The Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) is a key instrument to make planning processes more ecological and democratic. Environmental questions shall be addressed already at early stage and give the public the possibility to participate as long as it can still make a difference. Critical points and questions concerning a project shall be banned before the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) procedure starts. This can concern an energy policy, forestry development programs, etc.
In 2003, the countries adopted the SEA Protocol to partially address this issue. Since 2010 it is legally binding for the contracting states. The Protocol establishes detailed procedural requirements on the SEA process, including screening, scoping, carrying out the evaluation itself, public participation, and the final decision-making. States have to apply these rules when they create policies, plans or programmes.
Note: While the Espoo Convention puts a major focus on procedures dealing with proposed projects that have transboundary effects, the SEA Protocol focuses largely on national decision-making. But the SEA Protocol also requires consultations between the country of origin and the affected country on the proposed plan or programme.