Citizen Science: Monitoring in the EIA Process

“Citizen science is a process by which everyday people take an active role in scientific discovery, joining forces with researchers to answer important science questions” (MASH)

Historically, science was a task that could only be carried out by a couple of advantaged people who had that background training to carry out experiments and the multiple tests it required. What is distinct about Citizen Science (CS) is that it appeals to individuals who would not have been traditionally associated with the field of research.  It is the development of new learning communities that sidestep institutions and tradition as a means of acquiring knowledge that make it possible for individuals to have an impact in the scientific field. In the ’70s activists adopted the saying ‘Science for the People’ but it has been suggested by Silvertown (2009) that “’Science by the people’ is a more inclusive aim”. The publication in 1962 of Silent Spring by Rachel Carlson brought with it a movement which brought to the attention of the people that sciences needed to become accessible to everyone. It is important to note that at the moment, CS now includes participation in many fields such as projects on climate change, invasive species, conservation biology, ecological restoration, water quality monitoring, population ecology and monitoring (Greaves, 2013; Silvertown, 2009).

Terms

Amateurs: A person who does something (such as a sport or hobby) for pleasure and not as a job.

Volunteer: A person who does work without getting paid to do it

Protocol: A system of rules that explain the correct conduct and procedures to be followed in formal situations

Video

Why is Citizen Science accomplished?

I would recommend watching the whole video, but what is most relevant to the field of CS and its ability to attract participants emerges five minutes into the video.

Three factors that lead to better performance & personal satisfaction

  • Autonomy: Desire to be self-directed; management is good for compliance but autonomy is good for engagement.
  • Mastery: The urge to get better at stuff, because it’s fun, because you get better at it and that’s satisfying.
  • Purpose: Transcendence purpose – it makes coming to work better; it’s the way to become more talented.

A question that is brought forward in this video is pertaining to the type of individuals CS attracts. It is stated by the video that technically sophisticated highly skilled people who have jobs are the ones carrying out these tasks. But why are they willing to do so? What does CS give back to individuals as an incentive for them to carry out these tasks? According to the video the answer are straight forwards and simple: “the science shows that we want to be self-directed, make the world a little bit better”.

Tools

What tools makes participation in CS possible?

According to Silvertown (2009), it is any technology that makes it possible for information to be shared. The range for such tools is wide, starting by innovations such as the telephone to more modern ideas of Social Medias. The tools he suggest vary from “Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Google maps, iPod apps, YouTube and wiki” he goes further to state that the tools can be anything that “can be used to reach and engage with a large audience”. To this list I would also add: Smart phones, GPS and open GIS soft-wares.

Limitations

It is noted that some projects such as monitoring can become very complicated. Such projects would typically attract fewer individuals. The literature also suggest that if proper protocols and standardization are put in place then, even very complicated scientific questions can be addressed. (Bonney et al, 2009). Protocols used for citizen science should be easy to perform, explainable in a clear and straightforward manner, and engaging for volunteer participants” ( Silvertown, 2009; Bonney et al, 2009).

Monitoring in Environmental Impact Assessment Process.

A movement towards a new model of industrial performance, which integrates “transcendence purpose”, leaving behind the sole aim for profit by adding a contribution to the social environment is on the go.  The Environmental Assessment Impact process should emulate what the market has started to embrace. Including citizen science in the monitoring process would do just that: it would add a second purpose to the process, revitalize it, and improve public involvement and public concern towards such questions as to whether what happens in and the quality of what is included in an EIA report.

Recommendations

  • Make data resulting from citizen science accessible ( Increasing transparency and public motivation for involvement )
  • Integration of public participation (section) in post project implementation during the monitoring phase of the EIA process.

Links pertinent to Citizen Science

What is citizen science?

Scientific American: List of projects looking for involvement.

Citizen science: Monitoring, Education and Volunteering.

