Understanding the need for and implications of climate change based environmental assessment in Canada

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Scott, Newall
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Despite the efforts of the Federal Government to create a new Impact Assessment Act (2019) that included meaningful approaches for assessing the climate change contributions of projects as part of an environmental assessment, many would argue that these efforts fell well short. My thesis attempts to understand the factors that contribute to Canada’s inability to develop and implement an effective climate changebased approach to environmental assessment, in addition to conceptualizing the best approaches for including climate change considerations in EA in Canada. To achieve this, I performed a review of relevant literature and conducted interviews with experts in fields related to environmental assessment, climate change, law, industry and politics. Interviews were designed to obtain perspectives on the barriers impeding a successful climate change approach in EA as well as thoughts on ways current processes could be improved. The results of my work indicate that there are significant barriers to achieving a meaningful climate changed-based EA process that stem from economic and political considerations, such as embedded economic inertia and the strength of industrial lobbies. There are also many concerns with how current processes in EA, or lack thereof, are addressing climate change. Additionally, my data reveals that there are several ways we can work to improve the consideration of climate in EA in Canada, such as through a proper strategic assessment of climate considerations that would answer key questions and provide guidance to industries and practitioners as to how our project level EA activities contribute to the achievement of our broader climate change goals in Canada. Additional changes to project assessment, such as determining the proper context through which project GHG emissions are analyzed and performing a thorough assessment of project alternatives ‘to’, would also help to improve the effectiveness of the of EA process in relation to climate considerations.
Climate Change, Environmental Assessment