Corps de l’article
In its more than 30 years of practice, environmental assessment (EA) has evolved from a primarily technical, biophysically-oriented tool to a more diverse, nuanced and inclusive process. From its North American origins, it has proliferated internationally. Along the way, the repertoire of EA has expanded to address social, cultural, cumulative, strategic and other dimensions that were initially left out. While there are ongoing questions about EA and a continual need for improvement, there is substantial interest in its potential to contribute to more sustainable forms of development. In this regard, one of the most promising trends is the increasing diversity of practice in EA and the sharing of case studies and lessons internationally.
This book serves dual purposes. First, it makes a valuable contribution to the growing body of literature documenting and comparing international experience with EA. Second, it serves as a timely textbook covering all the relevant aspects and issues of EA theory and practice. In the latter regard, the authors offer more than a standard textbook by drawing from their substantial experience with EA, analyzing case studies with a critical eye for process improvements.
The authors frame their study in a useful manner, focusing on processes and actors, recognizing that understanding the interrelationship of these elements is essential to examining the practice of EA. Indeed, they devote substantial chapters to considering the respective roles of proponents, consultants, the various roles of the public, the decision maker and international actors. In doing so, they offer rich detail and analysis, setting their study apart from more standard textbooks.
The book's preface — by EA pioneers Francesco Di Castri and Pierre Dansereau — contextualizes EA's role and its relationship to development, risk and solidarity. They set the stage eloquently, linking EA's potential roles to broader processes locally and globally. Their historical perspective on EA is valuable and reminds us that EA's successes and failures never unfold in isolation.
The book flows logically, from a discussion of sustainable development and its implications for EA, to a review of EA's history and central concepts, to a comparison of processes in French-speaking countries, to the aforementioned treatment of the various actors. The case studies — from Canada, Africa, France and beyond — are well presented and analyzed, with an emphasis on lessons learned. The presentation and comparison of these particular case studies is, in itself, a valuable contribution to EA literature. An Appendix describes EA processes in French-speaking jurisdictions; this wide-ranging coverage will be of interest to researchers comparing EA policies, processes and frameworks.
The authors conclude with an interesting — and hopeful — chapter on the future of EA. The book serves its dual purposes well: it provides a rigorous and up to date examination of theory and practice for readers looking for an introduction or basic textbook on EA, and it contributes case studies and lessons that will be of interest to more experienced researchers and practitioners. At its best, EA can be a vital process in support of more sustainable forms of development, and that will happen only through the careful documentation and critical analysis of experience such as that offered in this timely text.