For the second time since 2013, the Inter-American Development Bank will be host to the International Association for Impact Assessment’s Special Biodiversity Symposium the week of November 13th. The theme of the event is “Mainstreaming the Mitigation Hierarchy in Impact Assessment” and some 200 practitioners will come together to discuss lessons learned, current trends, and new directions.
The Mitigation Hierarchy is an approach to improving the sustainability of projects where priority is given to avoiding adverse impacts in the first place, followed by the minimization of unavoidable impacts, and the restoration or rehabilitation or any remaining impacts. When significant adverse impacts remain, efforts should be made to compensate these through offsetting or other investments. The IDB’s Environment and Safeguards Compliance Policy, OP-703, implements the Mitigation Hierarchy through the preamble to the directives on Safeguarding the Environment: Managing Environmental Impacts and Risks: “The Bank favors avoiding negative environmental impacts; when impacts are unavoidable, Bank-financed operations require mitigation measures; and for impacts that cannot be fully mitigated, compensation or offsets should be implemented.”
The Bank has been working with the Government of Bolivia since 2010 on a proposal to support the construction of a 173-km 230 kV transmission line from for a new geothermal plant, as part of a new national energy grid. The geothermal plant, financed by the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA), will be constructed within the Eduardo Avaroa National Andean Fauna Reserve and the Saline Lagoons of Southwestern Potosí Ramsar Site.
The lagoons of the region are of global importance for the reproduction of two threatened species of flamingos. While neither the geothermal plant or the transmission line will be located near any of the lagoons, the transmission line will cross areas known to serve as corridors for the migration and local movements of three species of flamingos. It is known that flamingos are susceptible to collisions with transmission lines if these are constructed in their airspaces.
IDB’s safeguard policies identify protected areas and unprotected areas of known high conservation value, including areas crucial for vulnerable species and areas critical for the viability of migratory routes of migratory species, as critical natural habitats. The Bank will not support projects that lead to significant conversion or degradation of such habitats. Thus, the Bank has been working with the Government of Bolivia, species experts, and specialized consultants to understand the potential impacts of the proposed transmission line on the flamingos and their habitats.
Starting in 2010, the Bank contracted Bolivia’s lead expert on flamingos to conduct studies and field surveys. GPS transmitters were placed on 13 Andean flamingos and 7 Puna flamingos. In 2015, the Bank supported the hiring of an international consulting firm with expertise in transmission line design to evaluate routing and design alternatives to avoid and minimize the risk of collisions with flamingos and other species of birds. As a result of the studies, the original route of the transmission line has been significantly improved to avoid the most sensitive areas. In addition, the design of the transmission line includes the installation of bird flight diverters to increase the visibility of the cables and minimize risk of collision.
Impact assessment must be based on both a sound understanding of the neighboring impacts (e.g., mortality from collisions with the transmission line) and analysis of the ultimate impacts on the feature of interest (e.g. effects on viability of the global populations of the Andean and Puna flamingos). A connection must be drawn between the impacts on individuals and impacts to the species. To achieve this, the Bank will model population level effects of the predicted annual mortalities for the entire transmission line over a 100-year span, taking into consideration other human-induced and natural events that affect the flamingo populations. This study will provide the level of scientific information required to answer questions regarding the project’s compliance with the Bank’s safeguards for biodiversity and critical natural habitats.
The IDB is investing resources to ensure that this operation will meet the safeguard requirements and not affect the sustainability of the flamingo populations or other values of the critical natural habitats. Over the course of 2018, the ESG, the Government of Bolivia, species experts, and transmission line engineers will work together to apply best practice in impact assessment and the Mitigation Hierarchy to avoid and minimize impacts.