Integrating Climate Change Mitigation into the Impact Assessment Act

AuthorMeinhard Doelle
 13
Integrating Climate Change Mitigation
into the Impact Assessment Act
Meinhard Doelle*
The successful conclusion of the UN climate negotiations resulted in
the Paris Agreement’s entry into force on 4 November 2016. Most UN
member states including Canada have committed to make all rea-
sonable eorts to reduce their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and to
become carbon neutral within the next few decades.1 All parties have
set some initial reduction targets that are to be enhanced over time.2
Impact assessment (IA) is a critical tool for meeting both short- and
long-term commitments as it provides an opportunity to ensure that
decisions about new projects, proposals, and undertakings are con-
sistent with decarbonization goals.
Integrating climate change into IA requires consideration of both
mitigation and adaptation, along with the adverse impacts not pre-
vented through mitigation and adaptation eorts (sometimes referred
to as loss and damage). Although these areas are connected, each brings
* The research for this chapter was funded by the Social Science and Humanities Research
Council (SSHRC) of Canada.
1 Paris Agreement, 22 April 2016, UNTS art 2 (entered into force 4 November 2016).
2 In the course of the 2019 election campaign, the current federal government commit-
ted to a target of net zero emissions by 2050 and has signalled a review of its 2030 tar-
get of reducing emissions to 30 percent below 2005 levels; see “A Net-Zero Emissions
Future,” online: Liberal Party of Canada
     278
unique challenges. The focus of this chapter is on the mitigation ele-
ment, which includes GHG emissions as well as impacts on natural
sinks such as forests, soils, grasslands, and oceans. Adaptation, although
equally important, has a more established role in assessment processes
and is not considered here.
Many countries are in the process of making decisions about major
energy, transportation, and building infrastructure that are expected to
serve them for decades to come. Bad decisions can lead to emissions
being locked in for many decades or to stranded assets in the billions
of dollars for project proponents and diculties for the individuals,
communities, and economies that become dependent on these activ-
ities. Furthermore, making major changes in direction aer projects
are approved risks exposing countries that have entered into investor
protection agreements to challenges by foreign investors aected
by post-approval policy decisions that might impact the viability of
approved projects.3 Clearly, the stakes are high.
GHG emissions are unlike other adverse environmental impacts
traditionally assessed and a challenge to incorporate into exist-
ing IA methodologies and processes. This is due in part to three key
1) The eects of releasing GHG emissions are felt globally, with
regional variations in the nature and scale of the eects.
2) The eects are delayed.
3) The emissions and eects on sinks are cumulative, with the result
that a given eect cannot be traced back to a specic project beyond
the increase in GHG concentrations in the atmosphere.
The resulting dilemma is that the climate impacts of proposed projects
are distributed globally and over time, including to future generations,
whereas the benets of projects tend to be more local and immediate. It
is perhaps understandable that before the entry into force of the Paris
Agreement, IA practitioners and project decision makers sometimes
preferred to ignore climate change altogether or summarily dismissed
3 See, for example, Clayton and Bilcon of Delaware Inc v Government of Canada(April
2008),PCA Case No 2009-04,17 March 2015; AbitibiBowater Inc v Government of Can-
ada (15December 2010), ICSID Case No UNCT/10/1. Although they don’t deal directly
with a change in regulatory condition following environmental assessment approval,
they both serve to illustrate the risk.

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