Integrating strategic environmental assessment and cumulative effects assessment in Canada
Harriman Gunn, Jill
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In Canada, interest in regional strategic environmental assessment as a framework for assessing cumulative environmental effects is growing. Strategic environmental assessment, and in particular regional strategic environmental assessment, is generally regarded as the preferred assessment framework within which to address cumulative effects due to its broad scale of assessment and its focus on influencing future development. However, very little research has been done to confront the challenges, either conceptually or methodologically, in operationalizing strategic environmental assessment at a regional scale and in assessing cumulative environmental effects in this regional and strategic context. This dissertation advances work in this area by defining a conceptual framework and generic methodology for regional strategic environmental assessment that deliberately integrates cumulative effects considerations. The research methodology includes a literature review, framework and case reviews, and three sets of interviews with Canadian and international practitioners, academics, and administrators knowledgeable on strategic environmental assessment and cumulative effects assessment issues. The research results are reported in four manuscripts. The first manuscript presents a typology of current approaches to regional cumulative effects assessment. The second manuscript reviews lessons from recent attempts at regional-scale, strategically-focused environmental analysis in Canada that include an impact assessment component and explicit attention to cumulative environmental effects. The third manuscript presents a structured framework for regional strategic environmental assessment in Canada, and the fourth manuscript discusses conceptual and methodological challenges that accompany the integration of strategic environmental assessment and cumulative effects assessment. Significant findings include that cumulative effects assessment does indeed represent a significant conceptual and methodological challenge in a strategic assessment context and that cumulative effects assessment in this context requires more than simply “adding up” direct effects. Further, this research indicates that the seminal contribution of regional strategic environmental assessment is to determine the pace and nature of future development in a region, including significant regional environmental thresholds, targets, and limits; and to inform decision makers of the broader, the slower-moving, the farther-reaching, and perhaps the more insidious currents of environmental change. Moving forward, there is a need to further develop and demonstrate approaches to cumulative effects assessment in a strategic context, develop a supportive legislative and regulatory framework for regional strategic environmental assessment in Canada, and define the unique contribution of regional strategic assessment in relation to regional planning and management.
DegreeDoctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
SupervisorNoble, Bram F.
cumulative effects assessment
environmental impact assessment
strategic environmental assessment
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