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11 Crucial Requirements To Get Cumulative Effects Right

cumulative effects environmental impact assessment indigenous land use management framework natural range of variation planning project planning / approval Mar 16, 2016


Recently I had the opportunity to participate as a speaker and a delegate at two excellent conferences in British Columbia, Canada centered on cumulative effects assessment;

Columbia Mountain Institute Applied Ecology’s Environmental and Social Assessment Forum

Canadian Institute Energy Group’s Cumulative Effects and the Future of Natural Resource Management

First let me share that both events were extremely well organized and a pleasure to be a part of.   Both Hailey Ross (CMIAE) and Elizabeth Dempsey (CI Energy Group) are outstanding organizers. Both events had excellent speakers and delegates providing good learning and dialogue from range of perspectives.

I found much of what was discussed was in-line with what I believe are crucial requirements for getting Cumulative Effects Assessments done right and meeting today's decision-making needs including: 

  1. Comprehensive cumulative effects assessments are a critical component of resource management decision-making
  2. Cumulative Effects Assessments must be undertaken across meaningful time and space relevant to the values being assessed, not constrained by an individual project’s lifespan.
  3. Baselines should be measured from historic conditions like pre-European contact and incorporate Range Of Natural Variation.
  4. Regional Management Frameworks are needed that define Cumulative Effects targets and thresholds at the landscape scale for all human land uses and natural disturbance.
  5. We must not isolate a project out of the context of the landscape and the culture in which it resides. If we do, which is the status quo in most areas, frustration from Indigenous people, stakeholders and the public will continue to rise and lead to conflict.
  6. Environmental Impact Assessments are not meeting this landscape level cumulative effects assessment need – but they are probably not the right instruments. A big problem today is that EIA’s are often the only point of entry to the discussion – and this leads to conflict because EIA’s are only meant to be a test of the project.
  7. Frameworks need to be put in place now, and be mandated by policy and/or legislation so that decision makers, e.g. the regulators, have a better basis to implement cumulative effects management.
  8. CEAA 2012 review, Alberta Land Use Framework, Secwépemc Land Management Framework, BC Cumulative Effects Framework Pilot, Dehcho and Sahtu are some current examples of the trend towards Regional Frameworks in Canada.
  9. Inclusion of Indigenous People and Stakeholders in the assessment needs to start at the beginning of the assessment, not at the end.
  10. Trust has been lost because the current process is not adequately providing for input from Indigenous People, Stakeholders and the public.
  11. Social and cultural indicators are the weakest in current cumulative effects assessment – effort needs to be put here to improve