Seek free knowledge (MIT free courses)

Ongoing projects

Christmas bird count-National Audubon Society in the USA –since 1900, 63 million bird observations

The British trust for ornithology -founded in 1932

National Biodiversity network– 31 million records of over 27 000 UK species of animals and plants in majority collected by amateur naturalist

References

Bonney, R., Cooper, C. B., Dickinson, J., Kelling, S., Phillips, T., Rosenberg, K. V., & Shirk, J. (2009). Citizen science: a developing tool for expanding science knowledge and scientific literacy. BioScience, 59(11), 977-984. http://bioscience.oxfordjournals.org/content/59/11/977.full. Retrieved March 9th, 2015.

MASH(NA)Leaning is open. Toolkit Citizen Sciences. California Academy of Sciences http://alpha.projectmash.org/groups/citizen-science Retrieved March 9th, 2015.

Greaves, S (2013)Citizen Science Musings: The Rise of Citizen Science. http://citizenscientistsleague.com/2013/01/14/citizen-science-musings-the-rise-of-citizen-science/ Retrieved March 9th, 2015.

Silvertown, J. (2009). A new dawn for citizen science. Trends in ecology & evolution, 24(9), 467-471. 

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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.

Sacrificing the Environment: Effects of the Canadian Environment Assessment Act 2012 on The Enbridge Pipeline 9B Reversal

By Wills Tobin,

Formerly, Enbridge pipeline 9B sent oil from Montreal, Quebec to Sarnia, Ontario. An approval on March 6, 2014 has allowed Enbridge Pipelines to reverse oil direction and capacity towards Montreal, QC. The National Energy Board’s approval is a fundamental example of the extent to which EIA processes in Canada have eroded because of the Bill C-38 adoption in June 2012. More insight on this:

In bill C-38, The Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA 2012) changed drastically. The Energy Policy Institute of Canada (EPIC) facilitated changes in the act through lobbying representatives and members of Government (Forest Ethics, 2013). The EPIC mandate is to “…provide the foundations…for energy and environmental policy”(Forest Ethics, 2013, p. 1). As the conservative Government argued that the CEAA 2012 amendment was simply to streamline and reduce duplication, the effects of legislation have been negatively influential on the line 9B project (EPIC, 2012).

Scoping Line 9B

Due to the CEAA 2012, in the Line 9B reversal, The NEB (National Energy Board) stated that it would not consider environmental or socio-economic effects not directly associated with the reversal of the pipeline (Forest Ethics, 2013; David Suzuki Foundation, 2012; Gage, 2012). This has had a negative effect on the scope of the project. Scoping is critical because its purpose is to identify scientific and public core values so indirect and cumulative impacts are not over-looked, especially when it comes to major oil and gas infrastructure, which should always require comprehensive studies (Noble, 2010).

Monitoring Line 9B

According to Forest Ethics (2013), “once a decision is made for a given project, the NEB will not revoke permits, even if subsequent analyses show adverse environmental effects (p. 7).” The NEB also stated that monitoring should only have to be done at the beginning of the EIA process and not require continued follow-ups (NEB, 2013). The pipeline is 38 years old and it is worrisome that it may rupture if its carrying capacity is increased. There is a fear about pre- and post-, consistent monitoring, as knowledge of bitumen effects on the environment is limited and therefore less capable of being mitigated (CTV News, 2014). See video for more details:

Public Participation Line 9B

Most importantly, public participation now only includes people “directly effected”. (David Suzuki Foundation 2012; Gage 2012; Forest Ethics, 2013) As a result, compared to the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project (11,111 public participants), Enbridge line 9B only had 172 participants (Forest Ethics, 2013). This legislation has meant the loss of democracy in Canadian EIA. This is most important because participant input as to what is important in EIA has formerly always been taken into consideration. Keep in mind that what constitutes an impact or effect is frequently defined by social value. This diminution of public participation also defeats the purpose of important cornerstones in the development of EIA in Canada, like the signing of the Rio Declaration in 1992, the UN global environmental assessment agreement (UNEP, 1992). The effects of the CEAA 2012 have had repercussions that need to be noticed and hopefully acted upon very soon.

References

Canadian Environmental Law Association. (2014). Retrieved from: http://www.cela.ca/blog/2013-08-13/ontario’s-greenhouse-gas-reduction-program-–-carbon-tax.

