Actors' perceptions of environmental impact assessment (EIA) benefits to fulfil Sweden's national environmental objectives

Activities that require a permit in Sweden account for a significant part of the environmental impact that jeopardizes the fulfilment of the 16 Swedish National Environmental Quality Objectives (EQOs) set up by the Swedish Parliament. In this study we investigate how the EQOs are perceived as a management tool in the Swedish Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process, mainly based on interviews.

We have identified several limitations associated with the use of EQOs in EIAs as an effective management tool towards sustainability. These limitations include that the EQOs have a subordinate significance compared with other aspects in the EIA process and that EQOs represent different concepts of sustainability. Furthermore, EQOs have low validity and are set as national objectives, hence separated from the operational level of EIAs.

A significant proportion of environmental pressures leading to failure to achieve the EQOs are related to permit requiring activities, hence EIA and the permitting process can be important policy instruments to achieve the Swedish EQOs.

Integrating EQOs better into EIAs may facilitate handling of synergies, inconsistencies, and trade-offs between environmental and sectoral objectives. Furthermore, driving forces of environmental problems may be targeted more directly.

However, in order for the Swedish EQOs to have a larger impact in the permitting process, the EQO system may need to be adapted, and may also need to be complemented with binding standards or legal norms. Furthermore, clearer guidelines regarding issues to focus on, and necessary templates and documentation may be useful tools to facilitate the process even further.

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