Impacts of Wind Energy Projects and their Assessment
- Why is it important to assess the impacts of wind energy projects in a World Heritage context?
- Elements of impact assessment
- Participation of rights-holders and other stakeholders in an impact assessment process
- Types of impact assessments
- Potential impacts of wind energy projects
- What should be considered before beginning an ESIA?
This part of the Guidance provides heritage and impact assessment practitioners, site managers and heritage institutions an overview of the process for assessing the impacts of wind energy projects associated with World Heritage properties. The information is intended to assist actors responsible for commissioning and preparation such impact assessments and to support decision-makers.
The advice provided here includes overall provisions and requirements, nevertheless, it aims to complement the Guidance and Toolkit for Impact Assessments in a World Heritage Context as well as national and regional guidance documents related to the assessment of impacts on heritage values derived from wind energy projects. Therefore, readers are strongly encouraged to consult the ‘Guidance and Toolkit’ before conducting any World Heritage related impact assessments.
For the terminology used in this part of the Guidance, please refer to the ‘Glossary’ of the Guidance and Toolkit for Impact Assessments in a World Heritage Context.
Why is it important to assess the impacts of wind energy projects in a World Heritage context?
To ensure that the potential impact of a planned or proposed wind energy project is well understood both by the developers throughout the planning process and the decision-makers in the licensing process, an impact assessment needs to be undertaken. This is also a requirement under the World Heritage Convention. The impact assessment process should be used to understand the potential impact of a wind energy project before a decision is taken, ensuring also that its steps and results are used to improve the planning and design of wind energy projects and other developments. The main objective of the impact assessment process is to avoid any irreversible impact on the OUV of concerned World Heritage properties, which are considered unique and irreplaceable.
Impact assessment is a well-established process today worldwide that serves as a tool to show the potential consequences of proposed actions on the environment or on specific values, including on the OUV of World Heritage properties before irreversible decisions are made. Therefore, assessing impacts in a World Heritage context might be carried out as part of a wider environmental and social impact assessment that is being prepared for a wind energy project (see more details on Environmental and Social Impact Assessment below).
When there is no existing impact assessment system included in the governance framework, or when wind energy projects would not normally require impact assessment under existing legislation, the assessment of impacts are nevertheless needed for projects proposed in relation to World Heritage properties no matter if the project is planned within their boundaries, their buffer zones or in their wider setting (see in World Heritage Essentials for details about the spatial areas of World Heritage properties). In this case a stand-alone assessment of impacts of the proposed wind energy project is needed with regard to its effects on the OUV of one or more World Heritage properties (see Potential impacts of wind energy projects in Impacts of Wind Energy projects and their assessment).
In the World Heritage context, the assessment of impacts of wind energy installations is required to address specifically the potential impacts of the proposed project on the OUV of the concerned World Heritage property. For this reason, it is fundamental to ensure that the impact assessment is based on a thorough understanding of the attributes conveying the OUV and other relevant heritage values and that an appropriate methodology is followed throughout the assessment process (see the details about the OUV and attributes in World Heritage Essentials).
Please check the list of principles for conducting a World Heritage related impact assessment in this Guidance and for a more general World Heritage related approach, the principles included in the Guidance and Toolkit for Impact Assessments in a World Heritage Context.
Principles for conducting a World Heritage related impact assessment that concerns wind energy projects
In general terms, for changes that could affect World Heritage properties and their OUV, all impact assessments should follow the principles laid out in the Guidance and Toolkit for Impact Assessment in a World Heritage Context.
Principles for conducting a World Heritage related impact assessment that concerns wind energy projects
Principle 1: all wind energy project proposals that may adversely affect a World Heritage property must undergo a rigorous impact assessment (Environmental and Social Impact Assessment – ESIA), whether they are located within or outside its boundaries. This assessment should take place as early as possible in order to provide timely and effective input to decision-makers. Assessments that take place late in the decision-making process or after the decision has been made cannot adequately inform decision-makers.
Principle 2: Experts with knowledge about World Heritage in general and specifically about the World Heritage property/properties in question must be closely involved in the assessment process in order to identify the issues that will need to be assessed. These experts can also work together with project proponents and engineers to find alternative solutions to proposals that may adversely affect a World Heritage property’s OUV.
Principle 3: The likely environmental and social impacts of the development proposal on the property’s OUV must be assessed, including direct, indirect and cumulative effects. This assessment should consider the property’s values, integrity and protection and management, as well as its connection to the wider landscape, and should be based on adequate information and data.
Principle 4: Reasonable alternatives to the project proposal must be identified and assessed with the aim of recommending the most sustainable option to decision-makers. The different options should be clearly communicated to decision-makers and those that are least damaging in relation to the site’s OUV should be highlighted, including in some cases the ‘no project’ option. Very often, economically viable and feasible alternatives can be found to development proposals that may be damaging to a World Heritage property’s OUV. A detailed and early consideration of alternatives can also help to ensure that resources are not wasted in developing proposals that are incompatible with World Heritage status.
Principle 5: Mitigation measures should be identified in line with the mitigation hierarchy, which requires first avoiding potential negative impacts and secondly minimising and reducing unavoidable residual impacts through mitigation measures.
In case any minor residual negative impacts on the OUV of a World Heritage property are identified and that cannot be avoided, the ESIA should outline how these will be mitigated and monitored through a budgeted Environmental Management Plan, indicating how the mitigation measures will be implemented, who will implement them within what timeframe and what resources are secured for their implementation.
Principle 6: Special sections on World Heritage must be included in ESIAs that have a general scope. These sections should present clear conclusions to decision-makers on the potential impacts of the wind energy proposal on the World Heritage property’s OUV as well as relevant recommendations/measures related to the impacts and should also be reflected in the Executive Summary of the impact assessment report.
Principle 7: Information from the assessment and the results must be publicly disclosed and subject to thorough public consultation at all relevant stages. All relevant right-holders, local communities and other stakeholders, including Indigenous Peoples when this is relevant, should be involved. Feedback from consultation should be fully reflected and documented in the assessment.
The relevant government agencies and non-governmental organizations should be involved and consulted early on and throughout the impact assessment process. They will need to have the possibility to review the resulting report.
Principle 8: Adequate follow-up measures need to be developed based on information and result of the impact assessment. This might include the need for proposing, implementing and independently auditing an Environmental Management Plan. The plan should detail operating, monitoring and other relevant conditions in relation to the property’s OUV.
The developer must set aside funds from the outset to cover the costs of the follow-up actions, including the independent auditing of the implementation of the Environmental Management Plan at regular intervals.
Providing information on proposed wind energy projects to the World Heritage Committee through UNESCO.
Regarding wind energy projects proposed to be installed within a World Heritage property, its buffer zone or its wider setting, the concerned State Party (usually through its National Focal Point responsible for World Heritage properties) is required to inform the World Heritage Committee though the World Heritage Centre of the intention to authorize the development (based on the mechanism explained in paragraph 172 of the Operational Guidelines) as soon as possible in the planning stage. Site management teams may also draw attention to such actions and identify the need for both a notification and the preparation of an impact assessment.
The notification should also include a screening report, or if available, a complete impact assessment report with specific reference to the possible impacts the project will have on the OUV of the property in question. This step should take place before any irreversible decisions are taken, and it is a measure put in place also to allow the Advisory Bodies when relevant, to provide a thorough review of the proposed action and to understand its possible impacts on the property’s OUV. Establishing a dialogue with the World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies allows them to provide inputs during the first phase of the impact assessment process.
The Operational Guidelines (paragraph 118bis.) requests the States Parties to ensure that Environmental Impact Assessments, Heritage Impact Assessments, and/or Strategic Environmental Assessments be carried out as a pre-requisite for development projects and activities that are planned for implementation within or around a World Heritage property. These assessments should serve to identify development alternatives, as well as both potential positive and negative impacts on the OUV of the property and to recommend mitigation measures against degradation or other negative impacts on the cultural or natural heritage within the property or its wider setting. The justification of this requirement is to ‘ensure the long-term safeguarding of the OUV, and the strengthening of heritage resilience to disasters and climate change.’ States Parties (through their relevant authorities and organizations), and wind energy project proponents are encouraged to follow and refer to the Guidance and Toolkit for Impact Assessments in a World Heritage Context.
A special guidelines document for project developers has been developed in 2021 by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), an advisory body to the World Heritage Committee, with a special focus on mitigating biodiversity impacts associated with solar and wind energy development. This is a useful tool to assist project proponents when a project concerns a World Heritage property whose OUV includes biodiversity values.
Individuals, (national or international) associations or organizations other than representatives of a State Party, who may be concerned about impacts of a wind energy project on World Heritage property, may also contact the World Heritage Centre. Subsequently, under paragraph 174 of the Operational Guidelines, the World Heritage Centre may request additional information on the proposed action from the State Party where the project is located, including an impact assessment. If the joint analysis of the World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies to the World Heritage Committee concludes that the project has a potential to have a significant negative impact on the OUV of a World Heritage property, the state of conservation of the property may be presented by the World Heritage Centre to the World Heritage Committee under the Reactive Monitoring process, to ensure the long-term preservation of the property.
In turn, the World Heritage Committee may also request an impact assessment, recommend refinement of an existing impact assessment, or take position on the proposed action. In this case, it is the responsibility of the State Party to ensure that the Committee’s request is addressed and implemented. If the OUV of a World Heritage property is threatened or damaged by a certain development and no adequate action has been taken by the relevant national authorities and the project proponent to avoid or rectify the threat, the World Heritage Committee may decide to inscribe a property on the List of World Heritage in Danger (Operational Guidelines paragraph 177 to 191). In the extreme case when a property has deteriorated to the extent that it has lost those characteristics which determined its inclusion in the World Heritage List, the World Heritage Committee might decide the deletion of the property from the World Heritage List (Operational Guidelines paragraph 192 to 198).
Elements of impact assessment
An impact assessment involves a series of steps. These steps are flexible and can be adapted to the type of action being proposed (and location or level of action).
Elements of the impact assessment process:
- The proposed action and alternatives
- Identifying and predicting impacts
- Evaluating impacts
- Mitigation and enhancement
- Reviewing the report
The 11-step process is explained in detail in the Guidance and Toolkit for Impact Assessments in a World Heritage Context.
As the preparation of impact assessments is a complex task, these are normally carried out by an independent team of specialists, who are commissioned to inform both the planning stages of the project (by the project proponent) and the decision making of the competent authorities (as to whether to authorise the proposed action).
Participation of rights-holders and other stakeholders in an impact assessment process
Impact assessments require the participation of all ‘interested and affected parties’ in a meaningful, transparent, and equitable manner.
Participation is a key process in the implementation of the World Heritage Convention, which provides for the involvement of rights-holders and other stakeholders in the identification, management, and protection of cultural and natural World Heritage. Article 5 of the World Heritage Convention calls States Parties to adopt a general policy to give the cultural and natural heritage a function in the life of the community and to integrate the protection of that heritage into comprehensive planning programmes.
The participation of rights-holders, communities and other stakeholders is a key element not only in the management and protection of World Heritage properties but throughout the entire impact assessment process as well.
