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Is Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) an Effective Tool to Conserve Biodiversity Against Transport Infrastructure Development?

Abstract

The European Union is at the threshold of a new development period. Hungary as a Member State of the EU was given an opportunity to frame its comprehensive development programs for the next seven years (2007-2013). One of these programs is the Transport Operative Program, which focuses on large-scale, large-volume national trans¬port infrastructure developments including road, air, inland water, rail, and combined transport. The Program cover a defined period, however, it will assign the direction of developments for a longer time and foreshadow the vision of the whole transport system in future.

Under the related EU legislation a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) must be accomplished for these kinds of programs. SEA is a specific procedure to identify and control environmentally harmful processes at the earliest and highest level of planning. SEA covers all fields of environmental issues including wildlife conservation and biodiversity maintenance.

In the course of the present research we examined the opportunities the SEA’s institutionalized framework (regulations as well as measures) offers or might offer to mitigate the direct and indirect impacts of transportation via the nascent Hungarian Transport Operative Program.

The half-year-long study conducted between June and December, 2006 primarily aims at exploring opportunities lying in strategic-level assessment to conserve biodiversity at national and regional level and to treat habitat fragmentation.. Our study focused on determining what are the main issues that can be handled by the SEA and which ecological conflicts can be – at least partly - resolved at this level.

During the course of the research we used experience gathered by older EU Member States like the UK, Italy and Spain that have been formulated in the form of guidelines. The significance of our research is strengthened by fact that the overwhelming majority of one out of the nine European eco-regions (called Pannonian Biogeographical Region) can be found in Hungary. It is a great challenge for the country to meet Europe’s controversial expectations: how to conserve this valuable area but at the same time carry out a large transport infrastructural development.

The results gained suggest that SEA is a satisfactory tool to indicate large-scale harmful processes, however, it does not guarantee certain and sizable mitigation of effects unless the its methodology will be developed further and it will be integrated more efficiently in the implementation process of the transportation strategies in future.

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