The South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), through its Biodiversity and Land Use (BLU) Project and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) has, since 2017, been supporting the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment (DFFE) in integrating biodiversity information into DEFF’s web-based National Environmental Screening Tool (hereafter referred to as ‘screening tool’) and developing a set of biodiversity related protocols that an applicant needs to adhere to in the Environmental Authorisation (EA) process.
On 20 March 2020 the Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment gazetted Terrestrial and Aquatic Biodiversity Protocols for national implementation purposes. This is a significant biodiversity mainstreaming achievement as all applicants must apply these protocols when submitting any specialist assessment reports in the EA process for new developments. These protocols form the basis of specialist investigations required for the EA process.
The gazette ‘Procedures to be followed for the Assessment and Minimum Criteria for Reporting of Identified Environmental Themes in terms of Section 24(5)(a) and (h) of the National Environmental Management Act (1998) when Applying for Environmental Authorisation’, has protocols that have been developed for environmental themes which include agriculture, avifauna, biodiversity (Terrestrial and Aquatic Biodiversity), noise, defense and civil aviation.
Regulation 16(1)(v) of the EIA Regulations provides that an applicant for environmental authorisation is required to submit a report generated by a web-based screening tool as part of its application ‘once this tool is operational’. The screening tool has been operational since 5 October 2019.
The screening tool generates a report, known as the screening tool report, which indicates the environmental sensitivities that intersect with the proposed development footprint as defined by the applicant and identifies the relevant protocols that the applicant would need to adhere to in the EA process.
The protocols set requirements for the assessment and reporting of environmental impacts of activities requiring EA. The higher the sensitivity rating of the features on the proposed site as identified by the screening tool report, the more rigorous the assessment and reporting requirements.
Before the requirements are set, the applicant, through an environmental assessment practitioner (EAP), is given an opportunity to confirm the current use of land and the environmental sensitivity of the site under consideration identified by the screening tool by undertaking a site sensitivity verification through a desktop analysis and an on-site inspection.
The protocols were developed as there is currently no standard approach or requirements for specialist studies in South Africa. Competent Authorities (CAs) expressed concern regarding the quality of some documents submitted by applicants for decision-making.
Often, documents did not contain adequate information needed for decision-making, and the specialist assessments were conducted using different sets of minimum information requirements. These shortcomings add to challenges faced by CAs when reviewing and making decisions based on specialist studies and EIA reports.
The biodiversity related protocols have been developed in consultation with BLU project implementation partners, with competent authorities that participate in Working Group 5 (WG5) and WG5’s Implementation Workshop Meeting. SANBI has also consulted with the biodiversity sector through its Biodiversity Planning Forum and Provincial and Metro Biodiversity Planning Working Group.