Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) is a systematic decision support process, aiming to ensure that environmental and possibly other sustainability aspects are considered effectively in policy, plan and program making. It is the process by which environmental considerations are required to be fully integrated into the preparation of plans and programmes prior to their final adoption. The objectives of SEA are to provide for a high level of protection of the environment and to promote sustainable development.
In this context, a SEA may be seen as:
- a structured, rigorous, participative, open and transparent Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) based process, applied particularly to plans and programmes, prepared by public planning authorities and at times private bodies,
- a participative, open and transparent, possibly non-EIA-based process, applied in a more flexible manner to policies, prepared by public planning authorities and at times private bodies,
- a flexible non-EIA based process, applied to legislative proposals and other policies, plans and programmes in political/cabinet decision-making.
Effective SEA works within a structured and tiered decision framework, aiming to support more effective and efficient decision-making for sustainable development and improved governance by providing for a substantive focus regarding questions, issues and alternatives to be considered in policy, plan and programme (PPP) making.
SEA is a legally enforced assessment procedure required by Directive 2001/42/EC (known as the SEA Directive). The SEA Directive aims at introducing systematic assessment of the environmental effects of strategic land use related plans and programs. It typically applies to regional and local, development, waste and transport plans, within the European Union. Some plans, such as finance and budget plans or civil defence plans are exempt from the SEA Directive, it also only applies to plans that are required by law, which excludes national government’s plans and programs, as their plans are ‘voluntary’, whereas local and regional governments are usually required to prepare theirs.