.

The EAD launched SEA in accordance with Law 24, 1999, which specifies that the EAD has the right to request an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for projects or facilities, and that the SEA planning programme is a form of impact assessment study. The SEA decree signed by the Board of Directors in 2022 provides EAD the authority to request an SEA not just for projects and facilities but also for master plans, development programmes and strategies implementation.

“We are very pleased about our introduction of the SEA programme as it ensures that environmental considerations are taken into account during the initial design phase of projects, plans and programmes and not just economic and social factors. It is based on the study of alternatives, to find the best possible alternatives that will maintain the balance between environmental protection and economic and social development. This is vital in an emirate as progressive as Abu Dhabi that is always growing and prospering and a hub of several large-scale projects and programmes. Through these assessments we will be able to ensure that all projects have factored in the importance of the environment without hindering the successful growth of Abu Dhabi, while providing a healthy environment for all its residents. It also helps offset negative environmental effects, such as greenhouse gas emissions to mitigate the impacts of climate,” said Faisal Al Hammadi, executive director of environmental quality sector at the EAD.

“The assessment allows for the study of alternative project designs and implementation approaches. This in turn, guides the development of proper mitigation measures and environmental management plans that will prevent or reduce any associated environmental impacts. It is a proactive approach that focuses on elimination and protection instead of just rehabilitation. The SEA applies to all sectors that are in charge of developing master plans, strategic projects and development programmes, therefore it mainly applies to government and semi-government entities, but it may also apply to other key strategic projects,” he added.

read more

The SEA is aimed at requiring environmental assessments to be conducted for all strategic projects, plans and programmes in agriculture, animal wealth, forestry, fisheries, energy and desalination, industry, the extraction and exploitation of natural resources, mining, transport, infrastructure, waste management, water management, telecommunications, tourism, town and country planning, or land use planning.

As part of the EAD-managed process, an Environmental Management Framework is developed to guide the client on the steps forward. The framework defines project objectives, identifies roles and responsibilities, ensures that training programmes are in place, and sets the requirement for environmental monitoring and audit. After the assessment is complete, the clients need to start implementation of the environmental management framework to ensure successful implementation of SEA recommendations.

The benefits of an SEA report include the prevention, reduction and offsetting of negative environmental effects such as air pollution, land contamination or climate change, among others. It avoids negative impacts on critical and environmentally sensitive habitats, and on declared or proposed protected areas, through advanced and proactive land use planning that ensures protection of these ecologically significant areas, in accordance with EAD’s habitat classification and protection guidelines.

Early warning

Furthermore, the report provides early warnings of potential cumulative impacts and enables access to a wide range of alternatives to minimise the cumulative environmental impacts of projects, plans or programmes. It also ensures wide consultation and engagement with the concerned government authorities at an early and effective stage. Finally, an SEA ensures that the significant environmental effects of implementation are monitored, which enables the early stage identification of unforeseen adverse effects, allowing appropriate remedial action to be taken, where necessary.

During the development of the SEA programme an extensive benchmarking study was conducted involving many countries and organisations both in the region and globally, including the UK, Hong Kong, Canada, South Africa, Australia, and Lebanon.

The SEA is a structured and proactive multi-phase process. It includes a screening phase to determine if an SEA is required, a scoping phase to define the SEA report’s scope of work, a phase for stakeholder engagement, and an assessment and preparation phase. This includes an assessment of impacts, a study of alternatives, and the setting of mitigation measures and review of the SEA by EAD. This is followed by the decision-making phase, which will result in the acceptance or rejection of the proposed project, plan or programme based on the SEA’s outcomes, and finally the monitoring phase of SEA recommendations and their efficiency in protecting the environment.

A detailed training programme has been developed to ensure that the regulated community is aware of EAD’s requirements. The training will be delivered in a series of workshops, with the training material and recorder training video available online. Moreover, EAD will be providing training to Environmental Consultancy Offices and amending their ECO registration requirements to ensure that the consultancies are capable of successfully conducting a SEA report.