How do we know if environmental impact assessment is effective?
Environmental impact assessment (EIA) has a relatively long history as an environmental management tool. It is well established, widely practised and arguably well regarded. But its effectiveness is debated and not well understood. In Canada recent changes to federal legislation and some provincial systems may compromise the capacity of EIA to help environmental management and mitigate risks and impacts.
Effectiveness is a long-standing issue in EIA research—the theme is fundamental to the development of EIA and essential to understanding its contributions to environmental management. However, systematic evaluations of the actual impacts and influence of EIA on environmental quality and policy are rare, and the Canadian context is no exception.
Is EIA an effective instrument for environmental management in Canada? EIA laws exist in every Canadian province, territory and at the federal level; however, we lack comprehensive evaluations of the efficacy of Canadian EIA. Agencies and scholars have examined the influence of individual EIA dynamics; such as public participation, monitoring, or social learning. Some have looked at how ‘happy’ stakeholders, notably agencies and development proponents, are with EIA. These studies have tended to focus on streamlining EIA systems, or making them easier for those whose undertakings are subject to EIA. But has this concern with process efficiency come at the expense of effective EIA?
Our research aims to go beyond process studies. We are working to develop criteria that can be used to better understand the impact of Canadian EIA, and provide research that examines the nuanced factors that help shape its effectiveness.
Top of the page: Two major rail lines and the Trans-Canada highway follow the Thompson River in south central British Columbia. Expansion of linear facilities entails unique engineering and environmental challenges. The valley is home to wildlife and the river is a major route for migrating salmon. Indigenous people have a long history in the area, the oldest continually settled community in Canada is located at Lytton, not too far from where this photo was taken.
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At the IAIA 2013 Conference in Calgary
Brandon Gregg, Kevin Hanna, Bram Noble and Wanda Leung
Pipelines, benefits and risks. UBC highlights the work of EIA Effectiveness Project. Read more here.
The 2014 conference of the International Association for Impact Assessment will be held in Chile at Viña del Mar, from April 8 to 11. Visit the IAIA conference website.
The proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline project, and the associated Environmental Assessment, have become controversial topics in Canadian politics. In a new eBook, “Place and Pipelines: The Northern Gateway Pipeline and our Home Places,” UBC student Andrew Barton writes about his research on the sense of place expressed by local people who gave statements at the Joint Review Panel hearings. Barton frames their comments within his own journey along the proposed pipeline route. Click here to see the eBook.
Brandon Gregg presented the results of his Delphi research at the 2013 IAIA conference in Calgary. The Delphi study surveyed EA researchers in Canada to predict performance and impact issues in the new Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. Click here to see the presentation.
At IAIA 2013 Wanda Leung presented the results of her graduate thesis research, 'Impacts and Influence of the Timber Class EA In Ontario'. Wanda's work shows that EA has had a significant impact on forest management, and helped shape institutional approaches to forestry policy in Ontario. The research highlights the key role that EA can play in managing public forests and advancing forest policy.
Also at IAIA 2013, Kevin Hanna and Bram Noble presented 'Criteria for effective EA: A Delphi study' which outlines effectiveness criteria that can be used to better understand and evaluate the impact of EA on environmental quality and decision-making.
In 2012 the Canadian federal government in Canada has radically changed the application of EA at the federal level. The new EA Act was passed before the summer as part of the budget bill. This itself was an unusual way of amending environmental law in Canada. The new Act and information about the federal EA process can be seen on the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency website.
The German EA Association invited Kevin Hanna and Bram Noble to write a brief critique of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency's Registry. The paper can be found in UVP-report 25 (4): 222-225, or just click here.
A Delphi study has been used to devleop a set of effectiveness criteria. A brief presentation made at the OAIA conference has been posted on the Publications and Workshops page. This presentation provides a summary of the Delphi results.
Our submission to the to the House of Commons Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development regarding the review of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act is posted here. The submission also summarises the results of the Delphi study. Click here to view the submission in English. Ou en français.
Bram Noble and Kevin Hanna have made a submission regarding the statutory review of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act to the House of Commons Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development. The submission relates the results of the Delphi study. View the submission in English. Ou en français.
Wanda Leung presented initial results from the Class Timber EA Study at Ontario Association for Impact Assessment (OAIA 2011), Toronto. Ontario's Environmental Commissioner (Gord Miller) also spoke at the OAIA conference and mentioned Wanda's work in his opening statement. Commissioner Miller noted the importance and relevance of her conclusions to our understanding of the Class Timber EA its history and outcomes.
Kevin Hanna spoke about efficacy criteria at the OAIA conference in late October, OAIA 2011, Toronto. This presentation outlined the 9 final criteria that were developed from the Delphi Study.
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