CBC News. (2014). Enbridge Line 9 pipeline reversal approved by energy board. Retrieved from: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/enbridge-line-9-pipeline-reversal-approved-by-energy-board-1.2562169

CTV News. (2014). Leonardo DiCaprio visits Alberta oilsands to research documentary. Retrieved from://www.ctvnews.ca/entertainment/leonardo-dicaprio-visits-alberta-oilsands-to-research-documentary-1.1971656.

David Suzuki Foundation. (2012). Bill C-38: What you need to know. Retrieved from: http://www.davidsuzuki.org/publications/downloads/2012/C-38%20factsheet.pdf

Energy Policy Institute of Canada. (2012). A Canadian Energy Strategy Framework: A guide to building Canada’s future as a global energy leader. Retrieved from: http://www.canadasenergy.ca/canadian-energy-strategy/

Environment Canada. (2014). Retrieved from: http://www.ec.gc.ca/ges-ghg/donnees-data/index.cfm?do=province&lang=En&year=2012.

ForestEthics Advocacy. (2013). Who writes the rules? A Report on Oil Industry Influence, Government Laws, and the corrosion of Public Process.

Gage, A. (2012). Who is silenced under Canada’s new environmental assessment law? West Coast Environmental Law. Retrieved from: wcel.org/resources/environmental-law-alert/who-silenced-under-canada’s-new-environmental-assessment-act

Green World Rising. (2014). Retrieved from: http://www.greenworldrising.org/#!ep2-carbon/clzn

Line 9: It’s coming for you. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_z0sc-rSB1s

National Energy Board. (2013). Hearing Order OH-002-2013. https://docs.neb-one.gc.ca/lleng/llisapi.dll/fetch 2000/90464/90552/92263/790736/890819/918701/918444/A3%2D1_%2D_Hearing_Order_OH%2D002%2D2013_%2D_A3F4W7.pdf?

nodeid=918357&vernum=-2.

Natural Resources Canada. (2014). Retrieved from: http://www.nrcan.gc.ca/energy/oil-sands/water-management/5865.

Oil Sands Information Portal, (2014). Retrieved from: http://osip.alberta.ca/library/Dataset/Details/443.

Opposing Enbridge’s Line 9. (2014). Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jfHl-N1qxY8.

Stewart, K. (2014). Approval of Enbridge Line 9 good for oil companies, not communities: Greenpeace. Toronto. Retrieved from:http://www.greenpeace.org/canada/Global/canada/pr/2014/03/NEBLine9Ruling.pdf

UNEP. (1992). Rio Declaration on Environment and Development. Retrieved From: https://www.unep.com/

Public participation under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act 2012: as good as it sounds?

Effective public participation is one of the key elements in the Environmental Assessment (EA) process. Historically, public participation has been proven to be very effective in the careful review of projects with significant public concern. One may assume that with the expansion and broader understanding of the EA process with time, public participation will become more and more meaningful.

Public participation may be defined as “the involvement of individuals and groups that are positively or negatively affected by a proposed intervention (e.g., a project, a program, a plan, a policy) subject to a decision-making process or are interested in it”[1].

The Canadian Environmental Assessment Act 2012 (CEAA 2012) has brought many changes to its predecessor act of 1992, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA). One particular change is the definition of “interested party”. According to the CEAA, an interested party is “any person or body having an interest in the outcome of the environmental assessment for a purpose that is neither frivolous nor vexatious”[2]. This definition was more open and inclusive.

In CEAA 2012, the responsible authority or review panel will determine “…with respect to a designated project, that a person is an interested party if, in its opinion, the person is directly affected by the carrying out of the designated project or if, in its opinion, the person has relevant information or expertise…” [3].

The second part that “the person has relevant information or expertise” keeps the chance of inclusiveness, but the fact that it is still under the discretion of the panel can restrict the participation. Some scholars suggest that this restriction can cause representative biasness in the process as business interests are generally “direct” and environmental values (e.g. air quality) are more diffuse in nature. Cases like New Prosperity Gold–Copper mine project, Enbridge Line 9B showed that the respective panels have not restricted participation. Yet, the fact remains that the panel can adopt more restrictive interpretation in future or might be aligned to do so if the government issues regulatory guidance to interpret the new definitions [4].

