Looking Up, Down, and Sideways: Reconceiving Cumulative Effects Assessment as a Mindset
(2017) 62 EIAR 183.
43 Pages Posted: 4 May 2016 Last revised: 14 Apr 2020
Date Written: April 26, 2016
Despite all the effort that has gone into defining, researching and establishing best practices for cumulative effects assessment (CEA), understanding remains weak and practice wanting. At one extreme of implementation, CEA can be described as merely an irritant to the completion of a project-specific environmental assessment (EA). At the other extreme, the conceptual view is that all effects in EA should be deemed cumulative unless demonstrated otherwise. Our purpose here is to consider how we might reconceive CEA as a mindset that is at the heart of absolutely every assessment of valued ecosystem component (VEC) to ensure that we understand the relative contributions of various stressors and can decide when cumulative effects may foreclose future activities due to impacts on VECs.
Conceptually, we ground the CEA mindset in the context of three lenses that must all be functioning and working together for the mindset to be operative: a technical lens; a law and policy lens; and a participatory lens. Our arguments are based on a review of the CEA, strategic effects assessment (SEA) and regional effects assessment literatures, an examination and consideration of Canadian EA and SEA case practice, and our combined professional experiences. Through using the Bay of Fundy in Canada as a case example, we establish the concept of the CEA mindset and an approach for moving forward with implementation.
Keywords: cumulative effect, environmental assessment
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