A participatory approach to impact assessment processes assists in:
- Facilitating the understanding of the potential impacts, benefits and challenges posed by the proposed project;
- Providing opportunities for rights-holders and other stakeholders to express their concerns and share their views in discussions throughout the impact assessment process, including in the identification and assessment of likely impacts, possible alternatives and, where appropriate, to take part in the development of mitigation and management measures (this should also extend to obtaining free, prior and informed consent from indigenous peoples where relevant);
- Enhancing the understanding of the OUV and of the other values of a property thanks to the considerations of rights-holders and stakeholders’ sharing their values and concerns;
- Offering rights-holders and other stakeholders an understanding of key World Heritage processes and requirements.
Participation and engagement of rights-holders and other stakeholders may happen in different ways in line with existing national and/or regional legal frameworks or guidance. Awareness raising, consultation and participation campaigns are effective ways to best involve rights-holders and stakeholders, and to guarantee that their concerns are understood and integrated in the impact assessment processes.
➔ See also Note 3 for Identification of rights-holders and other stakeholders and potential engagement tools.
Engaging with rights-holders, communities and other stakeholders in protecting World Heritage.
The Operational Guidelines recognize rights-holders, local communities and stakeholders as key actors in the management and conservation of World Heritage properties. States Parties to the World Heritage Convention are encouraged to adopt a human-rights based approach, and to ensure a gender-balanced participation of a wide variety of stakeholders and rights-holders. The Guidelines stresses the importance of promoting and encouraging the effective, inclusive, and equitable participation of communities, indigenous peoples and other stakeholders connected with the property to effectively support its sustainable protection, conservation, management, use and presentation.
The UNESCO Policy Document for the Integration of a Sustainable Development Perspective into the Processes of the World Heritage Convention also underlines the need for States Parties to ensure the full respect and participation of all stakeholders and rights holders, including indigenous peoples and local communities in the assessment of environmental, social and economic impacts of all proposed developments.
Impact assessments are to be carried out following the principles of inclusivity, participation, and transparency. The impact assessment process should provide for the early engagement of rights-holders and stakeholders (including indigenous peoples and local community members) in the identification and assessment of the heritage values and attributes of the property, even beyond its OUV, in case the systematic identification and mapping of these values had not been done before, at the time of the preparation of the Statement of Outstanding Universal Value submitted to the World Heritage Committee or as part of the establishment of the management system for the World Heritage property. This process is also an opportunity to provide rights-holders and stakeholders with key information on World Heritage processes, procedures, and statutory requirements, to ensure that they are adequately equipped to participate in the impact assessment process.
The United Nations’ and UNESCO’s commitment to ensure the inclusion of Indigenous Peoples in plans, projects and programmes.
In alignment with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) indigenous peoples have the right to free, prior and informed consent (FPIC). This refers to the voluntary collective consent given by Indigenous peoples prior to approval of any projects that may affect their lands or territories and other resources. This also allows indigenous communities to express their views and interest in relation to proposed projects – including their participation in the negotiation of planning, design and implementation.
UNESCO developed a Policy on Engaging with Indigenous Peoples to reaffirm its commitment to implement the UNDRIP and to enhance the inclusion and participation of indigenous peoples in all relevant programme areas included in its mandate.
Consultation and engagement are encouraged to follow a people-centred approach in all cases, thus ensuring that natural and cultural heritage retains a dynamic and mutually beneficial role in society today and long into the future. These approaches take into account the capacities that reside in people and communities and advocate for the integration of human-rights norms, standards and principles into World Heritage policy, planning and implementation.
Case study: Assessment of cumulative impacts of multiple developments near a World Heritage property (Canada, Wood Buffalo National Park)
Types of impact assessments
Impact assessments can be carried out at different scales depending on the type of action being assessed. There are two main types of assessment of potential impacts on the OUV of World Heritage properties:
- a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) is a higher-, more strategic level assessment from a development perspective that considers impacts of actions deriving from policies, plans and programmes on the environment (including natural and cultural elements), natural resources, social, cultural, and economic conditions, etc. It is also able to take into consideration the institutional environment in which decisions are made (for example, regional, or national renewable energy plans, national renewable energy policy but also regional and national land planning policies and acts);
- an Environmental and Social Impact Assessment, (ESIA; also known as Environmental Impact Assessment; EIA) is a project-level assessment focused on identifying and assessing the negative and positive environmental and social impacts of a specific proposed project (for example, a wind energy project with its ancillary facilities). An ESIA often assesses impacts on (cultural and natural) heritage values of a place and in this case is often referred to as a Heritage Impact Assessment (HIA). From a World Heritage perspective, an ESIA needs to focus on how the specific project will affect the OUV of a World Heritage property and the attributes that convey the OUV.
➔ See also Guidance and Toolkit for Impact Assessments in a World Heritage Context , ‘Types of impact assessment’.
Source: Guidance and Toolkit for Impact Assessments in a World Heritage Context
What does ‘environmental’ mean in the context of impact assessments?
In the context of impact assessments, the term ‘environmental’ does not only refer to natural resources, but it includes the physical, biological, resource use, social, cultural, health and economic dimensions of the context which a project might affect. Therefore, it can be applied to both natural and cultural World Heritage properties.
Many countries have a specific regulatory framework for SEA and ESIA offering guidance on when an SEA or an ESIA should be initiated, what they should contain and, in some cases, how these should be developed. Most countries have integrated these directives into national legislation and guidance documents.
In the European Union, the Directive 2001/42/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of the 27 June 2001 on the assessment of the effects of certain plans and programmes on the environment came into force on 21 July 2001 as an extension to the existing Directive (85/337/EEC) on Environmental Impact Assessments which was introduced in 1985 and amended several times until 2009. A Guidance document on wind energy developments and EU nature legislation from 2020 is also available to provide information on certain aspects of the EU legislation.
In Canada, the Cabinet Directive on the Environmental Assessment of Policy, Plan and Program Proposals (2010) requires SEAs be conducted for all departmental policies, plans and programmes submitted to the Ministry or Cabinet of the Ministry of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada. Additionally, the Cabinet Directive established that SEAs should also be completed on any other important activity or strategy which has important environmental effects or is of public concern.
Strategic Environmental Assessments
A Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) considers impacts of actions deriving from policies, plans and programmes on the environment (including natural and cultural elements), natural resources, social, cultural and economic conditions, etc. The aim of the SEA process is to be proactive in providing support to better protect the environment (including natural and cultural heritage sites and obligations related to the implementation of the World Heritage Convention) before specific projects are proposed. It aims to ensure the sustainability of plans and policies by reviewing and shaping them and therefore, helps to improve decision-making, also when considering specific projects. The process of an SEA follows the general elements of an impact assessment.
SEAs have the potential to play a vital role in protecting cultural and natural heritage sites, including World Heritage properties, by ensuring that policymakers at the national, sub-national and local levels understand and integrate heritage considerations into the policies, plans and programmes that concern the renewable energy transition and wind energy, and can provide a context and framework for considering individual projects. An SEA could consider the values and attributes of specific World Heritage properties, and moreover allows consideration of (natural and cultural) heritage related issues as well as of the national obligations under the World Heritage Convention.
SEAs can also examine the impact of specific plans, policies instruments on the OUV of World Heritage properties (for example, for World Heritage properties on a large landscape level or for World Heritage properties in a region or in a country). In this case, the impact assessment considers the impact of actions on tangible and intangible attributes conveying the OUV. It then helps development planning agencies to enhance and improve understanding of World Heritage requirements and raise awareness of the need to ensure their protection during the development planning process.
While individual project proposals could profit from the findings of an SEA in general, these strategic level assessments are also particularly helpful in areas with already installed wind energy facilities, when planning for potential new wind energy development, as they are better suited to assess cumulative impacts (or in some cases even indirect impacts) of multiple projects. The two types of impact assessments are, therefore, complementary processes.
➔ See ‘Identifying and predicting impacts’ below and Note 6 for details about cumulative impacts.
Case study: Assessment of cumulative impacts of multiple developments near a World Heritage property (Canada, Wood Buffalo National Park)
Environmental and Social Impact Assessments
An Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA; also known as Environmental Impact Assessment, EIA) is a project-level assessment focused on identifying and assessing the negative and positive environmental and social impacts of a specific proposed project (for example, a wind energy project with its ancillary facilities). As there are various legal frameworks concerning impact assessments for States Parties, the name of these is not unified. Assessment of impacts on (cultural and natural) heritage values of a place is often called a Heritage Impact Assessment (HIA).
From a World Heritage perspective, an ESIA needs to analyse how the specific project will affect a World Heritage property’s OUV and the attributes that convey the OUV. The aim of this assessment is to provide both the project proponent and decision-makers with all the information necessary to enable them to avoid or, if possible, mitigate any potential negative impacts on a World Heritage property’s OUV. The process includes the evaluation of the proposed project (and whether it is compatible with the protection and management needs of a World Heritage property) and proposes technically feasible and economically viable project alternatives, including, where appropriate, no-project scenarios.
An ESIA further guarantees that environmental, cultural, social, economic and health implications of proposed projects and policies are adequately taken into consideration before decisions are made.
This allows for:
- Better and improved planning and design of a wind energy project also considering alternative locations and design;
- Compliance with the World Heritage Convention, regional and national legislations, and other environmental and social standards, saving unnecessary costs for the wind energy industry as well as for States Parties and municipalities which might otherwise find themselves tied in legal proceedings to reverse binding decisions taken before the impact assessment process.
An impact assessment for a proposed wind energy project that relates to a specific World Heritage property should aim at:
- Providing analytical information to decision-makers on the potential impacts of the proposed wind energy project (including wind turbines, ancillary facilities, power grids, access roads, etc.) on the OUV of the World Heritage property in question;
- Ensuring the protection of the property’s OUV through understanding of the values and comprehensive assessment of potential impacts on the attributes which convey the property’s OUV and other values;
- Identifying potential negative impacts and providing procedures and methods for an iterative process that identifies mitigation, where possible and appropriate, and reassesses the revised project, with the objective of avoiding any negative impacts on the OUV;
- Providing opportunities to achieve positive impacts from a proposed project for the benefit of rights-holders and other stakeholders, which might also be to the benefit of the World Heritage property;
- Promoting transparent, equitable and inclusive participation in the decision-making process, also for right-holders (including indigenous peoples) and other stakeholders;
- Establishing follow-up methods (monitoring the long-term implementation of the project, including possible mitigation measures agreed during the planning process) in relevant project documentation and contracts, such as the licensing agreement and the Environmental and Social Management Plan;
- Contributing to improving the effectiveness of the management framework of the World Heritage property and related policies and other strategic documents;
- Contributing to sustainable development and promoting environmental protection and social justice.
When should project specific impact assessments be carried out?
An Environmental and Social Impact Assessment for a wind energy project proposed in or nearby a World Heritage property (in its buffer zone or its wider setting) should start at the outset of project development, and before any irreversible decision is taken, and should inform the entire planning process.
This allows for a comprehensive assessment of the positive and negative impacts of the project, and for impact assessment to be used as a tool to better inform decision-making throughout the project planning and design phases.
