Social and environmental impact assessments and responsible investments in infrastructural projects: Where do we stand? What are the questions?

We are looking for a Master-level student to conduct a literature review and (online) expert interviews on experiences with Environmental and Social Impact Assessments (ESIAs) related to infrastructural projects in the Global South. ESIAs are a key component of responsible investment: they inform, or should inform, decisions about whether or not to pursue specific interventions, what measures might improve the project design and implementation, and what measures would be needed to compensate the affected population. But what have we learnt to date about how well this instrument is working? Does it help to mitigate the negative effects on people’s livelihoods, especially when these involve the displacement? What challenges do professionals working with ESIAs identify?

The assignment: You conduct a literature study on the effectiveness of ESIAs and (digitally) interview experts from specialist agencies such as the Netherlands EIA commission, Dutch Enterprise Agency (RVO), ESIA experts at engineering companies and possibly others.

When: 4-6 months, 4-5 days a week. It is possible to start at short notice.

Where: The internship or thesis will be based at SDC (Wageningen University). Most of the work will be done remotely, but there will be opportunities to join (online) meetings.

Contact person: Please send an e-mail to Gemma van der Haar (gemma.vanderhaar@wur.nl) and LANDac (landac.geo@uu.nl) to express your interest in this opportunity or ask for further information.

What we ask:

We are looking for an enthusiastic Master level student, who:

  • Has a keen interest in international land governance, responsible investments or related topics;
  • Enjoys the collection of information and can write structured pieces for a wider audience;
  • Preferably has some experience in conducting interviews;
  • Is organised and structured and can work independently;
  • Is available at short notice.

What we offer:

This is an excellent opportunity to work on an issue related to land governance, responsible investments and infrastructural development. We offer:

  • Opportunity to learn about, contribute to, and expand your network in the field of responsible investments;
  • An opportunity to expand your research and writing skills;
  • An opportunity to gain experience in applied research;
  • A dynamic working environment involving a range of LANDac partners.

This research assignment is part of the applied research project ‘Ten years after: A reality check on impact assessments of infrastructural projects’, which aims to improve the positive contribution of social and environmental impact assessments. The project reflects, with specialised agencies, on what might be done to close the gap between real and projected impacts of investments in infrastructure. It is a collaboration of LANDac, SDC at Wageningen University, and RoyalHasKoningDHV.

Background information – Research assignment in the context of the research project “Ten-years after: A reality check on impact assessments of infrastructural projects”

Coordination: Gemma van der Haar (Wageningen University, SDC), Margriet Hartman (Royal HasKoningDHV), Chantal Wieckardt (LANDac).

Background

Environmental and Social Impact Assessments (ESIAs) are a key component of responsible investment. They are the instrument to make ex-ante predictions of the expected impacts on the environment as well as on people’s livelihoods. They inform, or should inform, decisions about whether or not to pursue specific interventions, what measures might improve the project design and implementation, and what compensation measures to the affected population would be needed. Even in best case scenarios, where there is a commitment on the side of government and investors to take impact assessment and compensation seriously, there are questions about the extent to which the ex-ante predictions are accurate and measures proposed sufficient. Key concerns relate to the distribution of costs and benefits of the proposed infrastructure among different social groups. A particularly challenging topic concerns displacement and compensation for loss of livelihood options. What impact did loss of assets and displacement have on people’s lives and livelihoods? Were measures to help people make a fresh start effective? To what extent did the impact assessment make proper predictions? And what should be the implications if impact assessments missed the mark?

This project zooms in on the gap between projected and real impacts in order to improve the practice of impact assessment. Many  of the changes caused by infrastructural interventions might only become apparent over a somewhat longer timespan, when the initial construction is completed and it becomes clear what more durable job opportunities exist and for whom. Also people’s choices about where to live and how to re-organize their lives after displacement, need some time to flesh out. This is why we suggest to study cases ‘ten years after’.

The aim of this applied research project is twofold: to learn about how impact assessments can be made more accurate, and to reflect on what we may and may not expect of this instrument. One of the reasons for the gap between projected and real impacts is the complexity of life choices involved and the differentiated ways in which compensation measures impact people’s options and challenges. Socio-economic impact assessments might improve if these complexities are better anticipated. Additional problems arise around the implementation of compensation measures, which may be badly managed and fail to meet the initial promises. This raises the question to what extent the impact assessment should – and feasibly can– consider potential caveats around implementation of compensation and anticipate ways to address this.

The project addresses the following questions:

  • Reality check: What people have gained and lost due to the infrastructural project in terms of their livelihoods and quality of life and what have compensation packages  meant to mitigate/neutralise these losses? How do people appreciate compensation measures in view of the life readjustments they have had to make as they were displaced?
  • Gap between real and projected impacts: How do these lived experiences of gains and losses compare to the projected impacts as presented in the impact assessments made for the case?
  • What lessons can be drawn concerning:
    • the accuracy of ex-ante impact assessments and where the gap between projected and registered impacts becomes especially problematic
    • what can and cannot be expected of impact assessments.

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