A Zombie EIA process in Quebec ?

The economic downturn which started in 2008 has now lasted for a number of years. To counter the effects of the recession, the recently elected Liberal government in Quebec has decided to take measures to cut so-called redundant spending and create jobs.

With the latter objective in mind, two major projects have recently received approval. The first is the McInnis Cement Plant in Port-Daniel, Gaspésie.

Plan of McInnis Cement Plant, Port-Daniel, Gaspésie

This project, partially funded by the government, will create about 400 permanent jobs [1] in a region with few job opportunities, but will also be a major source of greenhouse gas pollution. This cement plan was a priority for the previous government, and it seems to be a priority for the current government as well. In fact, the Couillard government has introduced Bill 37 to allow the project to be exempted from a review by the BAPE (Bureau d’Audiences Publique en Environnement), because of threats from the proponent to pull out if the project would have to go through this more extensive process [2]. It should be noted that the construction of the plant had already started before the introduction of Bill 37. How then can the BAPE influence the design of the project?  As you will see in this short news coverage (in French only) by Radio-Canada [3], there are a number of legal issues related to this project, but some of the environmental concerns were arguably “dissipated” through mediation between the proponent and environmental organizations. Is that enough considering the lack of transparency in the process?

The second major project is the Arnaud Mine in Sept-Îles, Quebec. This mine will extract apatite, a mineral used in the production of fertilizers and create about 330 permanent jobs [5]. The Couillard government has announced that the Arnaud mine project would go forward (with 10 additional conditions) on March 16, 2015, about one year after a review of the project by the BAPE [6]. In 2014, the BAPE had declared in a report that in its current form, the project was unacceptable, mainly because of risks of groundwater contamination, health, noise, and air quality issues, and a lack of social acceptability of the project (division within the community) [7]. From the information available, since the initial review of the project by the BAPE, the proponent has not submitted a revised version of the project.

Protest against the Mine Arnaud project, Sept-ÎlesProtest to support the Mine Arnaud project, Sept-Îles

These two examples show the little regard the government has towards the environmental impact assessment (EIA) process and the little impact EIA reports have on decisions. Are we going back to treating the EIA process as a hindrance to development?

“Je ne sacrifierai pas une seule job dans la forêt pour le caribou”
Phillipe Couillard, Quebec Prime Minister [8]

This quote from the Quebec prime minister demonstrates that the government puts a higher value on job creation and short-term growth than on sustainable development or any environmental concern. This philosophy has led the government to bypass its own legislation, as seen especially in the McInnis cement plant case, and to ignore recommendations by its independent panel of experts in the environmental field (BAPE). This behavior and discourse will likely decrease the confidence citizens have in the EIA process in general and lead to further pessimism towards governments [9].

Maybe it is time for governments to create a long-term plan for the future and to stop opposing economics and environment. We need to have a vision as a society to focus governmental policies. In the meantime, a number of actions should be undertaken to strengthen the EIA process. First, we need to give legislative power to the BAPE, so that they have means to implement their recommendations. Second, we should systematically consider the “no-project” alternative when evaluating projects.


Sources :

[1] Radio-Canada (2014). Port-Daniel aura sa cimenterie. Ici Radio-CanadaLast update: June 2nd, 2014. http://ici.radio-canada.ca/regions/est-quebec/2014/06/02/001-cimenterie-port-daniel-gouvernement-couillard.shtml

[2] Shields, Alexandre. (2015). La cimenterie de Port-Daniel échappera définitivement au BAPE. Le Devoir. Actualités sur l’environnement. 19 février 2015. http://www.ledevoir.com/environnement/actualites-sur-l-environnement/432213/la-cimenterie-de-port-daniel-echappera-definitivement-au-bape

[3] Biron, Martine. (2015). Cimenterie de Port-Daniel-Gascons : Québec veut éliminer toute entrave au projet. Ici Radio-Canada. Last update: February 18, 2015. http://ici.radio-canada.ca/nouvelles/politique/2015/02/18/005-cimenterie-port-daniel-projet-loi-quebec-eviter-bape.shtml

[4] Corbeil, Michel (2015). Feu vert à Mine Arnaud. Le Soleil. March 13. 2015. http://www.lapresse.ca/le-soleil/affaires/les-regions/201503/12/01-4851720-feu-vert-a-mine-arnaud.php

