The main theme of the year 2016 IAIA Conference was “resilience and sustainability”. The importance of the main theme is demonstrated with several resilience related examples – one being the nuclear accident in Japan in 2011.
This year the International Association of Impact Assessment (IAIA16) –conference was held in Aichi-Nagoya, Japan on 11–14 May. The conference was organized now for the 36th time and handled broadly impact assessment questions. There were totally nearly 750 delegates from 74 countries.
A number of conference topics, training and visits
The conference theme was “Resilience and sustainability”. Impact assessment professionals and researchers from all over the world came to discuss about the environmental, social and health as well as economic impacts of projects.
This year the conference topics were:
- Natural disasters and resilience;
- Man-made disasters: preparedness, emergency response and rehabilitation;
- Biodiversity restoration and ecological impact assessment;
- Population change and sustainability assessment;
- International cooperation and sustainable development;
- Collaboration for sustainability in Asian region;
- Environmental information infrastructure for sustainable development;
- Transportation, land use and sustainability.
Besides to the traditional plenary and paper sessions the conference involved pre-conference training courses and technical visits as well as a wide variety of other forms of professional exchange of practices and ideas.
Engage resilience in environmental assessment
“Resilience” is emerging as one of the most important global keywords in the 21st Century. According to the definition of eminent Canadian ecologist C. S. Holling, the resilience means the capacity of a social-ecological system to absorb or withstand perturbations and other stressors so that the system remains within the same regime essentially maintaining its structure and functions. It describes the degree to which the system is capable of self-organization, learning and adaptation. Developing from the field of ecological system theories, the word has gained popularity in various fields, such as environmental impact assessment, social and health impact assessment, international development, and climate change, as well as natural and man-made disasters.
Besides to the benefits of resilience-based thinking in describing balances of the socio-ecological system the applications of the concept in environmental assessment practice were discussed. For instance, it has been argued, that application of resilience-based indicators enables to assess impacts balancing social and environmental values in more integrated manner than in conventional sustainability based assessment. To illustrate this, several good examples were derived from Japanese environmental assessment practice. The experiences of the severe earthquake and nuclear accident in 2011 emphasized that increasing capacity for resilience to damage is an urgent issue facing Japanese society. Not only in Japan, but also for the rest of the world, improving resilience in sustainable communities is an important issue.
Stakeholder engagement increases social resilience of projects
About one hundred sessions were held in this conference, and it was again a great opportunity to hear about impact assessment experiences from different aspects and cultures. Many examples demonstrated why these issues are worth considering in all sectors of industrial activities. We want to share some of our learning with you:
- In Chile, local people said that the project is planned to a wrong place. The river and its flooding will destroy the planned pipes, stated the public. The project proponent did not believe this, and the project was designed and constructed according to the original plans. Two months later the river destroyed the new pipe. This caused a two-years reconstruction phase, and huge additional costs in money and time.
- In the Netherlands, there were massive protests against a 380 kW Powerline project, where only technical and safety issues were available for the public. The public participation and environmental impact assessment was not done comprehensively. Even the local government felt overran by the national government, which owns the powerline company. The project was developed further as planned originally – even though there was a huge resistance by the public. The authorities could not give a permit for the project, because of the public resistance. After that the planning of the project was continued with seven new alternatives. One of those alternatives was the one suggested by the local people already in the early stage of the planning.
These short examples are written based on the presentations held in IAIA16 conference and the details of the actual cases were not verified by the authors of this article. Anyhow, these examples emphasize the importance of an early stakeholder engagement in social and environmental (as well as economical) resilience of the projects.
IAIA17 in Montreal addresses the climate change
Next year the IAIA conference will be held in Montreal and it will focus on issues of climate change on social and physical environment in general and with respect of social, economical and environmental assessment in particular. Also, as a good tradition of IAIA conferences held in Canada, the various aspects of impacts of large projects on and engagement of traditional indigenous communities will be discussed.
More information of the conference can be found in: http://conferences.iaia.org/2016