The South African National Biodiversity Institute’s (SANBI’s) Environmental Management Component of the Biodiversity and Land Use (BLU) Project was part of the South African constituency attending the 39th Annual Conference of the International Association for Impact Assessment (IAIA).  IAIA19 took place at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre, Australia, from 29 April to 2 May 2019.  The conference theme was ‘Evolution or Revolution: Where next for impact assessment?

SANBI has participated in this conference in recent years to keep abreast of how the international community deals with biodiversity in environmental management and to showcase the work that the BLU project is doing done, in partnership with Department of Environmental Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF) and other stakeholders, on embedding biodiversity into Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) and Environmental Management in South Africa.

The DEFF saw an opportunity to showcase their new environmental management tools at IAIA19 and since SANBI is supporting the development of the biodiversity related Protocols, SANBI’s representative, Abigail Bahindwa, presented on ‘Using Protocols to strengthen biodiversity specialist assessments in EIAs’. The Protocol Methodology provides for minimum assessment criteria that must form the basis of specialist studies in the EIA process.

Mthobisi Nzimande presented on “Securing South Africa’s Strategic Water Source Areas”. The focus of this presentation was on the platform SANBI has been convening in support of DEFF and the Department of Human Settlements Water and Sanitation towards securing South Africa’s Strategic Water Source Areas (SWSAs). Furthermore, the presentation also focused on how the partnership is piloting the development of restrictions for three SWSAs under National Environmental Management Act (NEMA) Section 24 (2A). The aforementioned legal provision (NEMA Section 24 (2A)) provides for the prohibition or restriction of certain activities in certain geographical areas such as SWSAs.

IAIA19 provided an opportunity to showcase the work of the BLU Project on an international platform and allowed for input from the international community on these tools and their uses, whilst also learning from similar projects being implemented in other countries.  There was great support from this community of practice on South Africa’s approach to strengthening biodiversity specialist assessments and our approach to securing SWSAs.

However, there was some discussion on how the underlying data that feeds into the Screening Tool and that triggers the Protocols needs to be of good quality and will need to be updated regularly so that the most up to date data is informing decision making at all times.  This is a matter that DEFF and its partners are already addressing through the inclusion of a clause in the Protocols that allows for any discrepancies, between the Screening Tool and what is found on site, to be dealt with.

‘It was clear that South Africa is steps ahead of some countries in applying an ecosystem approach in terms of how it prioritises areas for conservation, while most countries’ approach is very much still focused on species conservation’, said Bahindwa.

Back home, the BLU Project also has strong links to the South African affiliate of IAIA, the International Association for Impact Assessment South Africa (IAIAsa), an important stakeholder in the project’s Environmental Management Component of work. IAIAsa provides a platform for all stakeholders involved in EIAs and broader environmental management processes to come together; strengthen professional networks, exchange information and offer capacity building opportunities on various aspects of environmental management.

The IAIA is an international association of professionals involved with impact assessment, including both social impact assessment and environmental impact assessment.  IAIA19 gathered impact assessment professionals from over 80 countries to participate, network and engage in more than 100 concurrent sessions.

‘The IAIA19 Conference theme ‘Evolution or revolution: Where next for impact assessment?’ was well timed as the environmental, social and geopolitical changes we are witnessing globally are presenting unprecedented challenges to experts and evidence. Yet this is also a time of great opportunity, where leading practice in impact assessment policies and practices can inform better outcomes in health, environment, society and human rights’, said Sara Bice, President of IAIA.

For more information on this area of work, please contact Abigail Bahindwa via email on a.bahindwa@sanbi.org.za

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