[5] (2011). Mine Arnaud: Un projet de diversification économique. http://www.minearnaud.com/fr/benefices/

[6] Radio-Canada (2015). Feu vert à Mine Arnaud. Ici Radio-Canada. Last update: March 16, 2015. http://ici.radio-canada.ca/regions/est-quebec/2015/03/16/002-mine-arnaud-annonce-sept-iles.shtml

[7] Québec Meilleure Mine (2014). Conclusion historique par le BAPE: Projet Mine Arnaud à Sept-Îles jugé “inacceptable”. Mining Watch Canada. Last update: http://www.miningwatch.ca/fr/news/conclusion-historique-par-le-bape-projet-mine-arnaud-sept-les-jug-inacceptable

[8] Côté, Charles (2014). Bras de fer en vue sur le caribou. La Presse. Last update: April 28, 2014. http://www.lapresse.ca/environnement/especes-en-danger/201404/28/01-4761476-bras-de-fer-en-vue-sur-le-caribou.php

[9] Morissette, Samuel. (2013). Les parlementaires de l’Assemblée nationale et le cynisme envers la politique: Entre la réalité politique et l’utopie démocratique. Fondation Jean-Charles-Bonenfant, Assemblée nationale du Québec. 42 pages. Retrieved at: http://www.fondationbonenfant.qc.ca/stages/documents/Essai_SamuelMorrissette.pdf

Images:

McInnis Cement Plant: http://argent.canoe.ca/nouvelles/les-desmarais-et-les-beaudoin-saffronteront-dans-le-ciment-17102013

Protest against the Mine Arnaud Project: http://tvanouvelles.ca/lcn/infos/regional/estduquebec/archives/2013/09/20130921-171034.html

Demonstration to support the Mine Arnaud Project: http://tvanouvelles.ca/lcn/infos/regional/estduquebec/archives/2014/03/20140314-202740.html

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Saving Our Assets: Downfall of Climate Change Adaptation

Toronto, ON, Canada

 Saving Our Assets: Downfall of Climate Change Adaptation

by: Mabel Wong

In 2013, the city of Toronto experienced extreme fluctuations in weather, resulting in extreme heat, heavy ice storms, and severe rainstorms (City of Toronto, 2014). Whether or not global warming is occurring, the realities of dealing with climate change are. In an urban setting, economic threats exist when controlling damage to infrastructure and assisting citizens’ well-being in times of extreme weather. The need for climate change adaptation and mitigation is vital for the resilience of Toronto during future changes in weather patterns due to climate change. Tools for environmental assessment would be beneficial to managing infrastructure and ensuring that they are resilient against climate change. However, environmental assessment is weak and stricter guidelines are needed to help cities become resilient against climate change.

Toronto’s Ice Storm in 2013

2013 Flooding on a Highway After Heavy Rainstorm

It is evident that Toronto takes climate change adaptation and mitigation seriously, but actions require time and they are far from few. Toronto committed to reduce greenhouse gases as part of the Partners for Climate Protection (PCP) as early from 1990 (Gore, 2010). Major milestones produced from this network are few, but the city is still committed to adapting towards climate change.  In 2008, the city developed a report called Ahead of the Storm: Preparing Toronto for Climate Change (City of Toronto
ghgEnvironment Office, 2008). This document is impressive in indicating the pressure for adapting to climate change and it also suggests actions that will come. Follow up is still needed as no other report has been produced since. However, more resources can be found on the Toronto Region Conservation website regarding climate change actions (http://trca.on.ca/the-living-city/climate-change/).

