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News & Events How can Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) help sustain land governance solutions?
How can Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) help sustain land governance solutions?
How can Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) help sustain land governance solutions?
SEA and land governance
SEA and land governance

In this session, we explored the linkages between Strategic Environmental Assessment and land governance. SEA often deals with land-related aspects in planning, and has the potential to ensure that they are satisfactorily dealt with in decision making. This potential could reach further if SEA would be applied more widely and, most importantly, before irreversible changes to land and land use are made. Doing SEA before ESIA for concrete investments can help avoid some of the land related challenges and conflicts currently encountered.

The following key sheet provides further details on the linkages between SEA and land governance, links to cases around the world and contact details for those interested to explore this topic further:


Key Takeaways

  • As mentioned by Professor Wytske Chamberlain in her keynote speech, it is important to avoid, to the extent possible, negative consequences of land use changes. Unfortunately, as she noted, consultation often doesn’t take place and, consequently, decision making does not take local concerns into account. One way she proposed to mitigate such risks is by promoting policy change and multistakeholder platforms
  • Strategic Environmental Assessment has the potential to contribute directly to such policy change, as it is designed to influence policy, plan and programme development by incorporating environmental, social and sustainability considerations into decision making.
  • This potential is growing, as over 100 countries have by now made SEA compulsory for strategic decision making
  • Especially for spatial planning, SEA often creates multistakeholder platforms to inform decision making. These platforms may continue to exist during plan implementation and even thereafter, to support development of other plans
  • As it comes at an earlier stage in decision making, SEA can help avoid issues that are more difficult to be resolved at the stage of project development. For example, SEA is a tool that can help avoid large scale resettlements caused by land use change
  • Although SEAs have some advantages for land governance, such as bringing stakeholders views on board of decision making and identifying long term impacts of plans, there are some challenges that SEA needs to overcome:
    • Consequences for land may not be fully known at the stage of strategic planning. In such cases, it may be hard to include land aspects in the SEA
    • Planning is often political and overcoming politicised processes and decisions can be a challenge. SEA can help neutralise the debate and decision-making process by making them more transparent and inclusive, but it remains a challenge in a highly politicised context. How could SEA overcome this challenge and ensure that we end up in having good decisions and plans, and also that these are implemented as agreed and adaptive management is applied?
    • How can we ensure that investors are also investing in areas that stakeholders prefer, instead of driving their own agendas? How could SEA help in making development less investment based?
    • How could SEA ensure that capacities of stakeholders at the landscape level are built to take meaningfully part in SEA and plan processes?

Key messages for the way forward      

  • Land governance professionals could use the potential of SEA as a legal tool to engage stakeholders into formal decision-making processes
  • Financial institutions and bilateral donors should demand SEA because at project level some strategic decisions and impacts cannot be addressed
  • SEA community should pay more explicit attention to land governance challenges such as weak land tenure situations
  • There are many good cases / examples for participatory SEA and land use planning – there is need to learn from and upscale these good examples. Governments, NGOs, financial institutions and donors could all play a role therein.

Professor Annelies Zoomers concluded the session by saying that LandAc and the LandAc fellows should further investigate the potential of SEA for land governance.


Key Session Components


  1. 32 participants in the session
  2. 14 people from 7 countries took part in Mentimeter
  3. Half of  them from Academia, the rest NGOs and consultants
  4. Almost all have heard of Environmental and Social Impact Assessment, half of them have worked with it
  5. Only three have worked with Strategic Environmental Assessment, three have never heard of it
  6. Participants think of SEA in the following terms:

Sustainable Environment Assessment




SEA and Land Governance

Leyla Özay, Technical Secretary, Netherlands Commission for Environmental Assessment


  • SEA is a tool to integrate environmental, social and sustainability concerns into strategic decision making.
  • SEA process includes, if well designed, a well organised stakeholder participation, discussion on alternative development pathways, attention to influencing key decision makers
  • SEA is embedded in law and practised in over 100 countries around the world (see map)


SEA Legal Status

  • The link to land governance is that these decisions on plans, policies and programme have far reaching consequences for the way land and natural resources are allocated used and managed. SEA can help avoid negative consequences of land related choices, as follows:

SEA Consequences


  • A copy of  the presentation is provided with this report.


Pitches from the panel


The following six panelists kicked-off the discussion with a 2 minute pitch, with a key message from each:

Charlotte Stam, Research Intern LandAc

  • It’s important to identify and consider alternatives in an early stage. Changing land use later is often impossible – mistakes can be avoided by considering alternatives that incorporate needs of local stakeholders.

Karin van Boxtel, Officer Policy Development - Sustainable Land Use at Both Ends

  • SEA should assess the aspiration of communities and take care to make specific groups participate. A locally developed vision can then be upscaled and find actors who match the need.

Margriet Hartman, Environmental and Social expert at RHDHV

  • SEA has the advantage of influencing decisions on plans at an early stage. Land can be a standard topic when assessing alternatives. However, land issues often become clear later on, when specific investments and locations become known. This is a dilemma.

Coenraad Voorhuis, Senior Advisor RVO

  • We will use SEA in Benin to develop multiple scenario’s to find the best economic development options. Stakeholders will be engaged to identify solutions. The planning process will be transparent and inclusive. This may bring new ideas for investment projects that we have not foreseen now!

Annelies Zoomers, Professor International Development Studies at Utrecht University

  • I am in favour of SEA, as it will help us move away from investment driven developments. But: planning is political and having a plan is no guarantee. The need for adaptation remains

Omer van Renterghem Theme expert Land, Water & Ecosystems at the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs

  • SEA can help link formal decision making to the informal aspects of land governance. We see how it complements the landscape approach and how it strengthens the contribution of NGOs to decision making