Policy Delivery

Project-Level Screening, Assessment and Management of Risks and Impacts


Screening and Categorization

Project screening and categorization is conducted at the earliest stage of project preparation when sufficient information is available for this purpose. Screening is undertaken (i) to identify and reflect the significance of potential impacts or risks that project activities might present, and (ii) to identify opportunities to enhance benefits and to support stakeholders. Categorization is undertaken to reflect the level of review and resources required for addressing such impacts and risks.

​UNDP utilizes its Social and Environmental Screening Procedure (SESP) to identify potential social and environmental risks and opportunities associated with the project.1 The SESP screens projects for all environmental and social risks and impacts associated with the SES Programming Principles (i.e. leave no one behind; human rights; gender equality and women's empowerment; sustainability and resilience; and accountability) and Project-level Standards, including direct, indirect, cumulative, transboundary risks and impacts and those related to associated facilities (see paragraph 16 below).​

UNDP's SESP applies a project-level categorization system to reflect the significance of potential social and environmental risks and impacts and to determine the appropriate type and level of social and environmental assessment. Each proposed project is scrutinized as to its type, location, scale, sensitivity and the magnitude of its potential social and environmental impacts. UNDP screens project activities, including planning support, policy advice, and capacity-building (often referred to as "upstream" activities), as well as site-specific, physical interventions ("downstream" activities) and those that will be implemented through procurement.2

Based on the screening, UNDP categorizes projects according to the degree of potential social and environmental risks and impacts. In some cases, applicability of specific requirements will need to be determined through additional scoping, assessment, or management review. The screening process results in one of the following four categories for the proposed project:

  • Low Risk: Projects that include activities with minimal or no adverse social or environmental risks and impacts. Further assessment of potential adverse social and environmental risks and impacts is not required. However, the SES Programming Principles and stakeholder engagement requirements still apply to project activities.
  • Moderate Risk: Projects that include activities with potential adverse social and environmental risks and impacts that are limited in scale, are largely reversible and can be identified with a reasonable degree of certainty and readily addressed through application of recognized good international practice, mitigation measures and stakeholder engagement during project implementation.
  • Substantial Risk: Projects that include activities with potential adverse social and environmental risks and impacts that are more varied or complex than those of Moderate Risk projects but remain limited in scale and are of lesser magnitude than those of High Risk projects (e.g. reversible, predictable, smaller footprint, less risk of cumulative impacts). Substantial Risk projects may also include those with a varied range of risks rated as "Moderate" that require more extensive assessment and management measures. Scoping and assessment may determine that a scoped, fit-for-purpose Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) or Strategic Environmental and Social Assessment (SESA) may be required in order to ensure that the SES requirements are appropriately addressed.
  • High Risk: Projects that include activities with potential significant adverse social and environmental risks and impacts that are irreversible, unprecedented and/or which raise significant concerns among potentially affected communities and individuals as expressed during the stakeholder engagement process. High Risk activities may involve significant adverse impacts on physical, biological, socioeconomic, or cultural resources, and may have the potential to aggravate existing situations of fragility or conflict, adversely affect human rights, lead to extensive environmental degradation and/or contribute to cumulative impacts.3 High Risk projects typically involve a range of issues regarding the SES Programming Principles and Project-level Standards. Activities that promote plans and policy reforms ("upstream" activities) that may lead to significant adverse social and environmental risks and impacts shall be analyzed and addressed, utilizing a potential range of tools, including Strategic Environmental and Social Assessment (SESA). A comprehensive environmental and social impact assessment (ESIA), including development of applicable social and environmental management plans, is required for physical interventions ("downstream" activities) with potentially significant adverse risks and impacts.4 Such assessments are required, for example, for projects that (i) may adversely impact critical habitats, (ii) involve significant displacement and/or resettlement,5 (iii) produce significant quantities of greenhouse gases, (iv) may adversely impact the rights, lands, resources and territories of the indigenous peoples, or (v) other circumstances that reflect potentially significant adverse impacts. Projects will adhere to the requirements and recommendations of the applicable management plan (e.g. ESMP or ESMF). High Risk projects require enhanced internal and external support.6

The Social and Environmental Screening is updated as needed during implementation as part of project risk management and monitoring. At a minimum, projects that undergo substantive revision or experience a change in context that affects the risk profile will be re-screened and potentially re-categorized.


