Introduction to Unit 2: Environmental Assessment and GIS

This unit will explore the principles and practice of environmental assessment to assist in sustainable development. Environmental assessment is regarded as a process that plays an integrative role, where the social, economic and biophysical are combined into a holistic picture of the world. The appeal of GIS to environmental scientists and managers rests in its ability to collate data from diverse sources into a consistent form. It can also be used to develop empirical relationships between resource loss and environmental degradation, making GIS a valuable tool for assessing cumulative impacts, which is a key feature of EA.

Although the main focus of this unit will be the use of GIS to enhance these procedures, the aim is also to give the student an understanding, and hopefully increase his/her knowledge, of the environmental assessment field.

The structure of the Unit is as follows:

2.1 Origins and History of Environmental Assessment (EA)
2.2 The Environmental Assessment (EA) Process

The Origins of Environmental Assessment introduces the concept of EA and gives a historical background of its development and use. The application and increasing use of GIS within EA will also be examined. In order to evaluate the impact and success of EA procedures to enhance sustainable development, it is necessary to have a general understanding of the regulatory framework underpinning the processes. This will therefore also be examined in this section.

This is followed by a section in which the Environmental Assessment Process will be studied. The development of both processes will be considered, and the procedures and methods related to each will be analysed. EIA examines the possible environmental impacts of large development projects, while SEA is an instrument that takes environmental considerations into account at the level of policies, plans and/or programmes. Students will be encouraged to consider the role of GIS within the framework of EIA and SEA, as well as how different methodological approaches can influence the design of a GIS to support procedures.

The material in this unit is relevant to some subsequent assignments, particularly the visual impact assessment that will form your first assignment.

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