The Scope and Focus of Cumulative Effects and Regional Assessment

AuthorJill Blakley, Bram Noble, and Jason MacLean
 11
The Scope and Focus of Cumulative Eects
and Regional Assessment
Jill Blakley, Bram Noble, and Jason MacLean
The assessment of cumulative environmental eects has been a require-
ment for project proponents since impact assessment legislation was
rst introduced in Canada in 1995. Simply dened, cumulative eects
assessment (CEA) is a systematic process for identifying, analyzing,
and evaluating the cumulative eects associated with a project.1 The
goals of CEA are somewhat more complex, but the overall thrust of
practice within a regulatory context is to support project-based impact
assessment and decision making. In principle, this is achieved by deter-
mining whether or not valued components of the biophysical or social
environment likely to be impacted by a proposed project are also likely
to be impacted by the eects of other known past, present, or future
developments or disturbances in the project’s regional environment.
A requirement for CEA has been included in each version of federal
impact assessment legislation in Canada, but it is also routinely prac-
ticed in the context of non-regulatory, regional assessments and land
use planning initiatives. Although the performance of CEA in Canada
and abroad has tended to receive more criticism than praise, the need
for eective CEA processes has never been stronger. This is due in part
1 “Canada-Wide Denitions and Principles for Cumulative Eects” (2014), online (pdf):
Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environmentles/Resources/enviro_
     242
to a growing awareness of novel, complex, and connected global risks
(sometimes called “Anthropocene risks”2) and an increased policy and
legal focus on issues such as climate change, ocean acidication, loss of
biodiversity, freshwater pollution and shortages, and Indigenous rights.
Canada’s Impact Assessment Act (IAA)3 carries with it an expectation
that CEA would be both strengthened for project-based reviews and
more connected with both regional and strategic environmental assess-
ments. This chapter examines the provisions for cumulative eects and
regional assessment under the IAA in light of established standards and
suggests actions needed to ensure eective implementation through
regulations, policies, and guidance. In Section B, we summarize what
the IAA says about cumulative eects and regional assessment. In Sec-
tion C, we evaluate these provisions with respect to internationally
peer-reviewed literature and other established guidance for good-prac-
tice cumulative eects and regional assessment. Finally, in Section D,
we discuss both opportunities and challenges to strengthen implemen-
tation of the IAA, concluding that several steps can be taken to do so. In
Chapter 17, we explore provisions for strategic environmental assess-
ment more closely.
The Act contains several sections that directly mention both cumulative
eects and regional assessment. The CEA-related provisions include
the purposes of the Act4 and the factors to be considered in impact
assessment.5 Cumulative eects are also indirectly referenced in the
denition of “environment” in the IAA.6 Provisions related to regional
assessment include the Act’s preamble, the purposes of the Act, section
6(1)(m), and sections 92 and 93(1), which outline the role of the federal
2 Victor Galaz, “Anthropocene Risks: Social Scientists Need to Step Up to the Challenge”
The Guardian (12 November 2014), online:
3 SC 2019, c 28, s 1.
4 Ibid at s 6(1)(m).
5 Ibid at s 22(1)(a)(ii).
6 Ibid at s 2.

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