Cumulative Effects Assessment within a Project-Based EIA Paradigm

Cumulative effects assessment considers the totality of anthropogenic impacts on valued ecosystem components. Individually insignificant, but collectively significant, these changes are identified and measured across time and space. It best represents the field’s multidisciplinary approach to impact evaluation, because it involves the compilation and analysis of data from a wide variety of sources, using methods developed by the social and natural sciences. The practice paints a complete picture of the stresses and burdens borne by a particular ecosystem, meaning CEA is EIA “done right” (Noble, 2006, p. 196). As such, what are the moral and ethical implications of being selective with the implementation of CEA? What can be done if this selectivity results in the marginalization of minority groups?

This is precisely the situation faced by the West Moberly First Nations of British Columbia. The EIA for the proposed Central South Coal Mine project is split into two parts; one for potential impacts on “mainstream society,” the other for First Nations groups. Cumulative effects assessment is only included in the assessment of potential adverse effects on mainstream society (5). It has been argued that cumulative effects assessment is essential for the preservation indigenous identity (7), and this is particularly true for the West Moberly First Nations. The proposed site for the project is situated within the habitat of critically endangered caribou, a species that holds great importance to the subsistence hunting lifestyle of this band. Furthermore, industrial development in the region has been linked to caribou population decline (5). The fact that the proposed coal mine will not be evaluated in the broader context of accumulated ecological ills is a travesty. As it currently stands, mainstream British Columbian society will receive an objectively better EIA than First Nations groups; does a more clear-cut case of institutional racism exist than that?

Proposed mine location, 50 km southwest of Chetwynd

What can be done to correct these grievances? Obviously, the implementation of a cumulative effects assessment is required, but who should conduct it? Duinker and Greig believe that consultants can effectively perform CEA within the paradigm of project-based EIA; their position is a pragmatic one, as they believe a radical restructuring of policy to better incorporate CEA is not on the horizon (2). However, I agree with the arguments put forward by Gunn and Noble, who believe CEA should be divorced from projects and conducted at the regional level (3). Furthermore, the public participation process would have to meaningfully engage with First Nations groups to tap into their local knowledge, which potentially spans back for generations. The spatial and temporal information required to conduct a rigorous CEA would benefit greatly from consulting with the groups that have lived there the longest.

Coal mining leaves deep scars in a landscape.

(1)Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. (2012). CEAA. Accessed at:

(2)Duinker, P.N., and L.A. Greig. ‘The Impotence of Cumulative Effects Assessment in Canada: Ailments and Ideas for Redeployment’. Environmental Management 37, no. 2 (2006): 153 – 161.

(3)Gunn, J, and B Noble. ‘Conceptual and Methodological Challenges to Integrating SEA and Cumulative Effects Assessment’. Environmental Impact Assessment Review 31, no. 2 (2011): 154 – 160.

(4)Morgan, R.K. ‘Environmental Impact Assessment: The State of the Art’. Impact Assessment and Project Appraisal 30, no. 1 (2012): 5 – 14.

(5)Muir, Bruce R., and Annie L. Booth. ‘Losing Its Way: Environmental Impact Assessment in British Columbia, Canada’. Environmental Justice 5, no. 3 (2012): 164 – 167

(6) Noble, B.F. (2010). Introduction to environmental impact assessment: A guide to principles and practice. Oxford: University Press.

(7)Tollefson, C, and K Wipond. ‘Cumulative Environmental Impacts and Aboriginal Rights’. Environmental Impact Assessment Review 18 (1998): 371 – 390.


One thought on “Cumulative Effects Assessment within a Project-Based EIA Paradigm

  1. Pingback: oceanNRG Herald Weekly – Streamlining Regulatory Regimes Inclusive of Cumulative Environmental Impact Assessment has a ‘Ways to Go’ | oceanNRG

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