Step-by-step guidance for the impact assessment process in the context of wind energy planning
Although it is not usual for a wind energy project to be planned within a World Heritage property, even projects located in its buffer zone or wider setting can have an impact on its OUV.
Several steps can be distinguished in the impact assessment process, and referring to these steps, one by one, will assist those involved in carrying out an ESIA or any type of stand-alone assessment of the impacts of a proposed wind energy project in relation to a World Heritage property. Where appropriate, further information on the impact assessment process in a World Heritage context can be found in the Guidance and Toolkit for Impact Assessment in a World Heritage Context.
An overview of the key information needed to assess the potential impacts of wind energy projects is provided for each step of the ESIA, with specific reference to impacts on the OUV of a given World Heritage property. Whenever ‘impact assessment’ is mentioned in the step-by-step guidance, it refers to an ESIA, unlike in other parts of the Guidance, where this is used for impact assessment processes in general terms.
The elements of the process in relation to wind energy planning are explained in detail within this tool related to conducting an ESIA (please click on each item for further information):
Is the proposed wind energy project likely to affect a World Heritage property and is an impact assessment necessary?
To be carried out by the relevant national authorities/institutions and the World Heritage site management team or in close cooperation with them.
"Screening" is the first step in any impact assessment process, and it focuses on assessing whether an impact assessment is necessary for a planned wind energy project. This is a preliminary exercise which assesses the type, size, characteristics and location of the proposed wind energy project, the sensitivity of the receiving environment (the World Heritage property’s OUV), attributes and other values) and the types of likely impacts.
The screening process should identify whether a wind energy project proposed or planned within a World Heritage property, its buffer zone or its wider setting has the potential to have an impact on the attributes of the property which convey its OUV. At this stage, the project description should be specific enough to allow to decide whether an impact assessment is needed or not.
What if available information is not enough?
In certain cases, the wind energy project being assessed may not be specific or detailed enough to make any judgments in this regard. This may be because a plan only focuses on the selection of one suitable area for the deployment of a wind energy project.
In such case, either more specific details should be worked out or the screening and impact assessment process might apply the ‘precautionary principle’ approach and look at multiple alternatives, including a worst-case scenario (for example, highest number of wind turbines, maximum heights of wind turbines, etc.).
See the definition for precautionary principle used by the European Parliament.
Screening criteria should be identified taking into consideration the national/regional/local legal framework, the nature of the proposed action or project and the specific characteristics of the World Heritage property.
1) Examples for the project related criteria are:
- Size and type of the project (for example, is this a project for the installation of a few new wind turbines or of a whole wind farm, the extension of an existing wind farm or a repowering project?)
- Size and typology of all elements of the wind energy project (for example, number of wind turbines, installation capacity, etc.)
- Layout of wind turbines (for example, type of wind turbines, their layout and the size, height)
- Proposed location of all elements of the wind energy project (including wind turbines but also sub-stations, ancillary facilities, access roads, etc.)
2) The characteristics and sensitivities of the World Heritage property that the planned project relates to will be directly linked to the property’s OUV and its attributes conveying its OUV.
The types of foreseeable, likely impacts will be derived from the combination of 1) and 2).
What other factors might need to be considered?
The screening process requires not only looking at the possible impacts of the proposed wind energy project, but it also requires a preliminary understanding of the possible cumulative impacts derived from this plan and other existing or soon-to-be developed projects.
As an example, a proposed project located outside the historic centre of a town might not have a direct impact on the historic area, but it could generate a cumulative impact on it when considering existing wind turbines in the buffer zone and the wider setting of the property together with other high-rise construction projects within and around the historic centre.
➔ See Note 6.
As a result of the screening exercise, the following decisions might be taken:
- An impact assessment specifically for World Heritage is not required, and the project could proceed without it. This decision should be laid out in a brief screening report that comprehensively justifies the decision. Clear information and data should be provided in evidence to support this decision. The legal framework could still require an impact assessment to be carried out focusing on other values;
- An impact assessment is required as the project might impact a World Heritage property. Any proposed or planned wind energy project with potential adverse impact on a World Heritage property requires an impact assessment with specific focus on identifying and assessing the potential impacts on its OUV;
- A decision cannot be made based on the currently available information. In this case a list of the required information should be provided to the agency commissioning the screening and/or the impact assessment;
- The screening process may conclude that the project proposal is unsuitable for development near a World Heritage property. Such conclusion is referred to as ‘no-go scenario’.
If a project proposal is radically changed during the impact assessment process, the screening might need to be repeated to reflect the latest changes (nevertheless, alternative options, like changes in the number of wind turbines, could be assessed within the IA document, and going back to screening is not necessary).
How does screening further relate to World Heritage requirements?
When a planned or proposed wind energy project is notified under paragraph 172 of the Operational Guidelines to UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre, stating that the project will have no adverse impact on the OUV of a World Heritage property, the resulting screening report is to be provided with the notification to justify this position.
The current European Parliament and Council Directive on EIA (Directive 2011/92/EU amended by Directive 2014/52/EU) does not require a mandatory Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for wind power installations and projects, but it requires EU Member States to conduct an EIA for projects proposed in sensitive areas such as World Heritage properties.
Additionally, the directive requires EU Member States to base the decision on whether the commissioning of an EIA is needed or not on the screening’s outcomes.
Case study: Planning offshore wind turbines along the coast of Normandy (France, Fortifications of Vauban)
Which are the issues and elements related to the OUV of a property that should be assessed and who should be involved in this process?
To be carried out by the relevant national authorities/institutions and the World Heritage site management team or in close cooperation with them.
Once the need for the impact assessment has been identified, the scope of work is to be set out. Scoping defines what information needs to be studied in the impact assessment process. This phase aims to create a foundation for the impact assessment and as a preliminary exercise, identify possible significant impacts the proposed wind energy project might have on the OUV and attributes of a World Heritage property.
Considering all framing conditions, i.e., the OUV and attributes of the World Heritage property concerned, the characteristics of the proposed wind energy project and the type of potential impacts identified in the screening phase, the scoping study should investigate the following issues:
1. Set the scope of the assessment
Identify the important issues that need to be considered in the impact assessment process. This should include:
- A clarification of the attributes, including features and processes, that convey OUV and other heritage and conservation values;
- A clarification of factors which need to be considered when identifying and evaluating the impacts of the proposed wind energy project;
- A definition of the need for and objective of the proposed project;
- A definition of the scale and size of the proposed wind energy project (at this stage the project description should include information like type of wind turbines being considered, necessary construction works also for ancillary facilities, waste production and management, etc.);
- A definition of the timeframe of possible impacts (short-, medium- and long-term), considering also the impacts that may occur during the different phases and lifecycles of the project, with consideration on specific seasons (for example, migratory seasons) and during specific times of the day (day time and night time);
- A preliminary identification of impacts that flags any potential significant impacts to be addressed during the impact assessment process.
2. Define the concerned geographical area
The geographical area to be considered in the impact assessment can be identified through a cross-analysis of:
- The location of the proposed wind energy project and its areas of influence (include the already identified alternative areas); the locations of the attributes of an OUV and of other heritage values of the World Heritage property;
- The geographical coordinates of the property’s boundaries and its buffer zone;
- The definition of any relevant wider setting, including key vistas and panoramas, other areas of influence for the OUV of the property;
- Location of key rights-holders and stakeholders indicating where they live, work, move, use patterns, etc. (if relevant).
It is recommended that the national, regional and local planning and development agencies have freeware GIS layers and open-source GIS information of World Heritage properties, including information about the location of attributes, buffer zones, identified key vistas, panoramas and view sheds (when relevant and if available). This information should be made accessible to wind energy (and other project) developers for inclusion in relevant planning frameworks and databases to highlight World Heritage properties (including their buffer zones and their surrounding areas) as sensitive zones.
3. Identify incomplete or missing information
Consider and create a list of missing data and information that are needed to undertake for the impact assessment. Some of this missing information may be:
- Adequate identification and mapping of attributes that convey the OUV of a World Heritage property;
- Studies and definitions related to the setting of the World Heritage property;
- Identification of visually relevant information (for example, key vistas and panoramas) that contribute to the property’s OUV;
- Landscape studies to understand the relationships between tangible and intangible attributes (including practices, ways of management and beliefs related to Indigenous and local communities);
- Incomplete project related information may also pose a problem (exact number and type of wind turbine, exact extent and location of the project site).
4. Define the expected significant impacts
Preliminary identification of the potential impacts on the World Heritage property – this directly links the characteristics of the wind energy proposal and the OUV of the World Heritage property and its attributes. Consider the different phases of the wind energy project, as these will likely generate different impacts.
➔ See “Overview of potential impacts of wind energy projects on the OUV of World Heritage properties" in Impacts of Wind Energy projects and their assessment.
5. Identify the project alternatives to be considered
Start identifying technically feasible and economically viable project alternatives that should be considered in the impact assessment process. This may include, for example:
- Alternative types of wind energy project;
- Alternative siting of the wind energy project;
- Alternative locations for wind turbines, wind farms or their ancillary infrastructure, including alternative access routes;
- Alternative scale, including a reduction of the project area or of the components (for example, smaller wind turbines, shorter blades, etc.);
- Alternative design of wind turbines and/or ancillary infrastructure;
- Alternative timings and/or schedules for deployment, including construction, lifetime and decommissioning related to construction or deconstruction;
- Alternative access to the wind farm and its ancillary infrastructure.
A scoping study can conclude that both the proposed action as well as a preferred alternative should be assessed.
6. Identify the methodology used for the assessment and the time period that will be considered
Suggest appropriate methodology for carrying out the impact assessment. The Guidance and Toolkit for Impact Assessments in a World Heritage Context proposes methodologies which should be followed.
The methodological approach applied in the assessment of impacts should be tailored to the specific characteristics of a property (OUV, attributes and other values that may be affected), as well as the proposed action and its potential impacts.
A time period should also be identified that will be considered by the impact assessment, linked with the characteristic of the World Heritage property and its attributes conveying OUV (for example, environmental cycles, seasonal cultural activities).
7. Assess who should be included in the impact assessment process
As an impact assessment requires the examination of a large amount of data and documents related to the proposed project, the identified project alternatives and the World Heritage property, sufficient consideration should be given to the necessary skills and competencies of the professionals who will form the impact assessment team.
The scoping report, therefore, needs to make suggestions about the specialists to be involved in certain topics and areas of the assessment. (This will necessarily include experts familiar with the methodology of conducting a World Heritage related impact assessment and experts specialized in fields that are directly linked with the characteristic of the World Heritage property and its attributes conveying OUV).
Additionally, the scoping should identify rights-holders and other stakeholders that should be involved in the entire impact assessment process and outline an engagement and consultation plan describing how will individuals and groups be involved in the process.
The result of the scoping exercise will be a report that also serves as Terms of Reference or guidelines for the realization of the impact assessment.
As the impact assessment itself, the scoping document should also be proportionate to the proposed project: whereas the construction of a few wind turbines may only require a short template to be completed with relevant information, a large and complex wind energy project would merit a thorough and detailed scoping report.
The suggested content of a general scoping report can be found in Guidance and Toolkit for Impact Assessments in a World Heritage Context.
