Strategic environmental assessment

The "Strategic Environmental Assessment" factsheet provides information on national plans and programs whose implementation may have significant effects on the environment and which have consequently been subject to an environmental assessment procedure.

The Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) of Plans and Programs is an environmental policy instrument that supports the decision-making process. It identifies, describes and evaluates any significant environmental effects resulting from a Plan or Program prior to its preparation or during and prior to its development.

This instrument ensures a strategic vision and a broad perspective on environmental issues through the global integration of relevant biophysical, economic, social and political considerations that may be at stake, within a framework of sustainability.

To this end, it is a continuous and systematic process, starting from an initial moment in the decision-making process, to evaluate the environmental quality of alternative visions and development perspectives incorporated into a planning or programming that will serve as a framework for future projects.

The SEA procedure begins simultaneously with the planning or programming process and with the decision on whether to subject the Plan or Program to this instrument. In the event of such subjection, a report is drawn up defining the scope of the information to be included in the environmental assessment of the plan or program. Based on this definition, an environmental report is then prepared and submitted for public and institutional consultation. This consultation can take place simultaneously with the consultation of the Plan or Program itself. In the end, the sponsoring entity issues an Environmental Statement, which must accompany the final version of the Plan or Program upon its approval.

The Environmental Statement is a document where the environmental considerations and the environmental report itself have been integrated into the Plan or Program, the results of the consultations carried out, including the public consultation, their weighting and justification and, in case they have not been accepted, the reasons supporting the alternative chosen and the control measures envisaged. The Environmental Statement must be publicised on the website of the entity promoting the Plan or Program and sent to the consulted entities, including the Portuguese Environmental Agency which, in turn, also makes it available on its website.

The Directive 2001/42/EC on the assessment of the effects of certain plans and programs on the environment was transposed in Portugal, in the general case, by the Decree-Law no. 232/2007, as amended by the Decree-Law no. 58/2011, and in the specific case of the Territorial Management Instruments, by the Decree-Law no. 80/2015.

According to this legislation, the following are subject to SEA:

  • Plans and programs in the areas of agriculture, forestry, fisheries, energy, industry, transport, waste management, water management, telecommunications, tourism, urban and rural planning or land use and which constitute a framework for the future approval of projects according to the legal regime related to Environmental Impact Assessment;
  • Plans and programs that in view of their possible effects on a site on the national list of sites, on a site of Community Importance, on a special area of conservation or a special protection area, should be subject to an environmental impact assessment;
  • Plans and programs that, not being covered by the previous paragraphs, constitute a framework for the future approval of projects and that are qualified as having significant effects on the environment.

With over 10 years of existence, the national legislation on the SEA is very flexible, betting on the procedural transparency and the responsibilities of the entities that develop the Plans or Programs.

It should be noted that the decision to subject a Plan or Program to an environmental assessment procedure rests with the entity responsible for its preparation, and therefore many Plans and Programs at the national level were not subject to SEA. These institutions may consult entities with specific environmental responsibilities, which issue an opinion, although it is not binding.

The Ministry responsible for the Environment does not assume a regulatory role. The task of monitoring the application of legislation and disseminating information, ensuring dialogue with the European Commission, rests with the Portuguese Environment Agency.

The history of the SEA is closely related to the history of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). They are similar conceptual instruments, but related to different levels of decision making - EIA concerns project evaluation, while SEA deals with a wider spectrum of instruments (Plans, Programs, Policies and Strategies).

This factsheet will be updated annually.

Objectives and targets: 
  • Support the decision-making process, allowing the discussion of the alternatives in the planning and programming processes, while the strategic options are still open;
  • Integrate environmental and sustainability issues into policies, plans and programs;
  • Anticipate problems that may occur at the Projects level;
  • Encourage participatory citizenship, ensuring the possibility of public participation in the decision-making process and promoting the dissemination and access to information.
Progress analysis:

From June 2007, with the entry into force of the current Legal Regime on Strategic Environmental Assessment, until March 31st, 2019, approximately 770 SEA procedures were filed with the APA. Of these, the Agency is only aware of 283 Environmental Declarations (37%), sent formally after completion of the SEA procedures, as provided for by law.

Last update: 
Monday, 20 May, 2019