Almost all human activities, whether by individuals, businesses or authorities, have some kind of impact on the environment. But while the impact of an individual's choices may be small, the impact of building new infrastructure like a motorway or a housing estate can be major and long-lasting.
So it makes sense to study potential impacts before they happen, and see what the alternatives might be. This is why EU legislation requires an Environmental Impact Assessment, to ensure that the environmental implications of decisions are taken into account before big infrastructure decisions are made.
The exercise is intended to improve decision-making. The outcome is never predetermined, and the aim is to look at all sides of the question, to discover the likely significant environmental effects.
Respect for environmental rules increases the political legitimacy of a project, ensuring that it is acceptable to all.
Respect for environmental rules is the key to more sustainable and acceptable projects. There are real economic and social advantages to taking environmental considerations into account at an early stage – it's much easier than having to correct mistakes later. Successful projects are usually ones that achieve consensus beforehand.
The process is called 'Environmental Impact Assessment' in the case of individual projects, or 'Strategic Environmental Assessment' for larger-scale public plans or programmes. Aarhus obligations apply to both, ensure that the public is granted timely and effective participation, at a stage when all options are still open.
The European Commission also assesses its own policy proposals to check their economic, social and environmental impacts before they are proposed. We want to have smart policies that provide environmental benefits at a reasonable cost.