Sustainability through Law Reform
The sustainability of proposed projects (e.g., pipelines, oil sands mines, hydro dams) and policies (e.g., federal budgets) should be assessed by law says Nature Canada.
Appearing on behalf of Nature Canada before the Expert Panel on Environmental Assessment Processes on November 1, Stephen Hazell noted that federal environmental assessment laws and policies in place since 1992 have not made a major contribution to reversing the trends toward greater unsustainability in Canada—whether measured in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, protecting biodiversity, greening the economy, improving the health of communities, or advancing reconciliation with Indigenous people.
Hazell said that Nature Canada is confident that a reformed federal impact assessment regime can nonetheless be a critical tool to achieving ecological, economic and social sustainability.
Sustainability assessment asks the question: Does a project or policy provide a net contribution to lasting environmental, social and economic well-being without demanding trade-offs that entail significant adverse effects? Sustainability assessment goes beyond environmental assessment, which asks much narrower questions such as how adverse environmental effects of a project can be made less bad. Sustainability assessment seeks to improve positive elements of a project as well mitigate negative elements.
Hazell also argued that assessments of the environmental effects of proposed federal policies (so-called strategic environmental assessments or SEAs) should also be required by law. The federal budget is arguably the most important federal environmental policy in any given year, yet is not systematically examined for its contribution to sustainability because of budget secrecy concerns. But a strategic environmental assessment of federal budgets could be conducted after the budget is delivered, with the learnings from that SEA informing subsequent budgets.
The Expert Panel was established by the Hon. Catherine McKenna in August 2016 to review federal environmental assessment processes. The Expert Panel is engaging broadly with Indigenous people, key stakeholders and Canadians including through hearing sessions and workshops held in over 20 communities across Canada. The Expert Panel is tasked with reporting back to the Minister in January 2017.