Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is a detailed report conducted to prevent environmental hazards before constructing a real estate project. UNEP defines EIA as the tool used to identify the environmental, social, and economic impacts prior to decision-making. Using EIA can achieve social and economic benefits, for instance, reduced cost and time of project implementation. EIA was introduced in Pakistan through the Environmental Protection Ordinance, 1983. Simply put, EIA is a procedure to identify and evaluate the effects of human activities on the environment. It combines various analytical methods and inter-disciplinary approaches as appropriate to the problem. EIA should be regarded as an integral part of project planning, and its costs should be calculated as an adequate part of planning. The findings of such evaluations should be considered in policy and decision-making and should be reflected in the final choices of the project.
The Iqbal Institute of Policy Studies article will discuss EIA’s objectives, fundamental components, and benefits in detail.
Fundamental Components of EIA
The first component of EIA is ‘Screening’, to specify whether a project requires a full or partial impact assessment report. The next step is ‘Scoping,’ which identifies the variables to study potential impacts of a project based on domestic and international law, expert knowledge, and public opinion. It also helps identify alternatives to mitigate or compensate for the adverse impacts on biodiversity and derive terms of reference for the impact assessment. Then, the ‘Terms of Reference’ are prepared to predict and identify the possible environmental impacts of a proposed project. The Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), or EIA Report, is then reported, including an environmental management plan (EMP) and a non-technical summary for the general audience. The EIA report can be sent for review, based on the terms of reference (scoping) and public (including authority) participation. The final Decision-making on whether to approve the project or not takes place after careful monitoring and evaluation of all the possible outcomes and strategies.
Importance of EIA in the Real Estate Sector
The main objective of Environmental Impact Assessment is to provide information regarding a new project, program, plan, or policy. EIA presents a technical assessment of the possible environmental effects of a project in a systematic manner. The consolidated report explains the project’s whereabouts, environmental impact, social impact, and possible solutions to mitigate the environmental challenges. Project developers and administrative agencies can use environmental impact assessment techniques to improve the quality of project plans and decision-making by identifying possible impacts in the early stages of development. Real estate is the second-largest sector of Pakistan’s economy and significantly contributes to carbon emissions. The annual energy consumption of the real estate sector is 40% of the total global energy. It accounts for approximately 20% of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. There is also a projected increase of 56% in real estate carbon emissions by 2030.
Real Estate has a significant impact on other natural resources. For example, buildings use a considerable share of global freshwater and generate waste accordingly. To get on track to net-zero carbon building stock in 2050, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has estimated to reduce CO2 emissions by 50% and indirect building sector emissions by 60% by 2030. This means that the building emissions need to fall by 6% per year until 2030 to achieve this goal. The socioeconomic factors will make the environmental impact of real estate more relevant in the future. The world population is expected to exceed 8 billion by 2030, and 60% of the population will inhabit urban areas. To fall within the targets decided in the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26), it is essential to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius. Therefore, the real estate sector requires stringent targets owing to the environmental footprint the developments are expected to leave. This reiterates the importance of EIAs as part of a particular project’s development and planning costs.
Benefits of EIA
Environmental issues in real estate include land contamination, waste disposal, water pollution, construction of housing societies on agricultural land, reduction of green spaces, and carbon emissions, to name a few. Environmental Impact Assessment Reports can help expose risks and liabilities associated with a property. The availability of an environmental assessment prior to the transfer of property can identify potential problems and help assess liability, costs, and management issues for investors. Moreover, the EIAs can help determine the probability and extent of a site problem, potential financial liability, costs of future assessment, and the potential impact on property value.
Full disclosure of environmental, health, and safety hazards before buying a property will be a critical element of due diligence requirements in the future. A successful EIA proposes alternatives and mitigation measures to reduce the environmental impact of a planned project. The EIA process provides for adequate public participation and promotes transparency. However, the environmental effects can be made apparent in Pakistan through an EIA, but the process does not guarantee modification or rejection due to various social and political factors.
Pakistan is a strong proponent of UN Agenda 2030, and the Government is working diligently on environmental action. Pakistan has regulated EIA through Environmental Protection Ordinance 1983 and developed the EIA Process via Pakistan Environmental Protection Act, 1997. Despite the legal basis, the concept of EIA has not got the traction it deserved in Pakistan. Due to the environmental footprint of the real estate industry, the EIA will prospectively become an essential document in the future for the evaluation and due diligence of real estate projects. The EIA process faces several challenges, including weak integration into the decision-making process, lack of implementation of EIA reports, incomplete coverage of impacts, poor quality reports and reviews, and weak implementation of mitigation measures.
The real estate sector can address various global challenges such as climate change the economic crisis resulting from the COVID 19 pandemic, improve living conditions and build sustainable cities. Moreover, the real estate sector can use environmental impact assessment to improve the quality of project plans and decision-making in the early stages of development. The awareness to conduct EIA reports of real estate projects will develop a system to filter out and monitor the hazardous impacts of construction and development on the environment.