Over the past couple of years, Vermont Law School‘s (VLS) Myanmar Environmental Governance Program has had a strong focus on supporting the implementation of a new Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) system. On paper, the system is very good, but it involves new concepts and processes for all stakeholders – government, project proponents, consultants and civil society. Indeed, Myanmar just recently adopted new EIA procedures in December 2015. Because it is so new, there is extremely limited capacity to properly implement this system, and enforcement is a long way down the track.
To support the government implement the EIA system, VLS has been undertaking various capacity building projects with the Environmental Conservation Department, which is a part of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation. We have conducted training workshops with ECD staff and the inter-ministerial EIA Report Review Body, which is coordinated by ECD. Most recently, we have been undertaking EIA review clinics with ECD staff. These clinics involve practical one-on-one (or small group) training where we assist staff review EIAs that they have been assigned. We help them identify any weaknesses with the reports and prepare feedback to the EIA consultant and briefing material to their senior officers. Since late last year, VLS has conducted 8 clinics and help review about 50 EIA documents. The final clinic for the year will be held in the first week of October.
Through the exposure to EIA reports through the EIA Review Clinics with ECD, it has become apparent to VLS that there are a number of consistent weaknesses in EIAs undertaken by Myanmar consultants, who generally have very limited experience in consultation activities as a result of the country’s political history. These weaknesses include:
- The extent and quality of public participation processes (if undertaken at all)
- Understandings and application of risk assessment methodologies
- Understandings and application of the mitigation hierarchy
- Appreciation of the role of EIA consultants as objective experts, not as project approvals facilitators
As such, two one-day workshops are being organized in Yangon for EIA consultants on best-practice EIAs, with a strong focus on public participation. These workshops are being co-hosted with ECD and the Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business,
The first workshop was held on 12 August and was attended by almost 50 EIA consultants. It involved presentations from ECD staff highlighting identified weaknesses in EIA reports being submitted, as well as presentations on best-practice EIAs from VLS, Myanmar Center for Responsible Business, and representatives of international EIA consulting firms. The questions and discussion, as well as feedback questionnaires, indicated that the workshop was well received and covered relevant topics for the participants.
The second workshop will be held on 30 September and cover topics including the mitigation hierarchy, environmental management plans, and preparing public participation plans.
Note: This post was written by and posted on behalf of Martin Cosier, Myanmar Environmental Governance Program Project Leader.