Earlier this month, the Report of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development (the “Report”) was released. This Report is the first issued by Julie Gelfand, the recently appointed Commissioner of Environment and Sustainable Development.
Several important questions are posed in the Report (page 1). Are federal departments prepared to meet the challenges of the future? Are federal departments gathering sufficient information to manage the environmental and social risks that economic development can bring? And if so, are they acting on this information to reduce these risks? In answering these questions, the Report looks at:
- the reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions,
- environmental monitoring of oils sands development,
- marine navigation in the Canadian Arctic,
- implementation of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012 (CEAA 2012), and
- selected federal departments’ progress in integrating environmental considerations into their policies, plans and programs through their strategic environmental assessment processes.
As usual, the Report also includes a review of environmental petitions over the audit period. Many of the recommendations contained in the Report were focused either on the federal government’s reduction of GHG emissions or implementation of CEAA 2012.
Reduction of greenhouse gas emissions
Relevant to GHG emission reduction, the Report focuses on progress in four areas: establishing measures to reduce GHG emissions; assessing the success of the measures; working with provinces and territories; and developing plans to achieve the 2020 Copenhagen Accord target. The Report concludes that progress in these four areas has been unsatisfactory.
In particular, the Report states that climate change planning has been ineffective, and that those actions which have been taken have been slow and not well coordinated. It points out that the federal government lacks a process for coordinating actions with the provinces and territories. The Report also states that it is concerned Canada will not meet its 2020 emission reduction target and notes that the federal government does not yet have a plan for how it will work toward the greater reductions required beyond 2020.
The Report contains several recommendations for improvement of the federal government’s efforts to reduce GHG emissions. Many of the recommendations focus on transparency issues such as publication of plans for future regulations, reporting on effects of current regulations and regular reporting to Parliament on progress. As well, the Report recommends several improvements to the federal government’s planning process for GHG emission reduction.
Implementation of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012
In light of recent changes to the federal environmental assessment regime, the Report focused on whether systems and practice necessary for implementation of CEAA 2012 have been put in place. Two critical areas for meeting the objectives of CEAA 2012 were identified.
Firstly, there is a need for clarity and transparency around the basis on which projects are designated and screening decisions are made. The Report states that the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency’s rationale for identification of projects for assessment is unclear. This lack of clarity applies to the manner in which projects were or may be selected for inclusion or exclusion in the Regulations Designating Physical Activities), the process for recommending case-by-case designation of projects for environmental assessment and the screening process.
Secondly, there must be mechanisms to ensure meaningful participation by the public and Aboriginal peoples in environmental assessments. The Report states that there are such mechanisms in place; however, there are gaps which need to be addressed. These gaps include a lack of transparent guidance as to who may participate in public hearings and a lack of a systematic process for engaging with Aboriginal peoples on policy issues.
The Report contains several recommendations for improving the implementation of CEAA 2012. These recommendations address the need for clarity and transparency around the basis on which projects are designated and screening decisions are made, and the mechanisms for ensuring meaningful public participation. As well, the Report recommends that improvements be made to cumulative effects guidance for projects regulated under the Canada Oil and Gas Operations Act.
What does this mean?
To prepare for resource development, federal departments need to take a more integrated approach to decision making, one that recognizes the many linkages between the economy, the environment, and society. They can do this by investing in better information, acting on the knowledge they acquire, and engaging Canadians in their decisions.
Pursuant to a desire to “streamline” environmental regulation, the federal government has made significant changes to Canada’s environmental laws (see our summary of changes here and here). In our view, regulatory “streamlining” should not occur at the expense of meaningful public engagement, well informed decision-making or sufficient environmental protection. As the Report states, “[l]eft unmanaged, today’s environmental risks will impose future economic and social costs” (page 2).