➔ See also Note 4.
The proposed action (outline of the proposed wind energy project)
- Detailed outline of the proposed wind energy project – ideally this includes all the information made available by the developer with maps and technical drawings. Information may include:
- number, height and location of wind turbines;
- typology and description of wind turbines;
- drawings: plan, elevation and section;
- visualizations from relevant perspectives;
- foundations’ depth and typology;
- construction requirements for the wind turbines;
- location, characteristics and construction details of sub-stations, and of ancillary and service infrastructure (for example, access roads to wind turbines, sub stations and construction sites, etc.);
- line location and description of electrical and power grids.
- A justification why the proposed wind energy project is needed and in its proposed form/location;
- Potential alternatives that should be considered in the impact assessment, including the ‘no-project’ option;
- Mitigation options that seem immediately relevant and could be considered in the impact assessment to avoid or reduce adverse impacts;
- Any enhancement opportunities that may increase the positive impacts the proposed action may have on the heritage protection/management and/or society.
Why the scoping report is a crucial document in the impact assessment process?
A scoping report may confirm the results of the screening process but may also result in the definition of further options. If any potential impact to a World Heritage property is ruled out there may not be a need after all for a full impact assessment.
In other cases, if the ascertained impacts for the proposed wind energy project seem to be so significant that they imply its clear incompatibility with World Heritage, the project needs to be reconsidered or even abandoned. In both cases, an exhaustive explanation should be provided in the scoping report.
Baseline assessment of the World Heritage property
What are the current conditions of the World Heritage property?
To be carried out by an impact assessment team in close cooperation with the relevant national authorities/institutions and the World Heritage site management team.
The baseline assessment aims at compiling a comprehensive overview of the current condition and state of conservation of the World Heritage property that is in the focus of the impact assessment.
It allows understanding the possible impacts of the proposed wind energy project by comparing its foreseeable future state with and without the planned project.
The scoping stage of the impact assessment identified the information needed for the baseline assessment, which then need to analyse and describe the current status of the World Heritage property’s OUV, attributes and other values.
A baseline assessment consists of three key elements:
1. Describing the past, present and likely future baseline
Analysing the Statement of Outstanding Universal Value
In the World Heritage context, the Statement of Outstanding Universal Value (SOUV – or the Retrospective Statement of Outstanding Universal Value) forms the basis of the impact assessment process, and it is one of the parameters against which impacts should be identified, assessed and evaluated. (SOUVs are usually formulated in a generic way that is often not detailed enough to fully satisfy the impact assessment. The nomination dossier prepared by a State Party for proposing the inscription of a site on the World Heritage List, the management plan and other documents that may have been produced by the management of the property or by research entities are therefore useful sources of information in addition to the SOUV). Nevertheless, if these documents do not provide satisfactory depth and detail of relevant information, it might be necessary to conduct an in-depth and structured assessment of the OUV which can include:
- The identification of attributes – including features and processes – conveying the OUV and other heritage values (especially the ones that support the OUV);
- A map locating the identified attributes – to define the geographical area of the assessment, one must cross-check the location of attributes with the potential area of influence of the proposed project.
Collecting existing data and information
After the analyses of the SOUV and the identification of attributes, the assessment should look at identifying attributes, features and processes conveying other heritage values of national, regional and local significance.
Data and information about the property, the OUV and other values can be collected from a variety of documents, for example:
- Statement of Outstanding Universal Value;
- Nomination dossier for the inscription of the property on the World Heritage List;
- Information concerning all international, national and local heritage designations protecting the property in question;
- World Heritage Committee decisions’
- Advisory Bodies’ evaluations, including Technical Reviews, and World Heritage related mission reports;
- State of Conservation reports;
- Answers to the Periodic Reporting questionnaires;
- Existing management plans or documented management systems;
- Monitoring data and reports (i.e., monitoring of key species and key habitats, monitoring reports referring to the implementation of conservation and management plans or strategies);
- Value mapping reports;
- Feasibility studies;
- Historic documents (including photographs, personal accounts and others),
- Relevant research results (publications, academic papers, etc.).
Many of these documents are available on the UNESCO World Heritage Centre website, on the national websites related to World Heritage properties of a country or maybe accessible through the site management organization.
Further possible sources are provided in the Guidance and Toolkit for Impact Assessments in a World Heritage Context.
This expanded data collection provides the possibility to identify any missing data or information that will need to be collected, researched, reviewed, or analysed as part of the baseline study.
2. Carrying out additional studies
The baseline study will focus on collecting and analysing missing quantitative and qualitative data and information that will be essential for continuing the impact assessment process. This could consist of a series of individual and topic-specific studies focusing on identifying and exploring aspects of a World Heritage property’s multi-layered significance as related to the potential impacts of the planned wind energy project.
It may further consist in specific studies needed to better inform the impact assessment process, for example, wind resource assessments, visual assessments, studies concerning possible seasonal patterns and others. This is an iterative process as new information might be needed throughout the impact assessment process. Thus, the baseline assessment needs to be carried out in a flexible manner, allowing for new information to be collected and integrated in the assessment throughout the process.
➔ See Checklist 2.
A baseline study should be carried out considering a defined geographical area and timeframe. Particular attention should be paid to identifying possible seasonal and daytime/ night-time patterns like different life phases of the wind energy project, migratory phenomena, agricultural cycles, weather patterns, blooming timeframes, and others.
3.Understanding the legal framework and the management system of the heritage place
The analysis of the policy context, the governance and management system of the World Heritage property and its wider setting has the potential to support and improve the impact assessment process. This step can offer a good understanding of how the international, regional, national, and local management and governance framework operate and interact, offering the chance to further understand how the property might be impacted by the proposed wind energy project.
Within the scope of the baseline study, this step aims to:
- Understand the different international (for example, in addition to being inscribed on the World Heritage List, a World Heritage property can also be a UNESCO biosphere reserve), national and local natural and cultural heritage designations as well as nature designations in place at the concerned property;
- Identify possible weaknesses or limits of the existing management system which could enhance the negative impacts of the proposed wind energy projects (i.e., lack of maintenance, lack of understanding of the property’s multi-layered values in the management system of the property and others);
- Identify which management and monitoring mechanisms could support the implementation of the recommendations of the impact assessment (i.e., new indicators be developed for monitoring impacts deriving from the proposed wind energy project);
- Improve the understanding of the property’s rights-holders and stakeholders and who should or could be involved in different steps of the impact assessment process (i.e., if it had not already been happened, sending notification about the proposed wind energy project to the UNESCO World Heritage Centre).
How to handle ‘change’ in a World Heritage context?
Many World Heritage properties are dynamic places in which change is likely to have already happened due to ongoing natural processes or could happen because of future trends (for example, climate change) that will take place independently from the development of the proposed project. This is especially the case for natural World Heritage properties. Nevertheless, the acceptable level of change depends on the characteristic of a property, directly related to its OUV.
The baseline study should capture this change and it should understand what impacts might have already occurred and what future trends might impact the World Heritage property in future years.
The proposed wind energy project and alternatives
What activities are proposed as part of the wind energy project? What are the reasonable alternatives to avoid or minimize potential negative impacts?
To be carried out by an impact assessment team in close cooperation with the relevant national authorities/institutions and the World Heritage site management team.
1. Description of the proposed project
A thorough understanding of the proposed wind energy project is needed to adequately identify and evaluate the possible impacts it may have. This analysis builds on the information collected during the Screening and Scoping phases but now examines the details of the proposed wind energy project and project alternatives identified in the scoping report.
It is important to ensure that the wind energy project is understood in detail, including:
- The location of all elements of the proposed wind energy project and their relationship to the World Heritage property;
- The description of all technical elements that are part of the proposed project (for example, wind turbines, sub-stations, access roads, grid connection and other ancillary infrastructure);
- The details of all phases of the project lifecycle (planning, commissioning, operating and maintenance, and end-of-life strategies – lifetime extension, repowering, decommissioning).
A first approach to the definition of the area of interest of the assessment could be based on a map overlapping different layers or information, for example:
- Attributes conveying OUV and their relationship with one another;
- Attributes, features and processes conveying other heritage values;
- Location of the different elements of the proposed wind energy project, etc.
➔ See Checklist 3for project description.
Why the description of the project and its alternatives is of particular importance?
This phase is particularly important as it allows describing the proposed wind energy project in a comprehensively in the final impact assessment report. It is advisable to describe the proposal in clear and accessible language that can be easily understood by both technical and non-technical readers. This will allow all rights-holders and other stakeholders to easily comprehend and navigate through the information.
2. Alternatives to the proposed wind energy project
As the screening, scoping and baseline assessment elements of the impact assessment already provide a comprehensible picture about the World Heritage property (both concerning its geographical location, its characteristics and values, and the potential or identified sensitive areas), alternatives to certain aspects of the project might need to be considered, primarily if potential adverse impacts have already identified. An early identification of alternatives to the proposal allows the options to be discussed and considered when it is still possible to influence the planning decisions (saving therefore, time and financial resources for the project proponents).
The exploration of alternatives in case of potential negative impacts of the original proposal may lead to the revision of certain aspects of the project, or if no feasible alternatives can be proposed, the abandonment of the proposal in this early stage.
Aspects of the wind energy projects where alternatives could typically need to be identified:
- Alternative location of wind turbines and ancillary facilities (i.e., substations, transformer, cables, construction and maintenance roads);
- Alternative type and layout of wind turbines (i.e., foundation type, total height, density);
- Additional elements to the project that might avoid potential negative impacts (i.e., a pre-established maintenance schedule that ensures the undisturbed recreation period of marine species).
The Guidance and Toolkit for Impact Assessments in a World Heritage Context advises the alternatives to be considered in the three following steps:
- Identification of reasonable alternatives, in line with the ‘Alternatives hierarchy’;
- Assessment and comparison of alternatives;
- Explanation of the choice of the preferred alternative.
Further advice related to identifying project alternatives
The identification of technically feasible and economically viable alternatives needs to focus on avoiding adverse impacts on the World Heritage property’s OUV (and preferably on other values of the site) in question.
Defining the geographical area and the area of interest of the proposed project to be considered by the impact assessment on a map together with the map of the World Heritage property (including its buffer zone and wider setting), could enhance the identification of project alternatives, as described in this step.
To be able to have the possibility to consider all alternatives, close consultation is advised to take place with the organizations/authorities in charge of protecting and managing the World Heritage property and with right-holders and other stakeholders.
Identifying and predicting impacts
What changes or impacts would result from the proposed wind energy project (including the project alternatives)?
To be carried out by an impact assessment team in close cooperation with the relevant national authorities/institutions and the World Heritage site management team.
The identification and prediction of impacts are at the core of impact assessments. This step foresees the identification and prediction of the likely negative and positive impacts that could occur with the development of the proposed wind energy project or of the identified alternative(s).
1. Identification of impacts
In the World Heritage context, the impact assessment process focuses specifically on identifying and understanding what would happen to the attributes conveying the OUV if a proposed project was developed inside or nearby a World Heritage property. While, in general terms, an impact can be positive or negative and it can affect many different aspects of a place: the biophysical environment, ecology, culture and cultural heritage, health, socioeconomics, views, auditory and others; in the World Heritage context the impact is rather neutral (when there is no impact) or measured on a negative scale.
