Promoting Strategic Environmental Assessments

The Core Environment Program (CEP) has led efforts since 2007 to promote the use of strategic environmental assessments (SEAs) as a key approach for sustainable development planning in the GMS.

Using analytical and participatory tools, SEAs bring together actors from the government and nongovernment and across sectors to assess the environmental, social, and economic effects of proposed government policies and programs. SEAs are particularly useful in identifying the “hidden” costs and benefits that are often overlooked in decision making. By spotting and addressing risks early, investments in infrastructure for instance, are more likely to be sustainable.  An SEA can greatly lessen the costs and other issues associated with project-focused environmental impact assessment.


SEA was a little-known concept in the subregion when the CEP was launched. Although a few SEAs were conducted in the GMS before then, none of the countries had a supporting regulatory framework. The national technical capacity to conduct an SEA was practically non-existent. The CEP first focused on raising awareness of the benefits of SEAs and capacity building activities through regional and national workshops. As interest grew, the program begun pairing international experts with national teams to conduct pilot SEAs. These were mainly for land use and energy planning, where demand was high and had significant impacts on natural capital. As befitting a regional program, the CEP also explored applying SEAs in transboundary planning processes.


Ten SEAs were done from 2007 to 2014 across five sectors, both nationally and regionally. These initiatives generated government support for SEA, greatly enhanced technical and institutional capacity to apply SEAs, and contributed to strengthened regulatory and policy frameworks.  Although most of the SEAs were pilots, some have had impressive sustainable development outcomes.


The CEP’s SEA work in Viet Nam is a good example of the program’s influence in this area. The CEP collaborated closely with various ministries on five SEAs, beginning with one on the national power development plan in 2007. Today, boosted by support from the CEP, Viet Nam has strong capacity to conduct SEAs and have conducted around 40 so far. Meanwhile, the country has put in place supporting regulations for SEA, beginning with the revised Law on Environmental Protection, 2014. Since 2015, Viet Nam has been drafting a new planning law to improve its socioeconomic development planning system, and when enacted, it will greatly enhance SEA requirements. The CEP contributed to this by producing guidelines for a circular on environmental planning during 2016, which will be subsumed in regulations that stem from the new law.


The Lao PDR’s Environmental Protection Law, 2012 provided the country with its first legal basis for an SEA. In early 2017, a ministerial decree was issued requiring SEAs to be applied to policies, programs, and strategic plans. Cambodia and Myanmar have less experience than other GMS countries in applying SEAs, but have nevertheless taken the initial steps for mainstreaming them in planning. Cambodia’s draft environment code, which is awaiting government approval to be enacted as a law, includes provisions for SEAs. Myanmar, meanwhile, has indicated its interest in gradually adopting SEAs for sector planning. SEAs are also gaining traction at the subregional level. Recognizing the value of the CEP’s work, the GMS energy sector has been applying SEAs to regional power planning since 2012.


Since the early 2000s, the SEA approach has slowly but steadily taken root in the GMS. The CEP has been at the forefront of this process and will continue to promote SEAs in its 2018–2022 program. Through the CEP’s proposed regional policy help desk, the focus will be on SEA regulations, institutional arrangements, and implementation mechanisms.

“CEP has provided valuable support to Viet Nam to enhance its capacity for strategic environmental assessment and now we have a very successful SEA system in place.”
--Kim Thi Thuy Ngoc, Institute of Strategy and Policy on Natural Resources, Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, Viet Nam

Publish Date: 30th March 2018

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