Further action from Toronto should include the use of environmental assessments, as they are used for project planning and decision making. Normally, they look at a project’s impact on the environment, but the reverse is uncommon. The danger here is that cities facing climate change like Toronto, need to consider the reverse. How are their infrastructures responding to climate change? In an ideal situation, environmental impact assessments (EIA) would guide policy makers and project planners to plan appropriately against environmental effects by creating alternative plans, implementing mitigation efforts, monitoring and follow up strategies.

cleanup costs

Damages and repair costs in Toronto for 2013 (Toronto Region Conservation, 2015)

The attitudes towards EIAs are not great though. EIAs are often seen as fulfilling requirements by politicians and project planners see EIA as an approval for proceeding with a project (Conacher, 1994). Even the reports themselves are weak because climate change effects are only considered in passing or mentioned briefly in the preparation of the report (CEAA, 2012; Ministry of Environment, 2014). Studies reveal that it is difficult to enforce any policy when interests of governments, ecologists, and economists, are not the same (Shepherd & Ortolano, 1996; Conacher, 1994).

lai et al

Interconnection between environment, economy, society and human socioeconomic impacts depends on land-use planning. To ensure impact assessment or mitigation efforts, all must be considered.

Climate change adaptation is not looking good so far for Toronto. EIA use, policy implementation, and project planning could be better integrated to adapt to climate change. If interests are not lining up, I’m sure the cost of cleaning up after extreme weather and the general safety of citizens should be some factors of similar interest. No matter how weak EIAs are currently, a change in attitudes towards EIA in the face of climate change is needed if any productive actions are made in adapting to climate change.

Resources

Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency. (2012). Incorporating climate change considerations in environmental assessment: General guidance for practitioners. Retrieved from: http://www.ceaa-acee.gc.ca/default.asp?lang=En&n=A41F45C5-1&offset=3&toc=show.

City of Toronto Environment Office. (2008). Ahead of the Storm: Preparing Toronto for Climate Change. Retrieved from: http://www1.toronto.ca/City%20Of%20Toronto/Environment%20and%20Energy/Our%20Goals/Files/pdf/A/ahead_of_the_storm.pdf.

City of Toronto. (2014). Resilient City – Preparing for a Changing Climate. Retrieved from: http://www.toronto.ca/legdocs/mmis/2014/pe/bgrd/backgroundfile-70623.pdf.

Conacher, A. (1994). The integration of land-use planning and management with environmental impact assessment: Some Australian and Canadian perspectives. Impact Assessment, 12(4), 347-372.

Gore, C. (2010). The limits and opportunities of networks: municipalities and Canadian climate change policy. Review of Policy Research, 27(1), 27-44.

Lai L, Huang X, Zhang X. (2003). Study on strategic environmental impact assessment in land-use planning. China Land Science, 17(6), 56-60.

Ministry of Environment, Canada. (2014). Preparing and reviewing environmental assessments in Ontario. Retrieved from: https://dr6j45jk9xcmk.cloudfront.net/documents/1809/3-8a-11-preparing-and-reviewing-eas-en.pdf.

Shepherd, A. & Ortolano, L. (1996). Strategic environmental assessment for sustainable urban development. Environmental Impact Assessment Review, 16, 321-335

Toronto Region Conservation. (2015). Local Impacts. Retrieved from: http://trca.on.ca/the-living-city/climate-change/climate-science/local-impacts.dot.


Forests for sale: REDD+, conservation and the displacement of Indigenous populations

“REDD (schemes known collectively as Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) will increase the violation of our human rights, our rights to our lands, territories and resources, steal our land, cause forced evictions, prevent access and threaten indigenous agriculture practices, destroy biodiversity and culture diversity and cause social conflicts.”

[1] International Forum of Indigenous Peoples on Climate Change (IFIPCC) statement, November 2007

papua2

Photo: Mark Gudmens

Conservation is a dirty word in some circles, stemming from a lengthy history of further marginalizing already vulnerable populations. With (what should be) all eyes on the current quest to reduce atmospheric carbon emission rates, Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+) is being pushed as an effective solution to the global carbon crisis. Despite inherent shortcomings, there is still time to ensure that it becomes a useful framework for all aspects of impact assessment and serves the needs of local communities directly affected by it.

Early Conservation efforts

The conservation of “wilderness” for the benefits of developed nations is not a new idea, with early political powers in North America designating huge tracts of land, such as Yellowstone and Yosemite, as National parks [2]. By restricting the ways these areas were occupied and using a colonial framework of conservation and control, indigenous presence was erased from the landscape and historical territories grabbed by colonial settlers in order to “protect” western visions of nature [3].

