How strategic is the Strategic Environmental Assessment of future Portuguese marine spatial plans in the European context?

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In the European context set by Directive 2001/42/EC and its transposition into national legal frameworks, (Strategic) Environmental Assessment (SEA) is mandatory for plans and programmes likely to have significant environmental effects. Portugal’s national maritime space (NMS) includes c. 50% of marine waters of the European Union and covers 4% of the Atlantic (c.1% of the global
Ocean), making it one of the world’s largest maritime nations. Since 2014, new Portuguese legislation has been published pertaining to marine spatial planning and management (MSPM) creating a system that comprehends two levels of instruments: strategic instruments (the National Ocean Strategy, NOS2013-2020); and operational instruments (MSPlans), including the Situation Plan for the entire NMS, which will represent and identify “the spatial and temporal distribution of existing and potential uses and activities” as well as “natural and cultural values of strategic relevance for environmental sustainability and intergenerational solidarity”. Although this Situation Plan is more akin to a “reference situation” than to a “Plan”, the significance of its potential and expected environmental effects led the Portuguese government to decide subjecting it to SEA. Still, in the current Portuguese MSPM system, prospective and strategy are found at the level of the NOS2013-2020 that adopted the 2012 European Commission’s “Blue Growth” vision for the maritime sector, which, in turn, constitutes “the maritime dimension” of EUROPE 2020, the 2010 EU strategy for “smart, sustainable and inclusive growth”. This hierarchy of instruments, from the European to the Portuguese national level, sequentially guided and framed strategic options for each lower ranking level. In this context, two questions emerge: Were any of these levels in the policy/planning hierarchy subjected to environmental assessment? and, How “strategic” can SEA of a future Situation Plan actually be? A revision of the types of assessments carried out for these instruments showed that no other plans, programs or strategies, along the hierarchy where the Situation Plan is included were subjected to environmental assessment (the POEM, a study for a MSPlan developed between 2008 and 2010, was subjected to SEA but it only applies to c. 8.5% of the NMS, and was carried under different socio-economic and legal/political conditions).
Environmental assessment of the proposed Situation Plan, the key operational instrument of the Portuguese MSPM system, is a necessary step towards ensuring the proposed national sustainable development objective. We propose it should follow a strategy-based approach in view of the nature, scope and relevance of the issues at stake. Besides incorporating MSPM principles,
SEA of the Situation Plan should encompass other key aspects for the success of MSPM of the Portuguese Atlantic Ocean: build on long-term scenarios accommodating the duration of planned licences (25 y) and concessions (50 y); take global change as a major factor for strategic scenarios development, together with societal, demographic and economic drifts, all covering similar time spans. Scale and value of Portuguese NMS implies that success or failure of its MSPM process will have significant impacts on MSPM of European Maritime Space, making this process a European and global milestone.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the 22nd International Sustainable Development Research Society Conference (ISDRS 2016)
Subtitle of host publicationRethinking Sustainability Models and Practices: Challenges for the New and Old World Contexts
EditorsJ. Joanaz de Melo, A. Disterheft, S. Caeiro, R. F. Santos, T. Ramos
PublisherFCT/UNL, CENSE, ISDR Society
Number of pages7
ISBN (Print)978-972-674-791-8
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • MSP
  • SEA
  • Situation Plan
  • Portugal


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