The CEAA 2012 narrows public participation by reducing the number of projects assessed and narrowing assessment scope. The tight time-frame for assessment steps further narrows down the effective public participation. Moreover, the provision for substitution of federal process by provincial process could create limited participation opportunities due to the diverse provincial processes and the lack of participant funding program for substituted processes [5].

Section 5.1(c) of CEAA 2012 states that activities that can affect the health, socio-economic, physical and cultural heritage, traditional use of land and resource, or any other object or place of historical, archeological, architectural interest have to be taken into consideration. Yet, the relatively short timeline for participation can make it difficult for people of these communities to participate effectively [6].

Here is a short video from a project called “Line in the sand” where community organizer Nadia Nowak expresses concern about the participation prospect:

In 2012, federal government announced a 10% cut on core funding for aboriginal national organizations while regional organizations will have either a 10% core funding cut or highest funding limit of $500,000. This shows that although the CEAA 2012 promises better aboriginal participation, but other government initiatives can weaken the effective participation of aboriginal groups in the environmental assessment process [7].

Downgrading the effectiveness of environmental assessment process on the hands of politicians is not new. The “environment” of environmental assessment has always been a challenging one to live in. When the environmental decision-making fails to address public concern, it puts a big question mark on the success of the process. The CEAA 2012 is relatively new, so we might have to wait a while to see how effective the public participation process would be under this act.

…. Your thoughts are welcome.

References:

[1]  André, P., B. Enserink, D. Connor and P. Croal. 2006. Public Participation International Best Practice Principles. Special Publication Series No. 4. Fargo, USA: International Association for Impact Assessment.

[2]  Government of Canada. 1992. Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, S.C. 1992, c. 37.(current to June 10, 2012). Available from: http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/c-15.2/20100712/P1TT3xt3.html

[3]  Government of Canada. 2012. Canadian Environmental Assessment Act 2012, S.C. 2012, c. 19, s. 52. Available from: http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/C-15.21/index.html

[4]  Salomons G. H. and Hoberg G.2013. Setting boundaries of participation in environmental impact assessment (In presss). Environmental Impact Assessment Review. Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.eiar.2013.11.001

[5]  Gibson R. B. 2012. In full retreat: the Canadian government’s new environmental assessment law undoes decades of progress. Impact Assessment and Project Appraisal 30(3): 179–188.

[6]  Bond A.,  Pope J., Morrison-Saunders A., Retief F., Gunn J. A. E. 2014. Impact assessment: Eroding benefits through streamlining? Environmental Impact Assessment Review 45: 46-53. Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.eiar.2013.12.002

[7]  Kirchhoff D. , Gardner H. L., Tsuji L. J. 2013. The Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012 and Associated Policy: Implications for Aboriginal Peoples. The International Indigenous Policy Journal 4(3). Available from: http://ir.lib.uwo.ca/iipj/vol4/iss3/1

Requirements of gender friendly public participation in Environmental Impact Assessments

Environmental Impact Assessments(EIAs) are used as a regulatory, planning and decision making tool for most medium and large scale development projects around the world. These assessments have three main components: planning and decision making; documentation of potential impacts (positive and negative); and involvement of stakeholders throughout the project life [1]. Unfortunately there is no standard protocol for EIAs and jurisdictions around the globe specify different requirements for public involvement in the EIA process [1]. For example, in the Canadian Environmental Assessment System, public participation has been identified as one of the integral parts of the EIA process [2]. CEAA 2012 has five main domains for public participation: adequate notice, access to information, public comment, public hearing, and participant funding [2]. However, the importance of the involvement of women in the practice of EIA public participation process has not been well addressed. In fact, provision of gender involvement in EIA public participation process is lacking.

