Government of Canada


The Role of Environmental Assessment in Risk Governance: Improving How We Assess and Manage Systemic Risk

Submitted By: Stella Swanson December 22, 2016

Systemic risk is complex, uncertain and ambiguous. The governance of systemic risk requires more than science. Current environmental assessment processes are ineffective tools for governance of systemic risk. The lack of consideration of values, interests, and rights produces outrage and declarations of intolerable risk. I suggest that all projects with a potential to fall within the definition of systemic risk be subject to a screening process prior to any technically-focussed assessment. I propose that the screening process start with a broad social/political discourse which includes: indigenous and public values, rights, and interests; an exploration of the meaning of justice in the context of a proposed project; government policy and legal requirements (communicated coherently and clearly); sustainability principles; and, technical information. The result of the broad discourse would be a consensus regarding what would constitute acceptable, tolerable and intolerable risk with respect to the proposed conceptual project. Projects will fall within the acceptable or tolerable risk ranges would still be subject to risk management. Projects which fall within the intolerable risk range could be rejected outright, or be examined for ways and means to move them into the tolerable range. The screening process will not succeed unless it is built upon a foundation of trust, which, in turn will arise from effective and inclusive communication.

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