Advancing Strategic Environmental Assessment Concept and Practice: A Role for SEA in Energy Transitions
Nwanekezie, Kelechi Joy
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Increasing demands to address some of society’s most complex environmental and sustainability issues are defining a new agenda for strategic environmental assessment (SEA) research and practice. SEA, practiced solely in accordance with the traditional project EIA paradigm, has in the past failed to live up to its promise of facilitating true sustainability transitions and promoting the strategic choices needed to achieve broader sustainability goals and objectives. This thesis advances the notion that in order for SEA to fully realize its potential as a sustainability decision-making tool, attention must be paid to the decision processes for addressing environmental and sustainability issues, including the relevant institutional arrangements and governance structures that can enable or constrain the successful formulation and implementation of strategic initiatives. In comparison to the more traditional understanding of SEA as an impact assessment-based tool, however, such an approach to SEA remains relatively undeveloped and untested. The thesis provides a distinct conceptualization that frames SEA as agency in the broader context of socio-technical transitions for sustainability. The research adopts a mixed-method approach, which primarily entails an in-depth review of scholarly literature, document analysis, and semi-structured interviews. The results are presented in four manuscripts. The first manuscript provides a systematic conceptualization of the various SEA approaches and also highlights the need for a new research agenda focused on the development and testing of an institution-centered and more deliberative governance approach to SEA. The second manuscript explores the diversity and state of SEA practice in Canada in light the multiple dimensions of SEA effectiveness. While much of current practice under the Cabinet directive remains entrenched in project-based assessment principles, more exemplary cases of SEA and SEA-like practices are occurring in diverse forms across Canada. The third manuscript presents the transition-based SEA conceptual framework detailing the key elements and strategic questions to be asked in such EA design. The SEA design focuses on the guiding vision for transitions, the institutional context and governance arrangements, opportunities and risks of proposed sustainability pathways, progress indicators for on-going transition management, and impacts of the exogenous landscape. Finally the fourth manuscript provides an empirical application of the framework to the case of renewable energy transitions in the province of Saskatchewan, Canada. The results highlight the need for transparency and accountability to ensure effective implementation of the transition-based SEA design. The thesis concludes with a recap of the current state of knowledge in terms of SEA research and practice, discusses the research implications of advancing SEA methodology following the transition-based approach. The thesis defines the path for a renewed research agenda and contributes to the much-needed advancement in SEA theory and practice.
DegreeDoctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
DepartmentGeography and Planning
CommitteeHackett, Paul; Rayner, Jeremy; Poelzer, Greg; Bell, Scott
Copyright DateNovember 2021