Modern Environmental Conservation efforts

Over 20 percent of the planet’s surface is currently protected through conservation efforts by a handful of BINGOs (Big International Non-Governmental Organizations) [4]. Corporations, like Conservation International (CI), are altruistic in appearance, seeking to protect key global biodiversity hotspots [5]. Under the aegis of conservation, vast tracts of land in the global south have been deemed ecologically important and removed from the stewardship of local indigenous populations, to the detriment of both systems and with no strong social impact assessment (SIA) in place [5]. Additionally, these displaced persons are rarely compensated, becoming further marginalized in the name of conservation.

Thus, the overarching rubric of conservation continues to focus on notions of preservation of the wilds for the betterment of developed nations with little consideration to the indigenous populations that shaped these landscapes through thoughtful stewardship and symbiotic, sustainable relationships.

Enter: The next generation of environmental conservation and REDD+

Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+) was conceived of during the early push for global solutions to climate change, specifically during the 2005 COP-11 in Montreal, Canada [6]. This video, produced by the REDD desk, gives a brief description of how the program is supposed to incentivize the protection of global forests in the name of carbon offsets for developed nations and international organizations.

Despite the mention of protection for local indigenous communities and opportunities for participation throughout the EIA process, indigenous groups are mistrustful of the proposed REDD+. Due to a lengthy history of marginalization and displacement through colonial domination, many populations in developing nations have chosen to fight the implementation of a program they feel will only serve to line the pockets of rich Westerners and contribute little to actual reductions in carbon emission rates.

A pilot project conducted in Nepal found that the benefits of REDD+ were not fairly distributed between all members of a given community [7]. Although there were evident positive effects of the program, such as meaningful public participation, there is a need for a strong system of social safeguards in order to protect the indigenous populations that live in the regions [7]. Other authors criticize the “top-down” approach of the current REDD+ system and argue for a wider role for indigenous stakeholders in order to protect communities at the local level [8].

In order to create a framework that actually does what it was intended to do, REDD+ social safeguards must be designed with several keys concepts in mind. The importance of a bottom-up approach to the sustainable management of these new spaces is crucial to the success of REDD+. Further to this, a clear and well defined social impact assessment (SIA) that considers the needs of the local communities before the wants of international institutions must be equipped with the power to challenge decisions made by forces removed from the landscape.


References

[1] The International Forum of Indigenous Peoples on Climate Change (IFIPCC) The 13th Session of Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC SBSTA 27, agenda item 5/REDD Accessed online February 10, 2015. http://www.indigenousclimate.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=55&Itemid=59&lang=en

[2] Vaccaro, I., Beltran, O., and Paquet, P. A. 2013. Political ecology and conservation policies: some theoretical genealogies. Journal of Political Ecology, 20. 255-272. Online http://jpe.library.arizona.edu/volume_20/Vaccaro.pdf

[3] Robbins, P. 2012. Political Ecology; a critical introduction, 2nd ed. Wiley-Blackwell.

[4] Dowie, M. 2010. Conservation Refugees. Cultural Survival; 34, 1. Accessed January 22, 2015. Online http://www.culturalsurvival.org/publications/cultural-survival-quarterly/none/conservation-refugees

[5] Survival International. November 14, 2014. Parks need peoples. Survival International Report. Accessed online February 6, 2015 http://www.survivalinternational.org/news/10546

[6] Agrawal, A., Nepstad, D. and Chhatre, A. 2011. Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. Annual Review of Environmental Resources, vol. 36, p. 373-396. Accessed online February 6, 2015.

[7] Maraseni, T. N., Neupane, P. R., Lopez-Casero, F., and Cadman, T. 2014. An assessment of the impacts of the REDD+ pilot project on community forests user groups (CFUGs) and their community forests in Nepal. Journal of Environmental Management. Vol. 136, p. 37-46. Accessed February 6, 2015.

[8] Corbera, E. and Schroeder, H. 2011. Governing and implementing REDD+. Environmental Science & Policy, vol. 14:2, p. 89-99.

