Importance of EIA s in KSA

An Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) examines and evaluates a proposed project or development’s possible and probable environmental impacts, considering beneficial and adversative inter-related socio-economic, cultural, and human health impacts. It provides a framework that allows predicting environmental impacts at an initial stage in project planning and design, assessing alternatives within and to the project, obtaining extensive baseline data, systematically identifying and evaluating effects from construction, operation, and closure, find approaches to reduce adverse impacts, shape projects to create the local built environment. 

This article seeks to direct this debate toward the EIA’s purpose, scope, and impact, with a particular focus and emphasis on projects in Saudi Arabia, in terms of decision-making and sustainable patterns of development planning.


In Saudi Arabia, The National Procedure for EIA in the Kingdom has been in effect since 1985 to designate development projects for which an EIA is mandatory, provide guidance on development projects that may require an EIA, and list the issues to be addressed in an Environmental Impact Assessment Report (EIA). The Environmental Protection General Directorate was established to manage the EIA process,

  • Submit reports on the environmental impacts of major projects; 
  • Follow-up on the practical application of environmental standards;
  • Assist in providing advice to industrial and agricultural developers to help them to comply with environmental standards
  • Establish and maintain an EIA database for all project applications and reviews; 
  • Develop draft regulations, procedures, standards, and programs for improving EIA; 
  • Determine the scope of EIA, the issues to be studied, and the methodologies to be applied during impact assessment; 
  • Recommend mitigation measures to minimize adverse environmental effects caused by the construction and operation of a project; and 
  • Coordinate with other resource protection and planning agencies in the Kingdom to ensure that their views and concerns are fully included in the EIA process. 

Furthermore, over the last two decades, KSA has made significant advancements in further developing environmental laws, standards, and guidelines (Evolution of the high-performance standards from PME to MEWA). As a result, the standard, effectiveness, and recommendations of the EIAs have increased significantly, leading to an immense effect on the efficiency of the project’s delivery and the reduced environmental impacts on the surrounding environment. It has become an active tool due to legislation, organizational capacity, training, environmental information, participation, diffusion of experience, donor policy, and political will. 

EIAs have been providing environmental sustainability assurance (ESA) for the country through screening, scoping, assessment, and evaluation of impacts and development of alternatives, Reporting the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) or EIA report, review of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), decision-making, monitoring, compliance, enforcement, and environmental auditing processes. 

The Kingdom has launched initiatives to improve environmental protection and sustainability by auditing planned and existing projects from an environmental perspective, aligning them according to the general, national environmental classification system, and issuing environmental permits according to their category.

Summary of the EIA process in Saudi Arabia

Under the Environmental Law and as described in the Environmental Regulations on Environmental Permits for the Construction and Operation of Activities, the environmental permitting and approval process includes the following key stages:

  • Stage 1: Submission of Environmental Classification Form to NCEC by Applicant.
  • Stage 2: NCEC review of Environmental Classification Form and confirmation of activity classification to Applicant.
  • Stage 3: In parallel with Stage 1, activities located within 400m of the coastal zone will require initial approval from the Permanent Committee for the Protection of the Marine Environment (referred to as the 8th Committee). This approval is required before the Applicant can progress further through the permitting and approval process. With respect to the RSP, all developments within 400m of the coastal zone require 8th Committee approval, which includes this project. The 8th Committee comprises the following ministries:
    • MEWA;
    • Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs (MOMRA);
    • NCEC;
    • Ministry of Interior (Coastguard);
    • Ministry of Energy;
    • Ministry of Finance;
  • Stage 4: If Class 1 activity, the applicant prepares the Environmental Management Plan and Rehabilitation Plan and submits to NCEC. If Class 2 / 3 activity, Applicant prepares a Scoping Report in Accordance with Appendix 3 and submits it to NCEC.
  • Stage 5: NCEC reviews the Environmental Management Plan and Rehabilitation Plan for Class 1 activities and issues an Environmental Permit if the information is satisfactory. Re-submission may be required if the information provided is deemed insufficient by NCEC. NCEC reviews and provides feedback on the Scoping Report to the Applicant for Class 2 and 3 activities.
  • Stage 6: The applicant prepares ESIA Report in line with the suggested structure and content outlined in Appendix 2 and 4. The requirement will depend on whether it is a Class 2 or 3 activity. The applicant submits ESIA Report to NCEC.
  • Stage 7: NCEC reviews and approves of ESIA Report and issuance of Environmental Permit for the project’s construction. Re-submission may be required if the information provided is deemed insufficient by NCEC. The Environmental Permit to commence construction works is valid for three (3) years. Construction activities must begin within this time to avoid requiring a new permit.
  • Stage 8: The applicant discharges any pre-construction conditions attached to the Environmental Permit.
  • Stage 9: The applicant commences construction, ensuring all commitments, i.e., environmental reporting, are met and reported as required to NCEC throughout works.
  • Stage 10: The applicant completes construction and applies for an Environmental Permit for operation activities. Prior to the issuance of the Environmental Permit for operation, NCEC will review the conditions of the construction Environmental Permit to ensure all requirements have been met and undertake a site inspection. If all information is satisfactory, NCEC will issue the Environmental Permit for operation. The duration of the operational permit will depend on the activity but will be no less than three (3) years and no more than six (6) years.