The identification of impacts related to a wind energy project (including those from ancillary facilities and infrastructure) focuses on understanding the likely effects of the proposed wind energy project on the tangible and intangible attributes conveying OUV and other values. During the identification of impacts on the OUV, the area of the property should not be considered in isolation, but in interconnection with its buffer zone and wider setting.
Impacts of wind energy projects (as many other types of projects) can be rather diverse by nature and may occur at any stage of the proposed project. For this reason, the impacts of a wind energy project need to be examined for the whole project lifecycle (for example, increased noise pollution and disturbance can be experienced during the construction phase while other impacts may occur only seasonally, like collisions of migratory birds with wind turbines and visual impacts will occur after construction). Actions from the proposed project, therefore, could have short-term, medium-term, and long-term effects, as well as permanent and temporary effects. Effects of the action could impact the area of the property, its buffer zone, or its wider setting, but the impacts will need to be assessed in relation to the OUV of the World Heritage property, no matter where their effect is located.
Impacts of a proposed wind energy project could be very complex and professional judgement will be needed in their identification. Useful tools in this process to be used may be:
- Overlay maps: colour-coded or otherwise differentiated plans that show the physical extent and different elements of a wind energy project that could be compared with areas of World Heritage properties (area of the property, its buffer zone and its wider setting) and the attributes that convey their OUV;
- Checklists: that may be part of national guidance documents concerning the likely impacts of wind farms;
- Matrix/Matrices: these may be created with the attributes that convey the OUV of World Heritage properties on one axis and elements of the proposed wind energy project on the other axis in order to examine the potential interaction between the two;
- Network diagrams: could provide visualization of links between the elements of the proposed wind energy project and its impact on the attributes that convey the OUV of World Heritage properties.
Within the impact assessment process, three main types of impacts will need to be considered:
- Direct impacts, which are the result of a cause-and-effect relationship between the wind energy project and the OUV of a World Heritage property.
- The permanent removal and destruction of otherwise undisturbed, buried archaeological sites and features through preliminary excavation needed in advance of the construction of the foundation of wind turbines;
- Change of historic/traditional land division pattern and land use from the placement of a wind farm; habitat loss and wildlife displacement by disturbance of migratory bird species due to collisions with wind turbines;
- Changes in the perception of the landscape and disturbance of key vistas or panoramas of a cultural site with visual values due to placement of wind turbines or wind farms in important or key panoramic areas.
- Indirect impacts (or secondary impacts and in many cases induced impacts) which are not a direct result of the wind energy project but are the result of its actions through a more complex pathway (they could occur later in time or are removed from the action location).
- Changes in sediment erosion or deposition outside a World Heritage property caused by increased navigation for the maintenance of offshore wind turbines, which has a negative effect on the OUV of the World Heritage property;
- Increased development in an area that acquired access as a result of building a maintenance road for a wind energy park, resulting in increased development that induces negative impacts on the OUV of a World Heritage property.
- Cumulative impacts, which are the result of the combined impact of the proposed project actions together with impacts derived from past, present, or foreseeable other projects.
- An existing wind farm in the wider setting of a World Heritage property could already have a small/moderate negative impact on its OUV; when more wind turbines are proposed as an extension of the wind farm in a location that includes key vistas for the property, the negative impacts of the existing wind farm and the proposed additional wind turbines reinforce each other and add up to cumulative impacts.
Nevertheless, it is to be noted that no matter which type of the above three impacts is identified during the impact assessment, if it affects negatively the OUV of a World Heritage property, the appropriate actions should be taken for avoiding (or if it is an option) mitigating the identified negative impact(s).
2. Prediction of impacts
An informed prediction can be made about the likely scale and nature of the potential impacts that had been identified in relation to a proposed wind energy project. This prediction is a technical analysis based on all available information and refers to the baseline condition of the World Heritage property (➔ See the step 3: "Baseline assessment" ). It aims at providing a consolidated base for an informed judgment about the compatibility of a proposed wind energy project with the protection of a World Heritage property and seeks to feed information into the design and planning steps of the project.
The methodology for predicting impacts will depend both on the characteristic of the proposed project, the predicted impacts, as well as the characteristic of a World Heritage property concerning its OUV and attributes. The characteristic of potential impacts might relate to their magnitude, type, extent, duration, frequency, reversibility, likelihood, etc. In some cases, the impacts may be quantifiable, in other cases, a narrative description might be better suited for their description.
➔ See in general World Heritage Essentials, the "Overview of potential impacts of wind energy projects on the OUV of World Heritage properties" in Impacts of Wind Energy projects and their assessment, Note 5 and Note 6.
Of the several ways to predict impacts, the Guidance and Toolkit for Impact Assessments in a World Heritage Context outlines three main techniques:
- Quantitative analysis that is based on the calculation of impacts using collected baseline data and an understanding of the proposed actions. (It also proposes to develop models to understand indirect and cumulative impacts) – it is to be noted that this technique might work only for World Heritage properties with an OUV that is specifically suited for this approach;
- Professional judgment of specialists with consolidated experience in the assessment and analysis of impacts caused by wind energy projects who can offer a more qualitative estimate based on similar projects proposed an/or implemented in the same/similar region with the same/similar context – this technique should be favoured above all the others while carrying out an impact assessment for a proposed project that concerns a World Heritage property;
- Using case studies by examining similar projects developed in comparable contexts, especially if monitoring data is available – this technique should only be considered as an additional tool for carrying out an impact assessment for a proposed project that concerns a World Heritage property.
It is important that impacts are estimated and compared in a transparent and systematic manner, and that the final report clearly sets out the methodology and parameters applied in the study to ensure both an accurate readability of the results and the possibility to verify and review the predictions of possible impacts that have been identified.
In some cases, an impact assessment cannot be based on exact data and information because not all project information may be available or detailed enough. In these cases, the proponent should be asked for more detailed information about the project and until that is available for assessment, a useful methodology might be to apply the ‘precautionary principle’ and look at multiple alternatives, including best- and worst- case predictions (concerning number of wind turbines, their maximum heights planned, etc.).
➔ See also "Precautionary principle" in the Screening step.
Additional information concerning the quantitative analyses
Whenever using the quantitative analyses method for predicting impacts, a clear comparison between the likely future with and without the proposed wind energy project and the alternative project option(s) will need to be tackled.
When quantitative analyses cannot provide exact numbers, impacts might be qualified as high, medium, or low in a grid format for the comparison of different scenarios. Nevertheless, this is to be considered a less accurate and systematic methodology.
Are the identified impacts from the proposed wind energy project (including project alternatives) significant on the OUV and other values of the World Heritage property?
Once impacts have been identified and predicted, the next step is to evaluate the degree of impacts and whether they are considered acceptable or not. This is a key step in the impact assessment process as the results may be directly translated into recommendations for decision-makers concerning the wind energy project. In the context of a World Heritage property, this step focuses on the evaluation of the significance and characteristics of an identified impact on the individual attributes conveying the OUV of a World Heritage property. Nevertheless, overall impacts on the OUV and other values will also need to be assessed.
How can impacts be evaluated?
There are multiple methodologies for the evaluation of impacts and several ways of presenting them such as matrixes, colour-codes and tabular visualizations of impacts. An appropriate methodology should be selected according to the nature of the proposed project and the types of impacts predicted.
An overview of evaluation methods is presented in the Guidance and Toolkit for Impact Assessments in a World Heritage Context.
The impacts of a wind energy project need to be evaluated with regard to all project phases (considering each step in the project lifecycle), as different impacts might occur at each phase (design and planning, construction, operation or end-of-life phase).
For example, the construction of wind turbines could cause high level impacts that need to be avoided or mitigated, but these will be redundant later during operation and maintenance phases, which might create other impacts.
1. Negative impacts
If the proposed wind energy project will potentially have negative impacts on the OUV, three conclusions could be reached as a result of the evaluation:
- The negative impacts for the OUV overall would stay at a negligible level, therefore, the project could go ahead, but the low-level negative impacts will need to be mitigated if possible;
- The negative impacts would be significant on the OUV overall, but with avoidance and mitigation measures, the level of negative impacts could be eliminated and minimized to an acceptable degree;
- The negative impacts would be significant on the OUV overall, and no feasible avoidance or mitigation measures were found, therefore the proposed wind energy project should not proceed.
2. Positive impacts
Positive impacts of the proposed wind energy project will also need to be highlighted as part of the assessment evaluation process. Positive impacts (identified, predicted and evaluated) are fundamental to understand the project itself and its possible relevance to rights-holders and stakeholders.
Positive impacts of the proposed wind energy project should primarily be considered against the objectives set for the proposed actions, and the following conclusions could be reached as a result of their evaluation:
- The positive impact of the proposed project is relevant and also beneficial for the World Heritage property, therefore, raises no concerns;
- The positive impact described in item 1. could be enhanced if another project alternative or project design is selected;
- The positive impact does not reach objectives set for the proposed action (the generated energy is not sufficient, not cost effective, etc.), therefore, the proposed action or the project itself should not proceed;
- In case the positive impact set for the proposed action of the wind energy project is not related or relevant for the World Heritage property (for example, the operation will contribute to reducing the carbon footprint) the acceptance of that project aspect/action will depend on its impact on the OUV overall.
If the impact is neutral or positive on the OUV, it can proceed. However, if it has a negative impact on the OUV overall (as for example, the wind turbines will pose an adverse visual impact for a cultural landscape with important visual values) these will need to be avoided (for example, the wind turbines or a problematic transformer station be moved further from the boundaries of a site) or mitigated (for example, using subsoil cables for transmitting electricity from the wind farm), otherwise this aspect of the proposal or the project itself is not to proceed.
The evaluation of impacts and their significance on the attributes and the OUV overall, will lead to the need to explore:
- Measures to avoid or mitigate negative impacts to an acceptable level;
- Ways to enhance the identified positive impacts.
In the World Heritage context, the positive impacts must not be weighed up against any negative impact the proposed project might have on the OUV of a World Heritage property. As the OUV is irreplaceable, offsetting is not an option.
A wind energy project with a significant adverse impact on the OUV of a World Heritage property should be considered unsuitable and should not be granted permission. Any mitigation attempts to balance out potential negative impacts on the OUV with otherwise positive impacts reflects an improper approach and is unacceptable from a World Heritage protection point of view.
Should not all wind energy project be considered as positive by default?
As wind energy installations are linked to renewable energy projects, they could be considered by default as initiatives with an overall positive impact in terms of their contribution to combating the ongoing climate emergency and their role in achieving the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. However, due to the Outstanding Universal Value of World Heritage properties, negative impacts of planned installations on these areas should be avoided where and whenever possible, and alternatives should always be investigated through an impact assessment process.
The impact assessment process will need to assess the consequences of a proposed wind energy project from all relevant aspects, including its benefits and positive impacts. Wider benefits of these projects could include social aspects, such as access to clean energy, opportunities for local employment and reduced energy prices for local communities. Nevertheless, these benefits should not be achieved at the cost of negative impacts on World Heritage properties. Alternative solutions can be found, for example by finding other locations for the whole wind farm or its ancillary facilities, or by reducing their size and scale.