Lack of Environmental Assessment at the municipal level in Québec and Canada

Update: For more details about this story check out this article in the Vaudreuil-Soulanges Gazette: http://www.gazettevaudreuilsoulanges.com/2013/10/23/trees-an-election-issue-says-tpac-member/ and Nico Ahn’s response on his blog: http://nicoahn.ca/essays/2013/10/response-and-follow-up-to-the-article-trees-an-election-issue-says-tpac-member/

As a future environmental professional, I am already trying to get involved and gain experience in planning and assessment. I am currently appointed as a citizen member to the Advisory Committee on Urban Planning in the Town of Pincourt (Québec), which advises the town council on planning and land use topic. Planning Committees with citizen involvement (limited public participation) have been in place in the province of Québec in 1985 [1]. Through my involvement in this committee I was hoping to be able to make my town’s environment more sustainable for its citizens, however as I am noticing more clearly this is a very hard feat, as the municipal by-laws and provincial legislation do not provide any tools to further environmental protection and sustainable development in urban planning.

The role and mandate of the committee is to study projects at the discretion of the town council, and to study applications for certain projects and subsequently form recommendations to the town council. It should be noted that the committee has no actual decision-making power. [2]

See interactive map on Google Maps (http://goo.gl/maps/80rHL)

Figure 1: Development Site in Pincourt (QC). See interactive map on Google Maps (http://goo.gl/maps/80rHL)

The committee convenes whenever matters arise that require its attention. This summer, two projects were studied: the development of two hardware stores (Patrick Morin Inc. [3] and RONA [4, 5]) in a wooded area of the town, which separated the city’s residential areas from a major national rail (CN/CP) and road transportation corridor (Highway 20) (see figure 1 for an overview).

Different than my colleagues on the committee, with backgrounds in municipal politics and planning, I approach the committee’s topics differently. Having a background in environmental impact assessment and sustainability science, I see potential issues with these projects. I point out the loss of important ecosystem services, changes in local microclimates and other potential impacts that will potentially affect residents through increases in noise, air and light pollution [6, 7] that will have short and long term effects on the town’s citizens.

As the committee analysed the developments’ architectural and landscaping plans to make recommendations to the town council, I tried to recommend how these plans could be improved or adapted to reduce or mitigate some of these environmental impacts. Even when my fellow committee members agree with my suggestions, we end up not adding them to our resolution for the town council. The key issue is that there is no legal basis for the municipality to demand the developer to make changes to his project to reduce the impacts. Like in many other municipalities, the by-laws simply do not exist.

In the resolution for the RONA project in Pincourt, I managed “to suggest that the developer keep the undeveloped portions of his project wooded” [5]. The keyword here is “to suggest”. We had no legal basis for making this an obligation for the developer. While the land use planning legislation in Québec has provisions allowing municipalities protect forests [8], these are not enacted in Pincourt. Figure 2 shows the site after initial logging has taken place. On Google Maps StreetView you can see how the site looked pre-logging (http://goo.gl/maps/1qg9x).

Figure 2: Photograph of the site by Nico Ahn. Too see the way this site looked before looking visit Google Streetview (http://goo.gl/maps/1qg9x).

Figure 2: Panoramic photograph of the RONA site by Nico Ahn. Too see the way this site looked before looking visit Google Streetview (http://goo.gl/maps/1qg9x). Update: The wooded area on the left of the picture has now also been logged.

Everything that happened in Pincourt was legal; the forest was zoned commercially giving the developer licence to destroy the ecosystem. Current EIA laws and regulations in Québec do not require assessments for these types of commercial development projects; neither do municipal planning processes seem to account for the environmental impacts. While a development like a RONA and Patrick Morin may not have environmental impacts on a provincial or national scale, and thus may not be of concern at a Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement (BAPE; Québec) or the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) level, they do have impacts on a local or regional scale.

Taking these impacts into consideration could be improved by implementing EIA-like processes at the local and regional scale, similar to the way German local authorities can be the competent authorities for EIAs on local projects [9]. In Germany, the competent authority overseeing the EIA process is the municipal, regional, state (“Land”) or federal authority that is concerned with issuing the project permits [10, 11]. This ensures that assessments are dealt with at the scale where it is most relevant, thus taking a decentralized approach to impact assessment. The construction a parking lot larger than 1 ha, for example, requires a Federal EIA under German law, which would however be dealt with by a municipal planning authority (see the inclusion list in the appendix of the translated German EIA Act [12]).