The timeframe to complete all stages detailed above will differ between projects. Indicative timeframes for NCEC approval are provided in the Implementing Regulations. Throughout all stages of the environmental permitting and approval process, liaison and consultation with MEWA, NCEC, and other relevant National Centres should be undertaken by the NCEC registered environmental consultancy.

Future of EIAs in Saudi Arabia

The Environmental project assessments in Saudi Arabia are getting more effective, supportive, and precise by the day, especially after the announcement of the Vision2030, projects have begun to follow international rules and regulations as well as best practices, in addition, to ensuring alignment with local legislation. In addition to the national environmental requirements, the EIAs are required to meet World Bank/IFC Guidelines and Standards together with likely input and specific requirements from Equator Principles Banks/Financial Institutes (PFI).  

As a result, the role and significance of EIAs in project planning and operation are growing more and more crucial as the Kingdom aims to carry out construction operations without damaging or disrupting nearby sensitive receptors. In addition, the responsibilities previously held by GAMEP[1] have been distributed between (NCEC, NCWM, NCVC, NCM, and NCW,) which has resulted in more active stakeholders in the environmental field and the strict implementation of the current guidelines and legislation in the EIA process.

Gap Analysis

There are several general, region-wide challenges to the efficient and effective implementation of EIA strategies and policies. These challenges relate to data availability, limited public participation, and limited stakeholder engagements during the EIA process. 

Comparison between the costs of EIA and its Benefits

We estimate that in KSA, EIA costs amounted to less than 0.5 % of the overall capital cost. Costs in excess of 1% were the exception and occur in relation to particularly controversial projects in sensitive environments or where good EIA practice has not been followed (hence it is not really defined strictly as a Capital Cost, rather more as Remedial Captial Cost for work not performed well). The actual costs of EIA tend to rise in direct relation to the capital cost of the project, but, when considered as a percentage of the total cost, the EIA component becomes smaller the larger the project. 

Generally, EIAs are relatively expensive for linear projects (like routes and electricity lines), nuclear or industrial activities, projects requiring health impact assessments, and projects related to the marine environment. On the other hand, if undertaken correctly and precisely (High information quality in EIA is a prerequisite), the unforeseen and unpredicted costs and delays can be minimized, which can potentially result in the avoidance of significant financial loss. On the other hand, the EIA process assists decision-making by identifying critical environmental issues, Improving the quality of the project design, achieving achieve higher standards of mitigation, and providing a better framework for preparing conditions and legal agreements to govern the future operation of the project. Incorporating the environmental concerns at an earlier stage in the design process, and avoiding environmentally sensitive areas through project re-siting or re-design can make a huge difference to the project bottom line and protects the projects from delays.

Importance of Construction Industry in Saudi Arabia

An EIA’s benefits include improved project design, improved decision making, better information disclosure, more public involvement, and a sustainable environment during and after the construction period, which can only be achieved by Screening, Scoping, Assessment and evaluation of impacts, development of alternatives, monitoring, compliance, enforcement and environmental auditing in the Kingdom. An EIA enables decision-makers to identify which projects need full screening to prevent any damage to the environment by protecting the biodiversity environment and predicts the impact rate for proposed projects (which can be negative or positive). The cost increase associated with the EIA process is minor as the outcomes of the EIAs are implemented in the early stage with the means to reduce adverse impacts and cost-effectively shape projects to comply with the local environment, standards, and laws by Mitigating cost and time of project implementation, offering cost-saving alterations in project design, increasing project acceptance, avoids impacts and violations of laws and regulations, boosting project performance and avoiding treatment/clean-up costs.

Environmental Impact Assessment in Saudi Arabia

The marine environment along the eastern and western coasts of Saudi Arabia is known to be sensitive. The range of habitats, including coral reefs, seagrass beds, mangroves, and intertidal mudflats, that support species with an IUCN red List status of Vulnerable or higher. A wide range of terrestrial habitat types, including coastal sabkha, desert, and mountains, are present in Saudi Arabia, which supports the survival of faunal and floral species. Population growth, rising expectations, and technological changes have created a severe threat to the environment. So, EIA has become a critical tool and obligation for projects in Saudi Arabia. It is now supporting navigating these risks and adding value to the project’s delivery by helping practitioners, government, and industries measure environmental damage caused by the proposed activities.

It is part of Alpin’s endeavors to help project teams and different stakeholders ensure the protection and wellbeing of the environment within the context of this extraordinary growth in infrastructure and built assets in Saudi Arabia.

  [1] All five centers are considered to be branches of the overarching authority of the Ministry of Environment, Water, and Agriculture (MEWA). As per Royal Decree M/165 dated 11/19/1441 AH, MEWA is now the designated environmental authority in Saudi Arabia.