Turning green the strategic way: the role and potential of strategic environmental assessment in securing a green economy
Strategic environmental assessment (SEA) is a powerful process for integrating environmental and linked social and economic concerns into policy-making, planning, programme development, mega projects and development decision-making. Over the last 20 years there has been increasing uptake of SEA around the world. More than 60 countries at all levels of development (including all 27 EU member states) now have legislation, policies, directives or regulations prescribing the application of SEA, and many more are introducing it as part of their policy toolkits – although it is not necessarily used effectively and many development actors are unaware of its function, value and potential. At the UN Rio+20 conference in 2012, the emergent green economy concept was a central theme, but it was agreed that nationally (as opposed to globally) driven approaches should be the way forward, so that green economy policies can be properly tailored. Attention has therefore turned to how SEA can help in promoting a transition to green economic development.
This paper provides a preliminary exploration of the links between SEA and green economy, and the role of SEA in supporting decision-making for green growth in relation to a range of entry points: government policies, plans and programmes; climate change and low-carbon growth; sustainable transport; waste management, water and sanitation; ecosystems and sustainable use of biodiversity; sustainable agriculture/food production and supply; green energy and trade. It also discusses the use of indicators in monitoring SEA and the treatment of social concerns, particularly gender. Throughout, the text is supported by case examples illustrating its application in different contexts relevant to green economy. A final section discusses a range of steps that might be taken to encourage and facilitate increased use of SEA as an environmental mainstreaming tool in support of transitioning to a green economy.