Including health in environmental assessments

Policy decisions made outside of the health sector influence many determinants of health. However, the potential health impact of such policies is often not, or only poorly, assessed. To protect health, WHO/Europe’s Health 2020 policy framework aims hence to support governments in fostering intersectoral action.

In line with Health 2020 and the declarations of ministerial conferences on environment and health, WHO/Europe 

  • advocates for the integration of health in environmental assessments and policies through the use of health impact assessments;
  • builds national capacity on health impact assessment;
  • develops methods and tools for health impact assessment.

The fields of application are very diverse, with transport being the most extensively explored.

Strategic environmental assessment (SEA): the SEA Protocol

SEA facilitates the identification and prevention of a project’s possible environmental effects right from the start, and enables environmental objectives to be considered on a par with socioeconomic ones.

WHO/Europe ensured that provisions for including health aspects in environmental assessments were made in the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) Protocol, and assists its Member States in implementing the Protocol.

This Protocol is a means of integrating environmental and health concerns into the decision-making process. By requiring parties to evaluate the environmental and health consequences of their draft plans and programmes, as well as to consult with health authorities in the SEA process, it marks a step ahead of the European Union SEA Directive, to which it is closely related. The SEA Protocol was signed in 2003 by 35 European countries and entered into force in 2010.