Unsustainable Development in Canada: Environmental Assessment, Cost-Benefit Analysis, and Environmental Justice in the Tar Sands
(2010) 21 Journal of Environmental Law and Practice 65 (Special Edition on Environmental Assessment)
41 Pages Posted: 10 Oct 2013
Date Written: 2010
Canada is on record as a strong supporter of sustainable development, yet environmental costs of projects like the oilsands are justified by the creation of economic wealth. Tar sands are the fastest growing source of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in Canada, contributing to climate change, which impacts the worlds most vulnerable populations the hardest. How have we reached the conclusion the tar sands create wealth? What kind of wealth? Wealth for whom?
Projects like oil sands are assessed in Canada by means of environmental assessments (EAs). This paper tries to answer two questions in relation to using the tar sands as a case study. First, what is the standard to be reached in Canada, and what should it be? Secondly, how are decision makers assessing whether the economic benefits of projects justify the environmental costs? Though not expressly, they appear to be doing a kind of cost-benefit analysis (CBA) in EAs of proposed projects. Is this an appropriate approach, and if so, are they doing CBA in a complete, fair and transparent way? We argue CBA should not be the basis of environmental assessments, which must be guided by clear and legally forceable minimum standards. However, when performed in a way that attempt to include the full range and types of values in question. CBA can be one tool to identify, clarify and make more accessible the balancing of all competing interests and values at stake in projects like the tar sands, before final decisions are made.
Keywords: Canada, sustainable development, oilsands, environmental costs, economic wealth, tar sands, greenhouse gases, GHG, Canada, climate change, environmental assessments, EA, cost-benefiit analysis, CBA, minimum standards
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