Seeking to find its own recipe for sustainability planning, Jordan is piloting Strategic Environmental Assessment as a tool for planning and managing development zones or special economic areas. Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) is a systematic process for evaluating the environmental consequences of proposed policy, strategy or master plan in order to ensure they are fully included and appropriately addressed at the earliest appropriate stage of decision-making on par with economic and social consideration.
Using a unique model, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan has prepared Strategic Environmental Assessment and Strategic Environmental Management Plan (SEMP) for the Dead Sea Development Zone which was given a special status in 2009 to attract quality investments and to share economic gains with surrounding local communities. Despite the fact that EU member states have well-established systems for SEA, this particular Jordanian-tailored application on the Dead Sea Development Zone Master Plan has incorporated specific aspects to introduce this project as a regional/international model in sustainability mainstreaming. The major benefits of SEA include:
- Enhanced sustainability of natural resources
- Prevention of costly planning mistakes
- Conservation of time and money
- Simplification of Environmental Impact Assessment
- Promotion of compatibility amongst Master Plans
- Enhancement of development strategies
- Improved public sector efficiency, and
- Enhanced credibility in decision making
For years, Jordan has pushed for more serious consideration and buy-in for environmental issues from various players; the government, private sector, and civil society. While this has worked in some areas, it is no secret that it has not been quite successful in many others. Many argue that the standalone environmental policy and plans are not enough when it comes to balancing economic and social development needs. Key takeaways from the Jordanian SEA experience in the Dead Sea Development Zone are being discussed in the following paragraphs:
No Environmental 'Surprises' for Developers/Investors
The SEA process exists to ensure the early integration of environmental considerations into the preparation and adoption of Master Plans and development programs with a view to promoting sustainable development. The preparation or amendment of a Master Plan and the work on assessing the likely environmental effects should be undertaken in parallel so that the environmental considerations can be integrated into the preparation of the plan from the start.
As a result there should be no environmental “surprises” for the Master Planning Team, no development “surprises” for the SEA Team and no expenditure wasted on designs which have environmental difficulties. The key result of the SEA will be Master Plans which respect the environmental carrying capacity, and therefore avoid, reduce or offset the likely significant environmental effects from investment projects.
Clear Guidance for Development Programs
SEA and SEMP includes enough details to guide further detailing of the Master Plan and development projects. They provide specific environmental objectives that are extracted from national goals and zone-specific considerations. The involvement of stakeholders in the SEA process is a key success factor. The key groups and institutions, foreign investors, environmental agencies, NGOs, representatives of the public and others, including those groups potentially affected by the likely environmental impacts of implementing the Master Plan should be identified and consulted. Due to the unique nature of the Dead Sea are, several levels of consultations were organized including concerned Ministers.
Good Governance and Private Sector Involvement
SEA places the environmental protection burden on government's shoulder. Through the proposed SEA/SEMP framework, roles and responsibilities of environmental management are clearly defined amongst various regulators, developers and investors, as well as some NGOs. The institutional coordination and good governance principles would be typically covered in contractual agreements and memoranda of understanding to ensure proper implementation.
Nevertheless, both SEA and SEMP are legalized and enforced according to the development zones legislative framework, which is the first attempt of its kind in Jordan to require SEAs. Throughout the process of preparation and implementation of the SEA study and SEMP, regulators, planning consultants, developers and NGOs have been learning a lot.
Going Beyond Compliance
Due to the environmentally sensitive nature of the Dead Sea area, measures to go beyond regulatory requirements are introduced in the SEA and SEMP. For example, an enhanced energy efficiency target of 30% and water efficiency of 20% would make the Dead Sea Development Zone a real destination for sustainable tourism. Such pilot would also serve as a national model for others to follow towards cascading the national water and energy efficiency targets on zone (regional) level.
Support and buy-in from the government is needed to bring the SEA and SEMP to reality. Water, wastewater, solid waste and energy infrastructure elements are crucial for the successful achievement of the set environmental targets. Innovative financing mechanisms to green the area's infrastructure need to be investigated including those with public-private partnership.
National Readiness, Awareness and Capacity-building
It is clear that the knowledge and skills needed to prepare SEAs and SEMPs are slightly different than those needed for EIAs. Jordan has been requesting big projects to submit an EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) for over a decade now. Consulting firms providing such service are becoming used to the EIA model with little or no exposure to SEA and other environmental planning and mainstreaming tools.
During SEA consultation sessions and with the presence of dozens of NGOs representatives and national experts, the level of input is still leaning towards the EIA/individual project impact rather than plan/policy/strategy interrelated impacts. Even the regulators need to review and approve SEAs with a more strategic eye on the potential impacts.
SEA implementation in Jordan is expanding to other development zones and this will change the very nature of planning in the country for the better and will position Jordan as a regional leader in environmental mainstreaming and sustainability planning. A similar approach might be designed to assess the environmental sustainability impacts of urban/sectoral community development plans and propose guidelines for promoting compliance and beyond compliance measures in the MENA region.