Assessment and Management 

Potential social and environmental risks, impacts and opportunities of supported activities are systematically identified and assessed in an integrated manner. The type and scale of assessment and the agreed management measures should be proportionate to the level of social and environmental risks and impacts.

UNDP supports countries through a wide range of services, including policy advisory services and capacity building. UNDP applies a social and environmental mainstreaming approach to these types of services. UNDP will seek entry points for strengthening capacities for integrated approaches to development policies and planning that consider social and environmental risks and opportunities.7

Projects with potential adverse risks and impacts, including potential impacts which may undermine the realization of human rights, require appropriately-scaled forms of assessment and management measures/plans to avoid and minimize adverse impacts and to improve social and environmental performance.

In addressing projects with potential adverse social and environmental impacts, UNDP requires that key principles are applied, including a precautionary approach to addressing significant environmental and social challenges; the mitigation hierarchy;8 the "polluter pays" principle (whereby the cost of mitigation is borne by the polluter, where relevant); and adaptive management techniques (whereby lessons are learned from past management actions and are proactively utilized to predict and improve management as programming progresses).

The social and environmental assessment process is undertaken as early as possible, noting that in some cases, it will be undertaken as a component of the project. In no case shall project activities that may cause adverse impacts be carried out until completion of the assessment and adoption of appropriate management measures and plans.

The social and environmental assessment process and development of appropriate management measures includes and/or reflects the following criteria and measures:9

  • Impacts on physical, biological, socioeconomic and cultural resources, including direct, indirect, and cumulative impacts in the project's area of influence,10 including those related to associated facilities.11 Potential transboundary and global concerns, including climate pollutants and other emissions, as they relate to project activities. Strategic, sectoral or regional environmental assessment where appropriate. 
  • Relevant environmental and social risks and impacts associated with the SES Programming Principles and Project-level Standards.
  • Risks to human security through escalation of conflict, crime and violence, with appropriate response measures. Take into account the risk of reprisals against individuals and communities in relation to project activities.
  • Applicable legal and institutional framework, including obligations under Applicable Law and confirm that the project would not be supported if it contravenes international obligations.
  • Adequate and recent social and environmental baseline data at an appropriate level of detail, recognizing that variability over time (e.g. seasonal variations, movement of people) may necessitate collection of additional baseline data.
  • Feasibility of investment, technical, and siting alternatives, including the "no action" alternative, as well as potential impacts, feasibility of mitigating these impacts, their capital and recurrent costs, their suitability under local conditions, and the institutional, training and monitoring requirements associated with them.
  • Enhance positive impacts and avoid, minimize, and/or mitigate adverse impacts through social and environmental planning and appropriately-scaled management measures and plans that are adequately budgeted and resourced. Develop an Environmental and Social Management Plan (ESMP) or equivalent scaled to reflect the nature of the activity and its potential impacts (e.g. from relatively simple plans for projects with few social and environmental risks to comprehensive plans for High Risk activities with potentially significant adverse risks and impacts). The ESMP includes the proposed measures for mitigation, monitoring, institutional capacity development and training (if required), an implementation schedule, and cost estimates. When uncertainty remains regarding specific project components or exact locations (e.g. projects still under development, "upstream" activities), develop an Environmental and Social Management Framework (ESMF) in place of an ESMP.12
  • Independent experts not directly affiliated with the implementing partner or UNDP must conduct ESIAs or SESAs for High Risk projects, and where appropriate, Substantial and Moderate Risk projects. UNDP will ensure that conflicts of interest are avoided. Independent advisory panels are used during preparation and implementation of projects that are highly risky or contentious or that involve serious and multi-dimensional social and/or environmental concerns.
  • The needs of particular individuals and groups are assessed that may be differentially or disproportionately affected by the project's potential adverse impacts because of their disadvantaged or marginalized status, due to such factors as race, ethnicity, sex, age, language, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, political or other opinion, national or social or geographical origin, property, birth, health status or other status including as an indigenous person or as a member of a minority. Where such individuals or groups are identified, recommend targeted and differentiated measures are applied to ensure that the adverse impacts do not fall disproportionately on them and they are not disadvantaged in sharing project benefits and opportunities.
  • Potential adverse gender impacts related to project activities are identified and differentiated measures are adopted to prevent gender-based discrimination. Potential risks of gender-based violence and/or sexual exploitation and abuse of men, women, girls and boys that may occur in connection with any of supported activities are considered.
  • Where potential project-related adverse risks and impacts to persons with disabilities are identified, differentiated measures are adopted that ensure non-discrimination and equality, access, and opportunities for persons with disabilities to participate in and benefit from supported activities on an equal basis with others.
  • Early, iterative and meaningful stakeholder engagement and participation, predicated on timely disclosure of relevant information.13
  • Potential environmental and social risks and impacts associated with project contractors and primary suppliers are identified. Specific due diligence should be undertaken to ascertain the performance and reputation of contractors and primary suppliers. Include covenants in legal agreements with project contractors to comply with relevant SES requirements. Risks and impacts associated with project primary suppliers should be addressed in a manner proportionate to UNDP's control or influence over them.

