Government of Canada


Use of Strategic Environmental Assessment - SEA Received Nov. 22, 2106

Submitted By: Peter Croal December 28, 2016
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Link SEA and CEAA

The recent report from the Commissioner for Environment and Sustainable Development shows yet again that federal departments are doing a very poor job at complying with the Federal Cabinet Directive on Environmental Assessment of Policies, Plans and Programs (PPP). Compliance with the Cabinet Directive remains weak at best. Yet, Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) is the right tool to identify the "conditions for success" of policies, plans and programs. Environmental data from around the world shows that key environmental indicators are in decline. Climate change is now accelerating the loss of ecosystem resilience and function. The Stockholm Resilience Centre has identified 9 planetary boundaries that sustain life on earth. Three of these have been exceeded. These are carbon dioxide, nitrogen loading and biodiversity loss. Ocean acidification and access to fresh water are 2 boundaries that are the next to be breached. In this context Canada can no longer afford to make broad policy decisions without a diligent use of SEA.

The link to CEAA is therefore obvious. Impact assessment researchers and practitioners have concluded that cumulative effects of individual projects can not be done within the framework of an individual environmental assessment. The only way to assess the cumulative effects of an array of projects in a particular region is to first do an SEA. SEA will provide the triage of key environmental, social and economic issues of a particular PPP. The environmental assessment of a particular project will then be “nested” within the SEA framework. This is an example of the power of tiering that SEA provides.

SEA is being used through policy or law in over 60 countries. Developed and developing countries who use SEA in a diligent way find that the individual environmental assessments are more effective, less expensive, take less time and practically address significant environmental issues.

The environmental issues Canada faces are real and accelerating. Climate change is acting as a catalyst and creating profound negative changes in Canada. To get in front of the environmental issue curve, Canada must take this EA Review opportunity to recognize that SEA can improve and amplify the positive effects of environmental assessments done by federal departments and agencies.

Conclusion: Individual project assessments can not effectively address cumulative impacts.

Recommendation: Imbed a requirement to do an SEA in CEAA 2017 in situations where the SEA could identify and manage the ecosystem boundaries and tipping points impacted by individual projects.

Peter Croal, P. Geol.
International Environment and Development Advisor

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