Mitigation and enhancement
What are the reasonable alternatives to the proposed wind energy project that avoid or minimize any negative impacts and achieve the objectives of the proposed action?
How can negative impacts be avoided or minimized, and positive impacts achieved and enhanced?
The impact assessment process should identify and evaluate the possible negative and positive impacts of the proposed wind energy project and clearly state which ones are considered to be acceptable or not acceptable with regard impacts on the OUV of the property, its other values and in relation to rights-holders and local communities.
1. Mitigation of specific negative impacts
In the World Heritage context, a case-by-case assessment is needed to consider how to proceed if potential negative impacts have been identified on values of a World Heritage property. Some attributes that convey the OUV might not be particularly sensitive to impacts of a proposed wind energy project and certain very low impacts might not need mitigation. Other attributes might be more sensitive to the same type of impact, depending on the characteristics of the OUV that is unique for all World Heritage properties. In these cases, mitigation should be considered to avoid or minimize the negative impacts.
Concerning impacts on values that are not part of the OUV and attributes of the World Heritage property, the mitigation measures might take a less strict approach, especially when these would help safeguard the broader societal values derived from the project.
The proposed project-specific mitigation measures, therefore, need to consider a matrix that includes both specificities of the OUV, the attributes that convey the OUV and the other values, as well as the elements and characteristics of impacts derived from the proposed wind energy project (and its different project phases).
Please see the detailed description of the ‘Mitigation hierarchy’ in the Guidance and Toolkit for Impact Assessments in a World Heritage Context.
From the ‘Mitigation hierarchy’ the following mitigation measures are appropriate for a World Heritage property in relation to handling negative impacts:
- avoid = measures that avoid creating the impact on the OUV and attributes of a property;
- minimize = making changes to ensure that the project element of concern is revised and reduced to a level where it no longer poses threat to values (it is important to note that ‘minimizing’ is not a synonym of ‘reducing’, which implies that the negative impact is reduced but not necessarily to the level where it does not still have a negative impact).
See also the Guidance and Toolkit for Impact Assessments in a World Heritage Context for a more detailed explanation concerning the mitigation measures.
Examples for mitigating negative impacts
- changing the location of wind turbines or the wind farm to less-sensitive areas, avoiding areas of archaeological interest and/or potential key vistas/historic panoramas or migratory routes.
- reducing the number and/or the height/other dimension of wind turbines, so that they have no negative visual impact related to the OUV;
- re-designing project components, for example, sub-stations and access roads so that they do not pose a negative impact for the OUV of the World Heritage property;
- reducing noise disturbance. the noise, generated by the wind turbines, the sub stations or any other ancillary facility is managed until it is at such a low level that it no longer causes disturbance in relation to the OUV (like for nesting birds).
Rectifying, reducing or offsetting negative impacts
Rectifying and reducing negative impacts, in general, are not considered to be suitable tools for mitigating negative impacts in the World Heritage context. Nevertheless, these methods might be used for mitigating negative impacts on other values that are not related to the OUV and attributes of a World Heritage property.
To rectify means: rehabilitating and/or restoring the degradation caused by a specific action of the proposed project.
This solution is acceptable only if within a reasonable timeframe, there are no foreseen negative impacts on the OUV overall.
As an example:
- rehabilitate the landscape after the construction phase of the wind energy infrastructure that involves large earthworks, intensified traffic of heavy machinery, etc.
Overall negative impacts of a wind energy project could not be rectified by calculating with rehabilitation works after the licensing period of operation (20 to 30 years) expires and potentially a wind farm gets dismantled and the land it occupies gets rehabilitated.
Reducing negative impacts encompasses actions that aim to decrease its impact level, but not to a level where there would be no noticeable impact.
As an example:
- noise level of the wind turbines might be reduced, but not to a level where there would be no negative impact to sensitive species that are part of the OUV of a World Heritage property;
- the density and size of the wind turbines are reduced within a planned wind farm, but they would still be visually intrusive for the integrity of a World Heritage property.
Offsetting means compensating for any negative impact that could not be avoided, minimized, rectified or reduced through providing positive measures.
As an example:
- after every hectare of wind energy development in a highly sensitive habitat (like intact grasslands) within a World Heritage property and its buffer zone is offset by restoring a hectare of key habitat elsewhere by the developer.
As the OUV is irreplaceable, this method for mitigating negative impacts is unacceptable in the World Heritage context.
Specific guidance on the identification, evaluation and mitigation of impacts by wind energy farms and installations is provided by IUCN and The Biodiversity Consultancy in the resource manual Mitigating Biodiversity Impacts Associated with Solar and Wind Energy. The document offers step-by-step guidance in the identification and assessment of impacts throughout the project lifecycle – early planning, project design, construction, operations, closure and decommissioning or repowering – of both onshore and offshore wind and solar farms.
Please note that the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), an advisory body of the World Heritage Committee considers large- and industrial-scale infrastructure incompatible with the objectives and the conservation outcomes of Natural World Heritage properties.
2. Developing or enhancing positive impacts
As wind energy projects by default should have a positive impact in relation to the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals and reducing the negative impacts of climate change, the positive impacts of these proposals need to be at the focus of the entire impact assessment process and ensure that the positive elements of the wind energy projects are not lost in the project development phase.
As Target 7.2 of SDG Goal 7 aims by 2030 to “increase substantially the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix”, Target 11.4 of SDG 11 advocates to “Protect the world's cultural and natural heritage”. Therefore, a feasible balance should be found by creative problem-solving approach, to meet both interests.
Examples for enhancement of positive impacts
Examples for enhancement of positive impacts:
- replacing a coal fired energy plant that provides electricity for a region with wind farms;
- positioning a wind farm on contaminated land and remediating it as part of the project;
- creating a self-sufficient renewable energy system for a World Heritage site management organization operating in a remote area.
3. Ensuring the implementation of mitigation and enhancement measures
A key concern for mitigation and enhancement measures is ensuring their effective implementation beyond the impact assessment process. They might be used by the relevant authority as conditions in the permit and licensing documents for the construction and operation of the wind energy facility.
In any case, the mitigation and enhancement measures should become a coherent part of the wind energy project cycle (from planning to end of life options) and a clear framework needs to be provided to ensure that the following aspects are taken care of:
- the set of actions and measures are agreed and approved;
- responsible are appointed for carrying out
- the mitigation measures/activities;
- the monitoring and supervision of implementing the measures;
- the cost bearers are appointed, and the costs are estimated;
- a timeframe is set and approved for the actions, and what in which phase of the project it needs to be carried out.
The above aspects become even more important if the mitigation and enhancement measures are not directly linked to the planning and construction phase, but rather the maintenance or the end-of-life actions of the wind energy project.
Following-up mitigation measures
The effective implementation of mitigation measures requires the establishment of clear agreements with the wind energy developer. The implementation of mitigation measures should be included in management and operational documents dealing with the construction phase, the long-term operation of the wind energy project and responsibilities concerning decommissioning once the lifecycle is exhausted. All these pieces of information should be an integral part of the licensing documents, the Environmental and Social Management Plan (that guides actions on the ground when the contractor implements the actions) and other relevant project management plans. These documents should be available for all relevant parties, throughout the operational phase of wind energy facilities.
With regard to the processes in the impact assessment concerning the mitigation of negative impacts and the development of project alternatives, the evaluation of impacts can be and if needed should be an iterative process which is repeated if new information becomes available or if the proposed project is revised (to assess the impact of alternative project option(s).
This step will have to be repeated until all potential negative impacts are avoided or mitigated or a ‘no project‘ option is considered instead, if residual negative impacts on the OUV overall remain, even after mitigation.
It is important to keep in mind that the evaluation of impacts is not the end of the process but rather the key moment of interaction with decision-makers. The results should be formulated in a way to clearly define the possible impacts stemming from the project and the possible mitigation measures. If the project is considered to have no negative impact the recommendation should consider the definition of elements and key considerations to be included in the licensing process.
Involvement of rights-holders and other stakeholders
The participation of right-holders, local communities and other stakeholders is key throughout an impact assessment. It is, therefore, important to engage with them in this step as well, as rights-holders and other stakeholders should have the chance to express their perspectives and understand the potential impacts of the proposed project on their livelihood. They will also need to be consulted while considering mitigation measures and/or project alternatives.
How should the impact assessment process and its conclusions be communicated to interested parties, including rights-holders and other stakeholders?
To be effective and to fulfil its objectives, an impact assessment process should result in a report made available for all interested parties.
It is important to ensure that clear information is provided on the methodology employed for the assessment and clear conclusions are conveyed. It is equally important that the language of the report is clear for both the decision-makers and for right-holders and other stakeholders concerning the analyses and the recommendations as well. The level of detail needed, and the amount of information included in the report will depend on the complexity of the proposed wind energy project.
The report should use and reflect the information, analyses and assessment carried out during the impact assessment process. Within this frame, it will need to focus primarily on:
- providing all relevant information related to the World Heritage property in question (OUV, attributes, territorial aspects, and other relevant cultural and natural heritage values, etc.);
- the impacts of the proposed wind energy project on the attributes of the OUV and on the other values;
- the overall impact of the proposed project on the OUV of the property;
- clear conclusions and recommendations (related also to mitigation measure, project alternatives or the ‘no project’ option).
The report structure is advised to follow the step-by-step development of the impact assessment process. Nevertheless, impact assessment reports might need to follow format- or content-wise national regulations or guidance documents.
➔ See also Checklist 4.
Ensure that World Heritage is addressed in the report
An impact assessment process for the identification and evaluation of the impacts of a wind energy project on a World Heritage property is often part of a wider Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) or Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) that is normally a requirement and obligation for project proponents under the national legal framework (this is the case for all EU Member States).
In these cases, it is highly important that the assessment and also the report adequately address the impacts on the OUV and attributes of the World Heritage property in question.
Reviewing the report
Is the report ‘fit for purpose’ for decision-making?
Has it been carried out aligned with the relevant legal and professional framework and did it adequately consider the impacts on the OUV of the World Heritage property?
To be carried out primarily by the relevant national authorities/institutions and the World Heritage site management team.
The aim of reviewing the report is to determine whether the applied assessment methodology and the outcomes are adequate, if it has fully complied both with the relevant legal and professional framework and the established Terms of Reference, and moreover, if it is fit for purpose in terms of transparency and usability.
The review process it is an important step to ensure quality control; it can be conducted in different ways and at multiple levels. It is often mandatory, especially in countries, which legislation includes an Environmental (and Social) Impact Assessment (EIA or ESIA) process. The review is often carried out by a government agency with a specific mandate or by an external independent reviewer team through a transparent process. The review of the report is especially important when the impact assessment is carried out under a contract linked with the project proponent and/or by other interested parties.