In Canada or Québec, such a project would not require an EIA. And that makes sense the way the system is currently set up to work. If the CEAA or the BAPE were to conduct EIA reviews of every municipal project in Canada, nothing would ever get built, because these agencies would likely be backlogged. If municipalities and regions would be given the mandate, obligation and funding to oversee environmental assessments for local and regional projects, we would decentralize the EIA process and be deal with it at a more relevant scale. We could then also expand the list of projects requiring assessments. To ensure the quality of these EAs, the provincial and or federal agencies would take an auditing and advisory role. Public participation would also become even more relevant at such that scale [13].

However such processes are not in place in municipalities like Pincourt. Municipal development decisions lack of environmental assessment considerations in. In order to improve these trends I suggest two potential solutions:

  1. by-laws (and federal/provincial laws) need to be adapted to implement local and regional EIA processes and to give the municipalities more control over their environment, and
  2. as municipalities key motivation to continually develop their territory is to increase property tax revenues and not environmental conservation, the property tax system should be updated to place a value on ecosystem services [14, 7]. This would allow towns to gain tax revenue even from undeveloped land, which may not have an ‘economic value’ but an ‘environmental value’.

Bibliography

[1] Ministère des Affaires municipales, des Régions et de l’Occupation du territoire, “Planning and development powers in Québec,” 2010. [Online]. Available: http://www.mamrot.gouv.qc.ca/pub/amenagement_territoire/urbanisme/plan_development_powers_angl.pdf. [Accessed 28 September 2013].
[2] Ville de Pincourt, Règlement relatif au comité consultatif d’urbanism [N° 782], Pincourt: Ville de Pincourt, 2007.
[3] Patrick Morin Inc., “Patrick Morin s’installe à Pincourt,” 12 July 2013. [Online]. Available: http://www.patrickmorin.com/10-nouvelle-patrick-morin-s-installe-a-pincourt.html. [Accessed 03 October 2013].
[4] RONA Inc., “RONA Our Footprint,” 2013. [Online]. Available: http://www.rona.ca/corporate/corporate-responsibility. [Accessed 03 October 2013].
[5] Ville de Pincourt, “Résolution 2013-09-277,” in Procès-verbal (10 septembre 2013), Pincourt, Ville de Pincourt, 2013, p. 6794.
[6] P. Bolund and S. Hunhammar, “Ecosystem services in urban areas,” Ecological Economics, vol. 29, pp. 293-301, 1999.
[7] R. Costanza, R. d’Arge, R. d. Groot, S. Farberk, M. Grasso, B. Hannon, K. Limburg, S. Naeem, R. V. O’Neill, J. Paruelo, R. G. Raskin, P. Suttonkk and M. v. d. Belt, “The value of the world’s ecosystem services and natural capital,” Nature, vol. 387, pp. 253-260, 1997.
[8] Gouvernement du Québec, An Act respecting Land Use Planning and Development [RSQ, c. A-19.1], Éditeur officiel du Québec, 2013.
[9] M. Graggaber and W. Pistecky, “The implementation of the Environmental Impact Assessment on the basis of precise examples,” EU IMPEL, Nicosia, 2012.
[10] Niedersächsisches Ministerium für Umwelt, Energie und Klimaschutz, “Die Umweltverträglichkeitsprüfung,” 2013. [Online]. Available: http://www.umwelt.niedersachsen.de/portal/live.php?navigation_id=2531&article_id=8964&_psmand=10. [Accessed 05 October 2013].
[11] M. Sauer, “Report of Germany on the implementation of the convention on environmental impact assessment in a transboundary context,” United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, Geneva, 2010.
[12] Federal Republic of Germany, “Environmental Impact Assessment Act,” 2001-2004. [Online]. Available: http://www.bmu.de/fileadmin/bmu-import/files/pdfs/allgemein/application/pdf/uvpg.pdf.
[13] N. Munier, “EIA and Urbanization,” in Multicriteria Environmental Assessment, New York, Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2004, pp. 197-236.
[14] R. Janda and S. Kurtz, “Accounting for the new philanthropy,” 04 November 2011. [Online]. Available: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/giving/accounting-for-the-new-philanthropy/article4182642/. [Accessed 03 October 2013].