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Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is a process of evaluating the likely environmental impacts of a proposed project or development.
UNEP defines Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) as a tool used to identify the environmental, social and economic impacts of a project prior to decision-making. It aims to predict environmental impacts at an early stage in project planning and design, find ways and means to reduce adverse impacts, shape projects to suit the local environment and present the predictions and options to decision-makers. By using EIA both environmental and economic benefits can be achieved, such as reduced cost and time of project implementation and design, avoided treatment/clean-up costs and impacts of laws and regulations.
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Essentially, environmental impact assessment (EIA) is an environmental decision support tool, which provides information on the likely impacts of development projects to those who take the decision as to whether the project should be authorised. The purpose of an EIA is to determine the potential environmental, social, and health effects of a proposed development, so that those who take the decisions in developing the project and in authorising the project are informed about the likely consequences of their decisions before they take those decisions and are thereby more accountable. It is intended to facilitate informed and transparent decision-making while seeking to avoid, reduce or mitigate potential adverse impacts through the consideration of alternative options, sites or processes.
EIA forms part of the spectrum of environmental assessment (EA) processes. Whilst EIA relates to specific projects, EA is a generic term, which also incorporates strategic environmental assessment (SEA) of policies, plans, and programmes, and other forms of assessment. The distinction between these processes is highlighted in the definitions provided below.