Bank Group’s new guidance on Environmental and Social Impact Assessment to boost sustainable development in RMCs

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The African Development Bank Group (AfDB) gives high priority to the provision of high quality technical guidance to its Regional Member Countries (RMCs) to strengthen capacity for sustainable development and to foster ownership of the Integrated Safeguards System (ISS).

The new Integrated Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (IESIA) guidance materials are the third component of the ISS and are intended to provide necessary knowledge to Bank’s RMCs when undertaking environmental impact assessments for Bank financed projects/programs. They can be also be used by the Bank’s Operational staff in reviewing and clearing these studies and in project supervision.

High quality technical guidance is key to ensuring effective compliance, capacity and ownership of the ISS for Bank staff and borrowers alike. The key criteria which govern the scope and content of this guidance are:

  • The guidance has been carefully designed to address the new and more challenging elements and required outputs of the OSs – in particular those set out in OS1 on Environmental and Social Assessment
  • The guidance addresses a number of emerging or challenging issues or topics relevant to the scope of the OSs, recognised implementation challenges and the changing profile of Bank operations
  • The guidance provides specific support to the key environmental and social risks associated with operations in a number of priority sectors
  • The guidance is be “easy-to-use”, accessible and designed to meet the practical needs of project staff involved in Bank operations and in borrower institutions.
  • The scope and scale of the guidance draw on the experience of other MDBs and development agencies and take account of lessons learned on what is practical, easy to use and effective.
  • The guidance is designed to be reviewed and updated on a regular basis

Using ISS policy principles, ESAP procedures and the guidance materials as benchmarks, the AfDB has given priority to developing the capacity of country safeguard and environmental management systems all over Africa. The endeavour will entail, beyond a genuine policy dialogue on sustainability issues with relevant governmental authorities and Civil Society, performing a thorough diagnostic and assessment of country systems using the principles of precision equivalence and acceptability to determine whether the existing systems can manage and mitigate the environmental and social impacts of the overall program or have areas that need to be improved. The assessments will be the basis for identifying measures to improve the safeguard systems and to build capacity in the program, if needed. The Bank and the RMC will agree upon support measures to strengthen the safeguard systems and include these in an action plan and will monitor the implementation of the program and the agreed actions.

The Bank intends in longer term to design a specific Technical Assistance Scheme for strengthening capacity of country systems in line with Paris Declaration and Accra Agenda for Action. The Bank may develop the TAS as a separate product in the operation, through parallel efforts financed by development partners, or through other appropriate arrangements.

The guidance materials are organized in three volumes briefly described below:

Volume 1: Environmental and Social Assessment Instruments and Outputs

In OS1 and the ESAP, several new environmental and social assessment instruments and outputs are introduced.  These include the use of Strategic Environmental and Social Assessment (SESA) for policy and programme lending and the use of Environmental and Social Management Frameworks and Systems (ESMFs and ESMSs) for programme lending and Financial Intermediaries.  There is also greater emphasis on compliance monitoring during project implementation as well as greater attention to country systems.

For Bank operations staff and their counterparts in borrowers or clients, it is vital that they have clear and easy to use guidance on these different instruments and outputs. This guidance is therefore designed specifically to complement the ESAP Annexes, which provide templates and report formats in many cases.  The main purpose of this category of guidance should be to:

  • Make it clear to Bank and RMC staff as well as to ESIA practitioners what is the nature of the different instruments in the specific context of the OSs and ESAP
  • Assist clients to prepare TORs, report formats and select high quality consultants
  • Evaluate the quality of reports and deliverables to judge if the ISS policy and technical requirements are followed satisfactorily
  • Highlight key issues of importance for good environmental and social compliance.

Volume 2: Environmental and Social Assessment Topics

The OSs introduce or elaborate on a number of key ESA requirements and topics.  It is of great importance to provide Bank and borrower staff with clear and easy to use guidance to ensure a high level of understanding of what is required, best practice on meeting the requirements and where appropriate sources of good technical information.

Some of these topics reflect specific OS requirements such as applying safeguards to policy and programme lending, public (free, prior and informed) consultation and grievance mechanisms.  Some address specific areas of environmental and social risk not previously covered specifically by Bank policies, such as vulnerable groups, cultural heritage, environmental flows, biodiversity, GHG emissions and labour standards.  Others cover topics long recognised to be of great importance and where compliance may be improved through better technical guidance, such as resettlement or pollution control.

On the whole, this category of guidance has greatly benefited from the wide range of guidance already prepared by MDBs and other development agencies over recent years.  The challenge has been for the Bank to identify the best knowledge available and shape it to be suitable for use in the context of the OSs and ESAP implementation, with particular attention to ease of use and optimum size.

Volume 3: Guidance on Specific Sectors called Sector Keysheets

30 specific project types, within four key sector areas for which checklists should be prepared.  The aim of such checklists should be to identify typical project components, sources of impacts, commonly applied assessment methods and likely management options.  These can be used by Bank staff to assist in the process of screening projects in the early stage of the Project Cycle as well as for tailoring TORs for Environmental and Social Assessments.

The preparation of such checklists and sector specific guidance by development agencies has been common over the past two decades or more.  Many have been produced in a variety of different “shapes and sizes”. However, it is interesting to note that few if any MDBs are currently applying sub-sector guidance of this kind within their safeguards systems.  For example, the World Bank Group’s Environmental, Health and Safety Guidelines are organised around types of pollution or risk.

Extensive consultation with the Bank’s environmental and social specialists for different sectors has be essential to determine how sub-sector specific guidance would be valuable. Overtime, this material will be supplemented with new guidance on other topics and emerging issues as necessary. It is therefore important for the Bank to receive some feedback from users in order to take full account of how useful such guidance has been for user agencies, what format and scale would be best suited for use by Bank staff and the selection of specific sectors for which checklists may be useful to carry on further revision and updates.