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Automated Decision-Making and Environmental Impact Assessments: Decisions, Data Analysis and Predictions


This article critically examines the opportunities and challenges that automated decision-making (ADM) poses for environmental impact assessments (EIAs) as a crucial aspect of environmental law. It argues that while fully or partially automating discretionary EIA decisions is legally and technically problematic, there is significant potential for data-driven decision-making tools to provide superior analysis and predictions to better inform EIA processes. Discretionary decision-making is desirable for EIA decisions given the inherent complexity associated with environmental regulation and the prediction of future impacts. This article demonstrates that current ADM tools cannot adequately replicate human discretionary processes for EIAs—even if there is human oversight and review of automated outputs. Instead of fully or partially automating EIA decisions, data-driven decision-making can be more appropriately deployed to enhance data analysis and predictions to optimise EIA decision-making processes. This latter type of ADM can augment decision-making processes without displacing the critical role of human discretion in weighing the complex environmental, social and economic considerations inherent in EIA determinations.

Published: 2021-11-08
Pages:76 to 90
Section: Articles
How to Cite
Nay, Zoe, Anna Huggins, and Felicity Deane. 2021. “Automated Decision-Making and Environmental Impact Assessments: Decisions, Data Analysis and Predictions ”. Law, Technology and Humans 3 (2):76-90.

Author Biographies

Queensland University of Technology
Australia Australia

Zoe Nay is a Research Associate and Vice-Chancellor Scholar in the Law School and the Institute for Future Environments at the Queensland University of Technology, Australia. Zoe’s research focuses on the intersection between human rights and environmental law with an emphasis on domestic and international climate change policies.

Queensland University of Technology
Australia Australia

Dr Anna Huggins is an Associate Professor in the School of Law at the Queensland University of Technology. Her primary research interests lie in the areas of environmental law and regulatory compliance at the international and domestic levels. Her current projects explore compliance mechanisms in environmental law, and digital and data-driven regulation. Anna’s book, Multilateral Environmental Agreements and Compliance: The Benefits of Administrative Procedures, was published by Routledge in 2018. She is currently leading a research grant on digitising legislation with CSIRO's Data61. 

Queensland University of Technology
Australia Australia

Dr Felicity Deane is an Associate Professor at the Queensland University of Technology. Felicity has published extensively in areas where economics and the law intersect, in particular regarding emissions trading and other forms of market-based instruments. She has recently led projects associated with agriculture in Australia including the regulation of sugar cane farming practices in Queensland, and the experiences of farmers with the Environment, Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.  She is also leading the legal analysis of a multidisciplinary project examining blockchain technology and trade.  

Open Access Journal
ISSN 2652-4074