Updated 5 March, 2004

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Strategic Environmental Assessment

Strategic environmental assessment (SEA) has emerged in the last few years as a term for tools which aim to integrate environmental considerations into proposed laws, policies, plans and programmes. However, in one form or another, SEA has been in place for some time. 

The preparation of legislative and programmatic Environmental Impact Statements has been an integral element of US practice under the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) 1969. Other SEA-type approaches reflect an extension of EIA trends, including area-wide and regional assessments, and policy-level reviews as part of public inquiries and environmental reviews. Early references to these applications can be found in various sources (e.g. Sadler, 1986; Wathern, 1988; Jacobs and Sadler, 1989; Bregha et al. 1990). The last two examples involved work undertaken in support of Canada's process of Policy and Programme Assessment which was established by Cabinet Directive (1990) as a parallel system to the project based Environmental Assessment and Review Process (1973).

There is no internationally agreed definition of SEA, but the interpretation offered by Sadler and Verheem (1996) is among those which are widely quoted:

"SEA is a systematic process for evaluating the environmental consequences of proposed policy, plan or programme initiatives in order to ensure they are fully included and appropriately addressed at the earliest appropriate stage of decision-making on par with economic and social considerations".

Further information is provided in:

Strategic Environmental Assessment: A Rapidly Evolving Approach

By Barry Dalal-Clayton and Barry Sadler


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