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Louise Davis
Development Project Manager - Renewables 

This year I attended the 43rd Annual Conference of the International Association for Impact Assessment (IAIA). Exploring the theme of impact assessment in a just transformation, it set out the importance of addressing the crises of biodiversity loss and climate change, while continuing to deliver for the energy needs of billions globally.

Where to start? Well, more than 1,400 delegates from around the globe gathered to attend the conference in true Irish spirit (including dancing!) at the Convention Centre in Dublin. A packed four-day schedule placed everything from the Climate Change Charter and AI to biodiversity frameworks and sustainable finance on the table for discussion.

A personal and professional highlight included chairing a session on what the just transition must look like for marine and coastal environments. During the time we reconciled the many similar challenges and opportunities across the UK (with an excellent presentation from Xodus’ Ed Walker), Italy and South Korea from the standpoint of impact assessment practitioners, government officials, developers, and environmental lawyers.

However, now I have the opportunity reflect upon a busy and incredibly valuable week and I would like to discuss the three themes that cut right through the conference:

  • Now more than ever, I am struck by the need to ‘speed up’ bureaucracy and cut down the time that creating and adopting guidance typically takes. The pace of development in the race to net zero across many jurisdictions and permitting regimes makes it a complicated picture for impact assessors, one they need to get to grips within a short space of time. At this critical juncture, our ability to reach both climate and biodiversity targets hangs in the balance, and we cannot afford to lose any more time to red tape. In addition, this will have a role to play in ensuring any transition undertaking is just and leaves no community behind.
  • We need to create an effective framework for governments and impact assessment practitioners to use AI to their advantage. Introducing the technology into the assessment process could allow for significantly improved and robust project decision making. This is an area in which we can take real learnings from other, more established markets like offshore wind on how the technology has been deployed to date and its successes or drawbacks.
  • Finally, assessing and mitigating impacts is not enough; biodiversity and nature positive measures should be considered at the outset of plans and projects to provide an overall ‘net gain’. We need to be more ambitious at an earlier stage of planning to achieve net positive goals that considers both direct and indirect effects.

I am the first to acknowledge that these takeaways present numerous challenges, which we have a short timeframe to tackle. However, we need to recognise that we are part of an adaptable industry that has the ability to thrive, despite changing goalposts. For example, look at the remarkable transformation achieved by the finance sector to date - "sustainable finance", a term coined only around 5 years ago, is now a $4 trillion industry.

I feel a refreshed passion for the journey ahead and call upon my colleagues to join me in going forward at pace, while ensuring everyone is brought along on the same just transition train.

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