The review must provide a clear description of the assessment process, the information used, and its final conclusions and recommendations. Every effort should be made to ensure that:
- The report and its conclusions are in line with existing national legislation and policies and international agreements;
- The impact assessment process and report have fulfilled the Terms of Reference established by the commissioner or the relevant authority (it is advised that the Terms of Reference be checked by the relevant authorities prior to its commissioning);
- The report addresses all the issues raised in the ‘Scoping report‘;
- The report adequately addresses the World Heritage context;
- The conclusions of the impact assessment report are in line with the established methodology of the assessment and the findings are logical results of the process.
In general terms, the review of an impact assessment will result in one of the two following outcomes:
- The quality (including the baseline data, methodology and the report) of the impact assessment is adequate and fit for purpose.
- The quality of the impact assessment and the report is insufficient, and the report should be revised (additional information is needed or a revised methodology should be applied, etc.).
Making the report available for rights-holders and other stakeholders and UNESCO
Rights-holders and stakeholders
The report should also be made available for rights-holders and other stakeholders to allow them to comment and check how their views and comments have been taken into account and how these influenced the project proposal and the assessment.
In some countries, the report is made available for public review (for example, through an online platform), allowing further room for comments.
Sending the report to UNESCO
As already highlighted in other parts of this guidance, when a proposed wind energy project has an impact on the OUV of a World Heritage property, a notification under paragraph 172 of the Operational Guidelines is to be sent by the State Party to UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre. The report of the impact assessment, in the reviewing stage, is a useful annex to this notification that allows both the World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies to carry out their evaluation on the proposal and the report itself and provide feedback to the State Party (often in the form of a Technical Review prepared by the Advisory Bodies, ICOMOS or IUCN).
Is the proposed wind energy project the best possible option also considering other possible alternatives?
Under what terms should the proposed wind energy project be approved?
To be carried out by the relevant national authorities/institutions.
Decisions are made throughout the impact assessment process as described in steps 1 to 8. Nevertheless, if the wind energy project proposal is taken forward until the impact assessment report and if the proponent has not decided to change or redesign important elements of the project that require to return to steps prior to the impact assessment, the report is handed over with the other planning documents to the relevant national/regional/local authorities for a formal decision under the legal framework.
The final impact assessment report provides decision-makers with clear conclusions and recommendations. Based on those recommendations and the evidence that led to them, the relevant national, regional or local authorities should consider one of these three options:
- The proposed wind energy project is approved as its construction does not negatively impact the OUV of a World Heritage property. However, the approval might include specific conditions and requirements for mitigation measures;
- Approval is postponed, for example, in cases when the impact assessment has highlighted the need to consider redesigning the proposed project and/or if more information is needed before a decision can be taken;
- The proposed wind energy project is rejected in the case the assessment has identified considerable negative impacts of the proposed wind energy project on the OUV of a World Heritage property.
How the impact assessment result relates to decision-making of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee?
Please note that the result of an impact assessment (the report) might also be made available for the World Heritage Committee to help the Committee’s decision-making in relation to the obligations of States Parties under the World Heritage Convention.
As formal decisions concerning a wind energy project are in most cases legally binding, if negative impacts of a wind energy project are discovered after a proposed project receives approval from the national/regional/local authorities, it creates a situation that is hard to resolve. This might be the case if an impact assessment does not consider the impacts of the proposed project on the OUV of a World Heritage property, which can happen when the proposal is not within the boundaries of the property or its buffer zone, but also if the methodology followed for assessing impacts were inadequate.
The World Heritage Committee might regard the approved project incompatible with fulfilling the obligations of a State Party under the World Heritage Convention and request the State Party to rectify the situation (even if the project has been implemented). On one hand, this may lead to national authorities facing lengthy legal procedures and having to pay the project developer financial compensation. On the other hand, if the proposed or implemented project poses potential or ascertained threat for the OUV of the World Heritage property, it may lead to its inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger (See paragraphs 177-191 of the Operational Guidelines) or its deletion from the World Heritage List (See paragraphs 192 to198 of the Operational Guidelines).
How should the agreed mitigation measures be implemented?
What should be done to monitor and manage the implementation of the proposed action?
To be carried out by the project proponent in close cooperation with the relevant national authorities/institutions and the World Heritage site management team.
When a wind energy project is approved and can be implemented, the information and recommendations that result from the impact assessment process should be incorporated in the relevant project documentation and contracts, such as the licensing agreement and should be part of an Environmental and Social Management Plan (ESMP). The impact assessment report itself will be the basis to develop a set of follow-up actions.
The complexity of the required mitigation and enhancement measures and other follow-up actions will also depend on the level and complexity of the wind energy project. While a small project might only require the preparation of a list of measures and actions needed, a major, large-scale wind energy project will require the drawing up of the ESMP. The relevant heritage authorities and experts from the impact assessment will need to be consulted in the development of this document, which will become part of the contract documentation of the project.
The mitigation and enhancement measures and other follow-up actions are to be implemented and monitored together with the wind energy project. The follow-up plan or the ESMP should include clear monitoring procedures to ensure that the recommendations of the impact assessment report are adequately and effectively implemented and that no unexpected further impacts arise from the project, which may need immediate managing.
The implementation of the follow-up phase needs to be ensured primarily by the project developer and the wind energy site manager. However, it also needs the supervision (compliance monitoring, inspection and enforcement) of the responsible governmental or institutional bodies on the national/regional/local level (environmental and heritage authorities) and the management team of the World Heritage property to ensure that during the implementation of the follow-up measures, the OUV of the World Heritage property is preserved. The National Focal Point for World Heritage is also expected to follow up on implementation of the World Heritage Committee Decisions and Recommendations of the Advisory Bodies in this regard.
The Guidance and Toolkit for Impact Assessments in a World Heritage Context includes a full set of follow-up activities. Please check these for developing measures in relation to wind energy projects.
What if changes are needed for a wind energy facility within its lifecycle?
Considering that a wind energy project may change during its lifecycle (i.e., due to changes in a country’s energy need, renewable energy strategies, policies and plans) so may change the originally planned end-of-life strategy of a wind energy facility. This could imply a decision to dismiss the decommissioning process in favour of repowering, often with the installation of technologically more advanced infrastructure: the enlargement of existing facilities or construction of new wind turbines, modern ancillary facilities, new access tracks to the wind farm site, etc.
In these cases, a new impact assessment process should be initiated to ensure that after its redesigning, the proposed new elements and the wind energy facility as a whole are adequately assessed before permission is granted. Furthermore, it should be ensured that it will not threaten the OUV of a World Heritage property.
This is a necessary exercise as during the years the context of a World Heritage property may also change, for example, through the construction of other wind farms or other types of projects in the surrounding areas. These may add up to impacts and call for the assessment of cumulative impacts.
If a wind energy project in any of its phases seems or proves to negatively affect the World Heritage property’s OUV (either due to inadequate follow up and implementation of the mitigation and enhancement measures, or due to unforeseen circumstances) if possible, the project element inducing the negative impact should be halted, the impact/damage needs to be assessed and appropriate actions (mitigation or other) need to be initiated or approved by the relevant national/regional/local authorities as well as the site management.
The needed actions might already be identified and included in the management systems in place (either the ESMP or the management system of the World Heritage property).
Monitoring the follow-up activities and measures
The monitoring in the follow-up phase will also allow the collection of information that could feed into enhancing the information related to the World Heritage property, its OUV and attributes, as well as its management system/management plan.
As an example:
- Collection of information about the attributes of World Heritage properties can be used to check against the baseline collected during the impact assessment;
- Monitoring the wind energy facility in use might provide new information related to the sensitivity of attributes or other information relevant for the baseline.
➔ See also 'Potential proactive actions' included in Protecting World Heritage in the context of the renewable energy transition.
The step-by-step guidance assists those involved in carrying out an ESIA or any type of stand-alone assessment of impacts of a wind energy project proposed in relation to a World Heritage property. Although it is less likely that a project will be planned within a property, even projects within the buffer zone or the wider setting of a World Heritage property may have an impact on its OUV. The step-by-step guidance focuses specifically on information needed for the assessment of wind energy projects and when indicated, it should be used in conjunction with the Guidance and Toolkit for Impact Assessment in a World Heritage Context.
For each step or element of the ESIA, this guidance tool offers an overview of the key information needed for the assessment of the potential impacts of wind energy projects with specific reference to impacts on the OUV of a concerned World Heritage property. Whenever ‘impact assessment’ is mentioned in the step-by-step guidance, it refers to an Environmental Social Impact Assessment (ESIA). If used in other places of the guidance, it refers to the impact assessment processes in general terms.
As impact assessments are not linear processes but iterative processes, any changes to the proposed project or new information will need to be integrated into the process as they it becomes available. This may also result in the need to revise the process as it develops. The key purpose of the process is to inform developers and decision-makers of the impact the proposed project may have on a World Heritage property’s OUV. To this end, a proactive problem-solving approach will need to take be adopted throughout the entire impact assessment process, as a one of the fundamental purposes of an impact assessment is to consider alternatives and mitigation measures to the impacts on the OUV of World Heritage properties concerned.
➔ See also in ‘Mitigation and enhancement’ part of the Step-by-step guidance.
The findings and result of the ESIA are documented in an impact assessment report with clear recommendations for decision-makers and explanations of these proposed recommendations to all interested parties (including right-holders and other stakeholders). The report needs to highlight the potential negative and positive impacts of the project on the OUV of the concerned World Heritage property and provide recommendations on how to ensure the long-term protection and conservation of the property’s values.
➔ See in detail the ‘Reporting’ part of the Step-by-step guidance.
The findings of the ESIA will also allow project proponents to draw up an Environmental and Social Management Plan (ESMP) which describes how the project will be implemented and includes agreed mitigation measures and safeguards (also relevant for the protection of the World Heritage property’s OUV). The development of an ESMP is regarded as a good practice that allows well-founded monitoring for all interested parties (including monitoring of the agreed mitigation measures and other safeguards).
➔ See in detail the ‘Follow-up’ part of the Step-by-step guidance.
National level regulations on how to conduct an Environmental Impact Assessment or an Environmental and Social Impact Assessment are present in most countries, and in many cases, these are complemented by guidance documents that further expand on methodologies and good practices. In some cases, there are specific guidance on how to assess impacts of wind energy projects in relation to protected areas.
In France a specific guidance document (Guide relative à l’élaboration des études d’impacts des projets de parcs éoliens terrestres) includes a chapter dedicated to the development of impact assessment studies for terrestrial wind energy projects proposed to be developed nearby World Heritage properties.
Potential impacts of wind energy projects
Wind energy projects can have multiple impacts on the attributes conveying the OUV that can be identified and categorized as direct, indirect, or cumulative impacts (see in detail ‘Identifying and predicting impacts’ in the Step-by-step guidance). Impacts can also be both negative and positive and can arise from projects planned to be located within a World Heritage property, its buffer zone or its wider setting. Identifying and evaluating impacts in relation to the OUV of World Heritage properties is a complex task that requires considerable expertise and a thorough evaluation of all relevant information.
Please note nevertheless, that these images only illustrate schematic potential territorial impact of a wind energy projects and do not provide insight into the complexity of effects and impacts.
