Annex I Integrated Environmental Assessment of Biodiversity

Integrated Environmental Assessment (IEA)(1) is the interdisciplinary process of identification, analysis and appraisal of all relevant natural and human processes and their interactions which determine both the current and future state of environmental quality, and resources, on appropriate spatial and temporal scales, thus facilitating the framing and implementation of policies and strategies.

The process of IEA may be described within the "DPSIR" framework, a feedback mechanism based on a chain of causal links from Driving forces, to Pressures, changes in the State of the environment, leading to Impacts on ecosystems and society and finally prompting political Responses. IEA can be applied to a number of environmental issues, such as climate change, acidification, eutrophication and biodiversity. Application of DPSIR to biodiversity is illustrated in Figure 10.

Figure 10: Integrated Environmental Assessment on Biodiversity. Adapted from NERI (1995)

The definition of biological diversity according to the Convention is given in Box 2. In terms of political goals, biodiversity has been defined as the sustainable management of the environment, but this linkage needs an interpretation which can lead to quantitatively measurable targets for policy action. Compared to other environmental issues, such as climatic change or acidification, assessment of biodiversity and of changes in the state of the biotic environment is much more difficult to quantify. One suggested approach is to assess biodiversity at the species level. This approach requires the measurement of species biodiversity in several different ways, including species richness, extent of protection of rare species and of naturally species-poor localities. If the objective is to minimise species extinction, a useful indicator would be the change in number of species over time. However, this does not apply in relation to changes in naturally species-poor locations, such as bogs, where an increasing number of species indicates a deterioration of the ecological function value of this type. Furthermore, any kind of species approach would have to consider a spatial dimension, defining species diversity on a local, regional or global scale. Even if one could establish agreement on an objective based on species conservation, it would be extremely difficult and complex to derive or assess alternative policy strategies solely on the basis of such an objective, since almost any action or measure has an impact on species number and diversity of an ecosystem at a given site, depending on its physical and chemical conditions, including impacts resulting from human activities.

These considerations lead to an alternative approach to the species concept; a functional approach based primarily on a classification of the physical environment (geology, climate, soils, topography, etc.) and on monitoring the extent to which ecosystems can exist in a relatively undisturbed state across a range of diversity in the physical environment, including effects of human impacts. The fundamental concept is that the species composition of any region is determined by its physical environment in combination with impacts of human management. The focus is thus set on conserving "arenas" of biological activity and diversity, rather than on the temporary occupants of those arenas. This concept constitutes a "critical loads" approach to biodiversity, stating limits of sustainability of ecosystems with respect to changes in the physical environment and other kinds of human impacts. In this context it is important to detect when irreversible changes to the ecosystem may occur, causing permanent changes in biodiversity which cannot be undone. The ecosystem as a functional unit does not necessarily have a predefined spatial dimension, since it can spread over a wide range of area sizes. It is therefore important to apply the ecosystem concept at a hierarchy of spatial resolutions, linked to the different political and administrative levels responsible for monitoring and assessing biodiversity.

When developing target indicators relevant for national and international policy, the "arena" approach has numerous advantages. If ecoregions/ecosystems could be used as a basic classification scheme, the consistency of their definition and application at a global scale would allow effective inter-regional comparison of indicators. At the same time, linkage with a hierarchical classification down to ecotopes at local level would allow local authorities to relate local measures and targets to superior priorities. This would make it possible to assess "local biodiversity" as part of, and within, a global framework.

The outcome of the working groups at the workshop in the light of the IEA concept

  • IEA must address the inter-relationship between the driving forces of human economic activities of different sector activities and the resulting pressures such as requirements of space in a region, fragmentation of landscapes, effects on neighbouring biotopes. Indicators related to this interaction need to be developed, as do threshold limits for irreversibility of impacts (critical loads or critical size of habitats);
  • IEA of biodiversity has to be achieved at a superior level, where the fragility and change of whole landscapes should be considered. A functional approach based on landscape ecology and ecosystem classification provides the ability to integrate the impact of different sectors on nature, and monitor changes in biodiversity at landscape level. Sustainable management of the whole countryside could be part of a cross-sectoral implementation of the CBD, taking into account that much of the biodiversity in the EU exists within the agricultural landscape.
  • It might be easiest to achieve conservation of biodiversity starting at the local level, applying economic incentives for sustainable development or land use restrictions. This gives rise to the necessity of providing local authorities with a "global view", so they can see local threats and actions within a framework of biodiversity as seen from a national or European level. A first step leading in this direction could be the EEA’s ongoing work on an Ecological Regions Map, covering a very broad view of bioclimatic and vegetation zones.

Relevance of IEA to the survey results

In the survey the following question was included in the section headed Article 14 (Impact Assessment and Minimising Adverse Impacts): "Do you have an example of the use of integrated environmental assessment adopted as a result of the Convention?" All except two countries gave a simple "no" response: the remaining two mentioned their Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) programmes as a form of IEA. The responses to the other questions relating to Article 14 suggest that introduction of procedures on environmental impact assessment has progressed further with respect to EIA on projects than on the environmental consequences of governmental programmes and policies. Reasons may be that impacts of projects have been dealt with for a longer time, and there exists an EU Directive on EIA. This is stressed by the fact that responses primarily mention physical planning and construction projects, where impacts in many cases are bound to a comparably well defined location. The opposite situation may exist in programmes and policies for sectors such as agriculture, utilising the open land. Production within these sectors is run under a framework controlled by different kinds of regulations and subsidies, each having different consequences depending on local biotic as well as abiotic conditions. Regulations defined at a national level may affect land use in various regions differently, depending on local conditions. Contrary to, for example, construction projects, agriculture will adapt to the new conditions by changing land use through intensification or extension of agricultural utilisation of these areas. The impact on biodiversity may be blurred, since it affects the entire landscape, and not only a well defined project area, as with construction projects.

1: This definiton and summary of IEA is taken from a report to EEA 'Recommendations on Strategies for Integrated Assessment of Broad Environmental Problems' (NERI, 1995)



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