What is an EIA?

What if there was a way for science to reliably predict the outcomes of certain actions before they caused irreversible damage? Well, we can’t quite do that, but we can come close with an Environmental Impact Assessment – or EIA.

An EIA is an information report for a specific project based on science and data which ensures the most important variables affecting the environment – and people – are considered BEFORE it is approved. An EIA brings together scientists and experts from many disciplines to explore the major parts of a large project. They assess what the likely, significant consequences will be for humans, wildlife and the natural environment. An EIA also shows how all the moving parts of a project could best work together to reduce things like air and noise pollution and avoid unwanted outcomes like increased flooding or other potentially severe – and costly – unintended impacts.

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Legal Framework

Environmental Impact Assessments may sound new, but they have been in practice in Cayman since 2016. EIAs are actually a well-established international best practice with countries such as the USA, Australia, Canada, Thailand, France, Philippines, and China all having followed EIA legislation since the 1970’s. Over 50 countries had implemented EIA legislation by 1996! When drafting the EIA Directive for Cayman several jurisdictions were researched.


Responsible environmental stewardship isn’t just a nice idea. It’s enshrined in our Constitution.

Section 18 of the Bill of Rights within the Cayman Islands Constitution is entitled “Protection of the environment” and requires Government, in all its decisions, to consider the impact of its actions on the environment and on the wellbeing of future generations. Considering how our actions impact nature – before we act – is one of the simplest but most important ways we can move towards a more sustainable future.

18.—(1) Government shall, in all its decisions, have due regard to the need to foster and protect an environment that is not harmful to the health or well-being of present and future generations, while promoting justifiable economic and social development.
(2) To this end government should adopt reasonable legislative and other measures to protect the heritage and wildlife and the land and sea biodiversity of the Cayman Islands that— (a) limit pollution and ecological degradation; (b) promote conservation and biodiversity; and (c) secure ecologically sustainable development and use of natural resources.

The Constitution of the Cayman Islands (2009)

The National Conservation Act (NCA) passed unanimously in 2013 and since then has provided the basic legal framework for the conservation of native species and habitats in the Cayman Islands.

Section 41 of the NCA implements Section 18 of the Cayman Islands Constitution by ensuring Government entities consult with the National Conservation Council (NCC) on any decisions which may have a negative impact on the environment.

An Anhinga dries its wings in the sun at Meagre Bay Pond
Photo: Judy Hurlston

Implementation

The vast majority of projects don’t require an EIA, but large development projects usually have a lot of variables, so understanding how best to manage them can not only save time and resources in the long term, but also introduce ways to improve the project overall. That’s why implementing an EIA early in the development process makes so much sense.

The EIA process itself is designed to help identify the what the variables are, what information is needed to make an informed decision about their impacts, conduct the studies needed to gather that information and then create a report presenting the findings. The EIA does not make any decisions on the project. It just provides the decision makers – the proponent, the regulators and the public – with more information to make a more informed decision.


Knowledge is POWER. EIA’s make projects better!

EIAs turn good ideas into great ones because gathering information from experts across all the various aspects of a project can only make it better. And it only adds 1-2% to the overall budget of a project. While the benefits of knowing how best to proceed, are priceless.

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