The most evident impact that comes to mind when thinking about wind energy projects is usually their visual impact (see for details Note 5). However, impacts can be more than visual – inadequately planned wind farms, for example, can be located on migratory routes or within sensitive biodiversity areas, or disturb significant archaeological sites. When looking at the impact of wind energy projects, it is also important to bear in mind that a project may have different impacts over its lifecycle as well as several impacts at the same time. Such compound of impacts should not be analysed in isolation but considered cumulatively (an overview of cumulative impacts can be found in Note 6). Specific negative impacts of a proposed wind energy project need to be mitigated, if possible, according to their relationship to the property’s OUV, and where this is not an option, project alternatives may be developed, or the project may be abandoned. At the same time, potential positive impacts can be developed and enhanced (for more detail, please consult the ‘Evaluating impacts’ and ‘Mitigation and enhancement’ parts of the step-by-step guidance).
Overview of potential impacts of wind energy projects on the OUV of World Heritage properties
Onshore wind farms and installations
Examples of negative impact
Examples of positive impact
Cultural and Social
(As a general and abstract concept)
Disruption to visual character of landscape inside and surrounding the property:
(➔ see also Note 5)
Offshore Wind Farms and Installations
Examples of negative impact
Examples of positive impact
Cultural and social
(As a general and abstract concept)
(Also related to natural heritage values)
(Primarily related to physical aspects of cultural and natural heritage values)
Please note that these lists are aimed only to provide examples and by no mean are they exhaustive).
See also Note 4
Case studies (related to impacts of wind energy projects)
- Case study: Impact assessment of a wind energy development project near a World Heritage property in the Netherlands (Netherlands, Mill Network at Kinderdijk-Elshout)
- Case study: Assessing the potential visual impact of onshore wind energy projects in relation to a World Heritage property in the United Kingdom (United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland)
What should be considered before beginning an ESIA?
A project specific ESIA should be based on a thorough understanding of the World Heritage property’s OUV, its related attributes and other, and the proposed wind energy project (➔ See Checklist 1).
In advance of an ESIA:
- Ensure that there is a comprehensive understanding of the World Heritage property for which the impact assessment process is being conducted as much as possible, using the readily available information and documents (SOUV, map and other relevant information on the UNESCO World Heritage Centre website, dedicated national websites, national inventories, Management Plan, etc.). This primarily includes a good grasp of the property’s boundary, its OUV and other values and of the tangible and intangible attributes conveying them (see also Note 1 and Step 3: Baseline Assessment). If available, an impact assessment should also refer to the results of the sensitivity mapping (see also Note 2);
- Obtain a clear picture of relevant legislative and policy framework existing at local, national and regional levels. The assessment should include a detailed description of the legal and institutional frameworks and reflect the property’s territorial boundaries (including buffer zone(s) and the wider setting).
➔ See also in World Heritage Essentials and Protecting World Heritage in the context of the renewable energy transition;
- Consider already possible project alternatives before initiating the impact assessment process. This includes considering alternative locations, the outline and design of the proposed wind farm, alternative project specifications (size, height, colour, etc.), as well as a ‘no-project‘ option;
- Envisage the involvement of relevant professionals in the impact assessment team, including impact assessment and wind energy experts as well as heritage practitioners with in-depth knowledge of the World Heritage property in question; these may be competent authorities, site managers, management teams or practitioners involved in conservation and management activities at the property. Particular impacts on specific attributes may require additional inputs from other specialists;
- Conduct an exercise to identify rights-holders and other stakeholders and ensure that mechanisms for their participation are in place throughout the impact assessment process (see also ‘Participation of rights-holders and other stakeholders in an impact assessment process’).
These checklists are linked with impacts of wind energy projects and their assessment and are referenced in the Guidance in relation to the impact assessment process.
- Checklist 1 – Key information needed for a World Heritage related Environmental Social Impact Assessment for wind energy projects
- Checklist 2 – Baseline assessment of a World Heritage property
- Checklist 3 – Description of a proposed wind energy project
- Checklist 4 – Items to be included in a World Heritage related impact assessment report for wind energy projects
1.1 Information wind energy project proponents need for planning a project with potential impacts on a World Heritage property
This checklist includes an overview of information that wind energy project proponents should obtain at the early stages of the planning process from the bodies charged with the protection and conservation of World Heritage properties, such as the site manager or the specialized authority:
- Statement of Outstanding Universal Value (SOUV) of the property;
- Information on other relevant heritage values;
- List of all attributes conveying OUV and other relevant heritage values;
- Comprehensive maps of the property, including the property’s boundaries and buffer zone(s);
- Documentation on key visual axis, panoramas and views that are important for the protection of the property’s OUV. This may include visual impact assessments, and other visual and historical studies;
- Presence of sensitive species habitats and migratory routes;
- Overview of all relevant rights-holders, communities and stakeholders.
1.2 – Information for those in charge of the management and conservation of the World Heritage property
This checklist includes an indicative overview of information that representatives of heritage agencies, site managers and practitioners involved in the impact assessment process should obtain. When requesting this information, the ‘Precautionary Principle’ should be considered in reference to the best- and worst-case scenarios of a project proposal:
- Outline of the proposed wind energy project, including any planning document providing detailed information on the proposed project;
- Area proposed for the wind energy project;
- Scale of the proposed project;
- Information concerning the proposed number, layout and location of the wind turbines and ancillary facilities;
- Information concerning the design – including maximum height, colour and form – of the proposed wind turbines;
- Project lifecycle: commissioning and development timeframe, expected lifetime of the wind energy project, end-of-life and decommissioning strategies.
This checklist includes an overview of information and data relevant for the baseline assessment in preparation of an impact assessment concerning a wind energy installation inside or nearby a World Heritage property.
Depending on the specific characteristics of a property, relevant information for a baseline study could be related to the following elements:
- Landscape and topography:
- landscape typology and design
- landscape biography
- landscape modelling
- setting studies
- vistas and panoramas
- seasonal landscape patterns
- landscape ecology
- Soil and geology:
- geological features
- quality of soil, including erosion patterns and acidity levels
- water quality and quantity
- fluvial geomorphology
- hydrologic characteristics
- seasonal fluvial patterns
- air quality
- climatic factors
- atmospheric factors
- Climate and climate change
- Flora and fauna, biodiversity:
- sites of special interest/ importance for the species in their life cycle or in a season
- Tangible and intangible heritage:
- built heritage
- buildings and monuments, including traditional and vernacular heritage
- archaeological sites (including terrestrial and underwater)
- traditional practices
- associations and meanings
- spiritual beliefs
- traditional knowledge systems
- Use of the property:
- Land use and landscape use (in the past and present)
- ecosystem services
- use of resources
- access (including routes, connections, ritual paths, but also sightlines)
- recreational use, including tourism
- Management systems
- Population and demographics
Moreover, in the context of wind energy projects, data and information concerning the following elements are particularly relevant:
a) State of Conservation of the property:
- Desk based studies for the OUV, attributes and other values;
- Decisions of the World Heritage Committee;
- State of Conservation Reports (by the States Parties and the Secretariat);
- Result of onsite visits to assess current state of conservation either by the site managers, relevant national authorities or the World Heritage Centre/Advisory Bodies;
b) Environmental data and information:
- Environmental baseline studies;
- Biological mapping;
- Habitat mapping;
- Hydrodynamic studies;
- Landscape surveys;
- Landscape biographies;
- Measurement of ecosystem services;
- Soil health assessment;
- Water quality assessment.
c) Socio-cultural data and information:
- Mapping tangible and intangible cultural element and processes;
- Cultural heritage mapping and studies;
- Ethnographic studies;
- Establishment of visual baseline;
- Identification of key vistas and panorama;
- Culture related data collection from participation, consultation and engagement efforts (including interviews with rights-holders and local communities);
- Cultural tourism related studies and visitor statistics.
d) Economic data and information:
- Economic analysis of the proposed wind energy project (including cost-benefit analysis);
- Land evaluation especially related to agricultural use;
- Tourism related economic studies.
Clarification of the need and feasibility concerning the proposed project
- Justification of the need for the proposed wind energy project;
- Compliance with existing legal frameworks and/or with other local, national, regional or international policies and strategies related to the renewable energy and wind energy;
- Justification of the site selection for the proposed wind energy project;
- Anemometric data and energy efficiency of the proposed wind infrastructure;
- Studies clarifying the real potential of the site for wind energy exploitation.
Description of the proposed wind energy project
- Technical information concerning the proposed wind energy project:
- Technical drawings and reports of the proposed wind energy project:
- Proposed installed energy capacity,
- Typology and layout of wind turbines,
- Number of wind turbines,
- Material used,
- Ancillary facilities,
- Access infrastructures,
- Energy grid and distribution infrastructure.
- Technical drawings and reports of the proposed wind energy project:
- Technical characteristics of the proposed wind turbines:
- Drawings: plan, elevation and section,
- Visualizations from relevant perspectives,
- Layout of the tower,
- Colour (important not only for its possible visual impact but also for possible perception by animals),
- Height of the wind turbine with and without the rotor,
- Diameter and depth of foundations,
- Diameter of the rotor,
- Material of the turbines,
- Amount of land to be cleared,
- Expected lifetime,
- Electrical output.
- Technical information of the rotor, rotor blade and the brake system;
- Overview of security plans and systems in place (lights, stabilization measures, ice protection systems);
- Description of the proposed lifecycle:
- Proposed lifetime of the wind energy project,
- If available a Life Cycle Assessment,
- Description of the construction phase, including for example:
- CO2 emissions,
- Information on infrastructural plans,
- Energy and water resources needed,
- Quantification of produced waste and sewage water,
- Information concerning construction sites and logistics.
- Description of the operation phase, for example:
- Nonionizing radiation,
- Waste disposal,
- Lights and security visual signals,
- Maintenance plan,
- Risk management plan,
- Traffic previsions.
- Outline of the planned end of life options:
- In case of repowering: possible repowering scenarios (considering that there might be technological advancements that might modify these scenarios),
- In case of decommissioning: preview of models for a sustainable decommissioning scenario, dismantling of the wind energy infrastructure and requalification plan.
- Geographical information (including GIS coordinates) of the location of all the infrastructural components of the wind energy projects:
- Wind turbines,
- Access roads,
- Power-grid lines,
- Construction sites,
- Area of influence of the project, for example, through shadow flickering.
- Cost plan with a detailed estimate of costs;
- Measures for environmental improvements;
- Visibility studies and visual modelling from different selected viewpoints, considering night and daytime.
- Outlining all proposed alternatives:
- Alternative location,
- Alternative type and layout of wind turbines,
- No-go option;
- Assessment of the proposed alternative and comparison with other considered alternatives;
- Explanation and justification of the preferred alternative.
A clearly written summary of the key findings, recommendations and conclusions (the summary should include the identification of the World Heritage property, its OUV and attributes and other values of the property, as well as the impacts of the proposed wind energy project on these).
This summary, if possible, should be written in a language that makes it possible to understand by any reader. If this is not feasible, as the technical elements are important part of the report and need to be included in the ‘Executive summary’, an additional non-technical summary is advised to be provided for any reader with no technical background that includes key points related to World Heritage.
Contractual information and acknowledgements
Baseline for the World Heritage property
Outline of the proposed wind energy project and alternatives
Identification and evaluation of impacts