UNDP's mandatory Social and Environmental Screening Procedure (SESP) provides detailed requirements and guidance on screening and assessment.


Footnotes: ​

​(1) See UNDP Social and Environmental Screening Procedure, including guidance in applying the SESP. 

(2) A limited range of project types are exempt from screening as listed in the UNDP Social and Environmental Screening Procedure (SESP), namely projects that consist solely of any of the following functions or activities: (a) UNDP serves as Administrative Agent; (b) Preparation and dissemination of reports, documents and communication materials; (c) Organization of an event, workshop, training; (d) Strengthening capacities of partners to participate in international negotiations and conferences; (e) Partnership coordination (including UN coordination) and management of networks; (f) Global/regional projects with no country level activities (e.g. knowledge management, inter-governmental processes). These projects are assumed to be Low Risk.

(3) UNDP's Social and Environmental Screening Procedure contains an indicative list of potential "High Risk" projects.

(4) For example, an Environmental and Social Management Plan (ESMP) or an Environmental and Social Management Framework (ESMF). An ESMF is a document that establishes a mechanism to determine and assess future potential social and environmental impacts of a project or programme when uncertainty remains on the project's forthcoming components or exact locations.

(5) Significant displacement and/or resettlement refers here to its potential scale. UNDP typically requires a full ESIA for all projects involving displacement or/resettlement; however where potential displacement and/or resettlement may be minimal, UNDP may determine that its requirements could be met without a full ESIA.

(6) For High Risk projects for which assessments have been commissioned or completed prior to UNDP’s support, UNDP reviews the assessment (and/or its terms of reference) and works with Implementing Partners to ensure that it fulfills UNDP’s requirements.

(7) UNDP applies a range of tools to support social and environmental mainstreaming; these approaches and tools are outlined in Toolkit for UNDP's Social and Environmental Standards.

(8) The mitigation hierarchy is applied by (a) anticipating and avoiding risks and impacts; (b) where avoidance is not possible, minimizing or reducing risks and impacts; (c) once risks and impacts have been minimized or reduced, mitigating them; and (d) where residual adverse impacts remain, compensating for or offsetting them, where technically and financially feasible.

(9) See UNDP's SESP and the SES Guidance Note on Social and Environmental Assessment and Management.

(10) A project’s area of influence encompasses (i) the primary project site(s) and related facilities (e.g. access roads, pipelines, canals, disposal areas), (ii) associated facilities (see footnote 151), (iii) areas and communities potentially affected by cumulative impacts from the project or from other relevant past, present and reasonably foreseeable developments in the geographic area (e.g. reduction of water flow in a watershed due to multiple withdrawals), and (iv) areas and communities potentially affected by induced impacts from unplanned but predictable developments or activities caused by the project, which may occur later or at a different location (e.g. facilitation of settlements, illegal logging, agricultural activities by new roads in intact forest areas).

(11) Associated facilities means facilities or activities that are not funded as part of the project but are directly related to the project, are carried out or planned to be carried out contemporaneously with the project, and are necessary for the project to be viable and would not have been conducted, constructed or expanded if the project did not exist. (e.g. transmission lines to connect UNDP-supported solar energy facility).

(12) UNDP's SES Guidance Note on Social and Environmental Assessment and Management contains outlines and guidance for preparing ESMPs and ESMFs.

(13) Draft social and environmental assessments, including any draft management plans, are to be disclosed whenever possible before project appraisal formally begins. See the SES Guidance Note on Stakeholder Engagement, including access to information guidance.