Addressing equity in sustainability assessment: A theoretical framework with applications in the Oil & Gas sector

Lamorgese, Lydia (2014) Addressing equity in sustainability assessment: A theoretical framework with applications in the Oil & Gas sector. PhD thesis, University of Trento.

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This thesis explores the concept of equity and proposes methods to make it operational in decision-making focused on promoting sustainability. The conceptual approach developed in the research draws on the recognition that the two notions of equity and sustainability are tightly intertwined in the sustainable development debate. As George (1999) claimed, sustainable development is founded on and fully embodied by intra-generational and inter-generational equity, which might be described as transactions of rights between and across generations, respectively. In spite of this, the implications on equity are still poorly addressed in strategic decisions. This led to the identification of the three main objectives of this research. The first objective is to understand the extent to which sustainability issues are addressed in current practice, focusing on Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) experiences of spatial planning and Oil & Gas development. To this purpose, a framework is developed to analyse the degree of consideration of sustainability principles in SEA, and demonstrate its application to a sample of SEA of Italian urban plans. This framework links Gibson's (2006) sustainability principles to a number of guidance criteria and eventually to review questions, giving particular emphasis to the key concepts of intra- and inter-generational equity. The framework was applied to review the Environmental Report of a sample of urban plans of major Italian cities. The results of this review shows that, even if sustainability is commonly considered as a pivotal concept, there is still work to be done in order to effectively integrate sustainability principles into SEA. Regarding the proposed framework, the review confirms the significance of clarifying equity concerns in the light of sustainability in view of operationalizing intra- and inter-generational equity in decision-making. The second objective is to identify criteria and indicators to measure intra- and inter-generational equity, against which present state and future trends can be assessed. A conceptual framework for identifying the different implications related to the use of different values and perceptions on equity is built. Subsequently, a set of equity perspectives to guide the assessment of strategic actions through the lens of intra- and inter-generational equity is proposed and discussed. This set includes four equity perspectives, compatible with each other with covered significant sustainability issues, and minimizing conflict, namely opportunity, distributional fairness, distributional fairness across generations and justice for an imperfect world. The review of equity perspectives allows identifying a set of equity criteria that might be useful in focusing assessment on crucial and integrative sustainability issues. These criteria are reasonably inclusive of essential general intra- and inter-generational equity considerations that account for sustainability over space and time. However, criteria need to be specific to the context of analysis. This is addressed in this study by selecting a specific sector of investigation that offered significant insights for dealing with sustainability in decision-making. The attention was directed to the Oil & Gas sector for the scope of challenges and positive chances posed to sustainability. For this purpose, the research work specifically fleshes out how current SEA of Oil & Gas sector practice addresses sustainability. A framework for reviewing SEA practice helped to explore to what extent current SEA for the Oil & Gas sector contributes, procedurally and substantively, to sustainability oriented decisions. 11 case studies related to both off-shore and on-shore Oil & Gas developments are reviewed against this framework. The results show that case studies were more oriented to analyse opportunities derived from Oil & Gas development without fleshing out other potential developmental alternatives. Additionally, even if the SEA reports claim to pursuit a common strategic intent to equally share benefit derived from Oil & Gas development, they do not generally provide a means to tackle this aspect. This part of the investigation allowed also to support the identification and selection of aspects, elements, suggestions and best practise that would assist in defining contest-specific equity criteria and indicators for decision-making in the Oil & Gas sector. This leads to the third objective of the thesis: testing the applicability of the proposed methods to a case study, dealing with complex decisions at strategic level. A case study on Oil & Gas development in the Basilicata region (Southern Italy) was selected: the Val d’Agri oil field, Western Europe’s biggest onshore oil field. Scenario storylines, representing interactions among environmental, social and economic concerns, are constructed and applied against the framework. Specifically, short-term and medium-long term scenarios are developed by varying geographical scopes, ranging from the regional scale to two nested local areas surrounding the Oil & Gas activities. Scenarios are then assessed against the set of intra- and inter-generational criteria identified by selecting appropriate indicators adapted to context and available data. Indicators are valued according to a quali-quantitative analysis that assisted in examining and comparing trade-off between human and environmental systems under the different scenarios. The results helped to identify opportunity and risk of different scenarios at strategic level. None of the scenarios provided “the best solution” in term of aggregated equity scores or perfect win-win solutions for each equity perspective. In the long-term, none of the territorial levels (local and regional) seemed to acquire significant increase in equity benefits, not even one at expenses of each other. According to the assumptions, this might suggest that incremental benefits of Oil & Gas development are concentrated outside the three level considered. Nevertheless, the case study shows that approaching to decision with more attention to a sustainable management of the environment and involving institutions at different levels might be a key role in achieving more wide-spread and long-term positive results. However, scenarios presented possible significant trends in equity criteria, which were affected by restraints in data collected, as well as, simplifications and approximations in analysis. In this exercise, it was assumed that all equity criteria within each temporal dimension receive equal weights and that all three geographical levels were equally weighted too. Introducing participatory mechanisms might be useful for supporting interpretations of implications potentially affecting generations at different temporal and territorial scale, satisfying possible needs of other equity criteria, and establishing priorities in perspectives on equity adopted. In this sense, the equity framework proposed might be a suitable tool for supporting and guiding deliberative processes. Analogously, the spatio-temporal decision matrix, framed through the lens of equity for assessing scenarios against equity criteria, might represent a simple yet flexible framework for analysing and discussing concurrently temporal and spatial implications of plausible storylines.

Item Type:Doctoral Thesis (PhD)
Doctoral School:Environmental Engineering
PhD Cycle:XXVI
Subjects:Area 08 - Ingegneria civile e Architettura > ICAR/20 TECNICA E PIANIFICAZIONE URBANISTICA
Uncontrolled Keywords:Sustainability Assessement; Strategic Environmental Assessement; Oil & Gas Development; Scenario planning
Repository Staff approval on:08 May 2014 14:51

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