STRATEGIC ENVIRONMENT ASSESSMENT AND BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY CONSERVATION IN THE KOREAN HIGH-SPEED RAILWAY PROJECT
SANG DON LEE
Biological diversity (biodiversity) is an essential issue in conservation and environmental impact assessment (EIA). Though Korea is relatively small, the country harbours over 29,800 species, making biodiversity and ecosystem conservation a central issue when an EIA is undertaken during development site selection. Indeed, an unfavourable biodiversity evaluation can halt a proposed or in-progress development, creating a societal conflict between conservationists and developers. To solve this, the Strategic Environment Assessment (SEA) legislation was created in Korea to provide a systematic instrument for improving decision-making through early-stage environmental assessment. The SEA legislation was recently passed by the President's cabinet and is poised for implementation during 2005. Adoption of the SEA will facilitate better assessments of biodiversity during the early stages of the developmental process, preventing late-stage interruptions such as those seen in the Korean High-speed Railway Project (KHRP), which was recently halted due to poor biodiversity conservation around the development site. The original EIA of the KHRP did not appropriately address the biodiversity issues because most of the developmental plan had been set in place prior to evaluation of biodiversity in the affected areas. The KHRP caused leakage of mountain groundwater such that high elevation wetlands marked as ecosystem conservation areas by the Ministry of Environment became dry and lost their endemic amphibian species. Upon learning this, several national NGOs filed court cases on behalf of the Korean clawed salamander (Onachodaytylus fisheri), halting the project for some time. Thus, the lack of biodiversity consideration at the earliest stages of the KHRP created a social conflict. This paper examines how the implementation of an SEA during the KHRP would have minimised the social conflicts between biodiversity conservation and developmental processes.
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