Examination of the intrinsic attributes of a system that render it more or less sensitive to potential stressors provides further insight into the baseline environment. In impact assessment, sensitivity of environmental receptors can be conceptualised on the basis of their: a) quality status according to statutory indicators and associated thresholds or targets; b) statutory protection; or c) inherent risk. Where none of these considerations are pertinent, subjective value judgments can be applied to determine sensitivity. This pragmatic conceptual framework formed the basis of a stakeholder consultation process for harmonising degrees of sensitivity of a number of environmental criteria. Harmonisation was sought to facilitate their comparative and combined analysis. Overall, full or wide agreement was reached on relative sensitivity values for the large majority of the reviewed criteria. Consensus was easier to reach on some themes (e.g. biodiversity, water and cultural heritage) than others (e.g. population and soils). As anticipated, existing statutory measures shaped the outcomes but, ultimately, knowledge-based values prevailed. The agreed relative sensitivities warrant extensive consultation but the conceptual framework provides a basis for increasing stakeholder consensus and objectivity of baseline assessments. This, in turn, can contribute to improving the evidence-base for characterising the significance of potential impacts.
Journal of Environmental Management – Elsevier
Published: Sep 15, 2017
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