The consideration of environmental effects is becoming widely accepted as an essential component of development research projects since the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development held at Rio de Janeiro in June 1992. Conducting environmental impact assessment (EIA) is increasingly viewed as an essential component of sound environmental practice. However, in the specific context of development research, the need for EIA is less widely recognized. On balance, there is a strong case for subjecting development research to EIA.
A research project will seldom have, per se, an effect on the environment. Yet the research results may at times contribute to environmental improvement, or damage. Examples can be found among research projects in fields such as health, animal production, agriculture, sociology, genetic engineering, industrial development, aerospace sector... , and of course environmental research itself. This applies to both ex ante and ex post evaluations .
Research may have significant social or health effects if, for example, researchers introduce diseases into indigenous populations having no natural immunity, or alter traditional patterns of human-environment interaction (such as agricultural or other land-use practices). Certain research activities could also lead to the introduction and spread of disease in animals, including domesticated species. These examples show that research is not a category of activity that should be exempted from EIA requirements.
Establishing EIA as a standard element of development research is to become part of generally accepted practice in the development community. If researchers can be induced to compete on environmental as well as technical and scientific grounds, overall environmental performance may improve. Participation of developing-country partners in the EIA of research activities has the potential of improving the effectiveness of the EIA process and providing an opportunity to identify common priorities and shared values. It can also be a useful means for capacity building.
EIA should be considered as a component of decision-making regarding all development research. Depending upon the situation authors in charge of a specific evaluation guide may then decide to include this dimension, propose criteria, and justify their concern when necessary.
Has the development research project been designed for solving environmental problems, for instance:
- to impair, or even reverse environmental degradation?
- to avoid, reduce, or compensate pressure on the natural ecosystem?
- to reduce environment-related health risks?
- to promote the preservation of wildlife and the conservation or sustainable use of biodiversity?