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Posted on Dec 4, 2009 in STUDY

The Role of Science in Environmental Assessment


Piseth Keo


Science has long been recognized as a powerful tool for discovering truths about the world; at the very least, science is able to make reasonably accurate predictions about the world. The use of science as a decision-making instrument penetrated the discipline of environmental management and development mostly after the US Natural Environment Protection Act (NEPA) was adopted in the 1960s. Under this act, major development projects that may potentially have detrimental effects on the environment are mandated to undergo environmental impact assessment. In this regard, project proponents are required to produce several environmental impact statements, in order to provide the evaluating authority truthful and verifiable information on the possible consequences of the project before a final decision is made. However, a number of studies have shown that science can aid decision-making only to a certain extent, and that often, it fails to indisputably achieve its primary goal of improving the decision-making process and/or its outcome (Cashmore, 1994). For instance, in the case of the Yali hydropower dam development in Vietnam, scientific evidence did not help solve the problem of transboundary environmental impacts because of the complex political environment within which the decision-making process is situated (Wyatt & Baird, 2007).

This paper gives a brief overview of various definitions of science. It also focuses on the extent to which science can play a role in decision-making for the environment. Finally, the paper provides suggestions on how the power of science in environmental decision-making can be enhanced. Read full paper

Thanks Piseth, a graduate student at the ANU, for the contribution of this paper.

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