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Different forms of assessment

Read this article to learn about the wider range of impacts now considered in Environmental Impact Assessments.
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Last week we discussed that EIA typically covers environmental impacts. However, it is now recognised that a wider range of impacts must also be taken into account.

These assessments include social, economic, cultural, and environmental impacts. Each of these broader assessments also has sub-assessments. For example, during a social or cultural impact assessment, a health impact assessment might also be conducted. Similarly, during an environmental assessment, a noise assessment may be required to evaluate the effect of noise on species. Nowadays, it is common to conduct a climate impact assessment alongside other assessments. Additionally, during an economic impact assessment, a visual amenity assessment may be conducted to evaluate the impact of a development on the surrounding view and potential economic effects on property values.

Different Forms of Assessment

Apart from environmental assessments, the most commonly conducted assessments aim to understand how a proposed activity will impact the affected communities and individuals. These assessments are known as social impact assessments (SIA), socio-economic assessments (SEA), cultural impact assessments (CIA), or economic impact assessments (EIA). The following sections provide a summary of the essential elements of these assessments.

Social Impact Assessment (SIA)

hand holding sign reading "Protect Indigenous Land" at a protest in response to fossil fuel pipelines being routed through protected Native American reservations and danger of polluted water A protest in response to fossil fuel pipelines being routed through protected Native American reservations.

Social impacts refer to the intended and unintended changes or consequences of a proposed activity on individuals, households, groups, communities, or organisations. The SIA aims to identify, predict, and evaluate the positive and negative social impacts that are likely to arise from the project. These impacts may affect various aspects of people’s lives, such as their culture, community, political system, environment, health and well-being, personal and property rights, and safety. Negative impacts may include decreased amenities, loss of access and enjoyment of a site, changing the aesthetic value/amenity of a place, impacts on public health, amongst others. Positive impacts may include an increase in community capacity for increased livelihoods, shared infrastructure, and social development arising from more people moving in. Identifying social impacts early on will enable better decision-making if the proposed activity proceeds. In some cases, the identification of social impacts can overturn a proposal, such as in 1974-1978 when a proposed gas line from Yukon Territory to Alberta was overturned for a social reason. In this case, the impacts on a local tribe were not considered.

Cultural Impact Assessment (CIA)

Traditional maori carving over Mount Taranaki, New Zealand A traditional maori carving over Mount Taranaki, New Zealand.

A cultural assessment evaluates the impact of a proposed activity on any aspect that is considered cultural. UNESCO defines culture as distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual, and emotional features that characterise a society or social group. This often refers to the impact of an activity on Indigenous interests and how it affects their capacity to harvest, practice ceremonies, use and keep knowledge, burial sites, access to important sites, and practice language and lore. In non-Indigenous contexts, a cultural impact may refer to impacts on cultural heritage, such as a building, a place, or a maritime wreck. For example, the proposed widening of the Arthur Highway in Tasmania, known by local Indigenous groups as tirulina, was opposed by the Tasmanian Aboriginal Council as the road construction, which would include digging 75-meter pits, is an old Aboriginal burial site. In New Zealand, a cultural impact assessment provided information about the predicted cultural impacts on the Maori of a proposed Expressway. In Japan, a cultural impact assessment of the Ainu people about a development in the Saru River region provided an opportunity to document cultural impacts and issues.

Health Impact Assessment (HIA)

A man wears his shirt as a mask during haze from forest and land fires in Riau, Indonesia. An Indonesian man wears his shirt as a mask during haze from forest and land fires caused by slash-and-burn land clearance for palm oil farming.

Proposed activities can affect people’s health in various ways. The results of an HIA can be used to build better, cleaner energy options, green spaces, and zones for walkability, among others. For instance, a wind farm often attracts attention because of the documented health impacts on people’s health and well-being due to the noise the turbines make. Mining can contaminate water bodies, while pulp mills generate dust and air pollution. For instance, in Tasmania, residents opposed the proposed construction of a pulp mill due to the risk of increased air pollution, which could cause asthma, respiratory conditions, and cancer. The construction of major infrastructure, such as the Olympics in London or the addition of a parallel runway at the Brisbane airport, typically requires a comprehensive Health Impact Assessment (HIA). These assessments consider the potential health effects on the surrounding community, which may include sleep disturbance, cardiovascular and physiological effects, mental health effects, effects on performance, communication, residential behaviour, and annoyance. If you’re interested in reviewing the airspace Health Impact Assessment report, you can find it here and in the references below [1].


1. VOLUME D: AIRSPACE Health Impact Assessment [Internet]. Brisbane Airport Australia. [cited 2023 May 9]. Available from:

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