Environmental assessments of projects and local plans in the energy and waste sectors in Sweden : Practice and potential for improvement

Sammanfattning: Early perspectives on environmental issues have in general focussed on local pollution from specific sources. However, in past decades there has been a shift in society’s perspective on environmental management towards a focus on diffuse sources of pollution and long-term and global environmental issues. A systems approach to environmental issues has also been suggested in order to avoid overlooking important environmental issues. In this thesis, the potential of two Swedish legally regulated decision-making processes, the development permission process and the local planning process in the energy and waste sectors, to meet these emerging perspectives on environmental issues is explored. The results in this thesis show that in practice the potential of the development permission process to include the emerging perspectives on environmental issues for this process has been rather low in the past, since the environmental assessments reports submitted with the applications for development permission focus to a large extent on local and technical issues. This means that environmentally relevant issues such as global and long-term impacts and resource management issues tend to have been disregarded. However,studies of more recently made assessment reports reveal that such ssues are beginning to emerge to some extent. Furthermore, the public adds to the potential for this decision-making process, as it tends todiscuss the project from a systems perspective as well. The thesis further suggests that the institutional context of the decision-making process impedes the potential to include the emerging perspectives in some respects. For example, present legislative rules and guidelines do not include the new perspectives on environmental issues and do not allow decision-making authorities to take such issues into account. The thesis also shows that the local planning processes do not have the potential - in practice - to include environmental issues from wide perspectives. The local plans tend to focus on environmental issues from a local and technical perspective and do only to some extent include wider perspectives. It is further indicated that the interests and power of the actors within the planning processes are important factors influencing which perspectives are applied when the plan is made. To increase the potential for the local planning process to meet the demands for wider perspectives on environmental issues, the thesis therefore suggests that it is important to raise the status of local energy and waste management plans so they can have an actual impact on the development of the local technical systems. Finally, in order to increase the potential for both of the two formal decision-making processes studied in this thesis, linking the two decision-making processes would enable local planners, project developers and decision-making authorities to address impacts from a wider perspective. Linking the two processes would leave only local and project-oriented environmental issues to be discussed within the project development permission process, and the local planning process could focus on the environmental impacts of a local energy system and proposed energy projects from wider perspectives. The two processes would therefore be able to take all environmental issues relevant from a systems perspective into account.