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Volume 6, 44-61, June 2003
ISSN 1438-7890
African Journal of Environmental Assessment and Management
Revue africaine de gestion et d’évaluation environnementales



Nigel Rossouw


Significance as a concept is at the core of impact identification, prediction, evaluation and decision-making in Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) processes. Despite this, there is no international consensus amongst practitioners on an agreed approach for assessing the significance of impacts. Evaluating the significance of environmental impacts is linked to all the phases of the EIA process. It is used throughout the process and formal or intuitive evaluations can be made at different stages. The current general practice of determining significance is to derive it from a combination of scientific methods and values ascribed by the EIA team. The various stakeholders involved in the EIA process are very seldom afforded an opportunity to relate their concerns, views and values to determining the significance of impacts. Including stakeholders in the process of determining the significance of impacts represents a serious challenge to the current EIA practice. The evaluation of significance will remain contentious even when using scientific criteria for thresholds of significance or when using a structured generic approach. This paper focuses on the concept of significance in the identification, prediction and evaluation of impacts. It provides an overview of the formal methods, criteria and generic approaches, which are used to determine the significance of impacts. The paper concludes that evaluation of impact significance should include consideration of value judgements and whose values they represent. It is considered a strength that the concept of significance can be adapted to different political, social and cultural contexts.

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