Men and women have different priorities, demands, knowledge and skill of the utilization of existing natural resources [3]. Since these differences exist, women play very important role in protecting and managing the natural resources such as forest, land and water at the local level [4]. In fact, women hold unique knowledge of ecosystems and environmental sustainability from being the primary users of natural resources in their daily livelihood and are further most affected by distortion in ecosystems [5]. Equal participation of women in the EIA public participation process would allow for a more comprehensive assessment of impacts by including a wider range of public knowledge. This video 

highlights the importance of gender equality. For these reasons, a gender-friendly policy would help to strengthen the voice of women in the EIA planning and decision making process so both sectors of the community (men and women) are compensated for the negative impacts of the development project.  At the same time, the development project would also benefit from more relevant and important indigenous and traditional ecological knowledge from both men and women.

Involvement of women in the EIA process can also minimize the long term cost of impacts and help to mitigate conflict by creating meaningful roles and responsibilities to facilitate the effective implementation of the project by having inclusive representative public participation from the initial phases of the EIA. Several organizations such as the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations [6] have already indicated the importance of gender equality in access to resources, goods, services and decision making.

Most parts of the world, women still struggle for equality, empowerment, and chance to learn and chance to decide (see this video) 

 Women are the most vulnerable group of the community [6]. Although all human beings are impacted, vulnerable fractions of the community such as women who represent the majority of the world’s poor, are most affected by environmental degradation from development projects [7]. Thus, women need access to information about  proposed developments, and the opportunity to participate in decision making process.

Therefore the equal participation of men and women is important in EIA process. Recognizing the significance of women’s participation in the EIA process, we require policy to focus on encouraging the participation of women in environmental activities. However, the existing policies for EIAs are completely gender blind and do not provide for equal involvement and participation of men and women.

References:

1. Noble, Bram F. 2010. Introduction to Environmental Impact Assessment: A Guide to Principles and Practice. 2ndedition, Oxford University Press, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, 274 pp

2. CEAA. 2012. Canadian Environmental Assessment Act-2012. Available at     http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/PDF/C-15.2.pdf

3. UNDES (United Nations Development of Economic and Social Affairs). 2004. A Gender Perspective on water Resources and sanitation, submitted by: Interagency Task Force on Gender and Water, background paper 2. DESA/DSD/2005/2.

4. Elizabeth,Byers and Sainju Meeta.1994. Mountain ecosystems and women: opportunities for sustainable development and conservation. Mountain research and development 14(3): 213-228.

5. Ivens, Saskia. 2009. Gender Perspectives in Integrated Water Resources Management.  The 25th session of the Governing Council / Global Ministerial Environment Forum (GC/GMEF) of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Nairobi, Kenya.4 pp.

6. FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations). 2013. Food policy on gender equality: attending food security goals in agriculture and rural development. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome, 11 pp

7. OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe). 2009. Gender 

Can stakeholder engagement bring sustainability at the core of EIA process?

By David Vilder.

Exactly fifteen years ago, the Voisey’s Bay Mine and Mill Environmental Assessment Panel Report set a new precedent in incorporating sustainability in environmental impact assessment (EIA) practice in Canada. For the first time, the proponent was not only asked to mitigate adverse environmental effects, but also “propose activities that would contribute positively to sustainability, locally and regionally” [1]. The general trend in EIA in the past 40 years has been to gradually move from reactive pollution control toward integrated planning and sustainability [1].

Voisey's Bay port facility by which Quest's rare earths will be shipped to Bécancour

Voisey’s Bay type of port facility by which Quest’s rare earths will be shipped to Bécancour (source: Vale)

Since that groundbreaking step, however, little progress has been made in the direction to sustainability assessment [2]. Some would actually argue that since the current government’s introduction of omnibus bill C-38 there has actually been a regression. Other aspects of EIAs, such as public participation and stakeholder engagement, on the other hand, have made greats steps in the last 20 years.

In the mining sector, in particular, a shift seems to be slowly occurring in risk communications. Mining companies have traditionally engaged their communication in a business-to-business mentality, but this is deemed to evolve [3]. The market shift that has been occurring since 2011 is making the mining sector more and more vulnerable [4]. As a result, mining corporations are slowly embracing modern concepts in risk assessment and communication, which keywords include ‘stakeholder engagement’, transparency and integration [3].

Communication in Mining Industry (source: author)

Communication in Mining Industry (source: author)

A recent example of this changing communications landscape can be seen in Quest Rare Earth’s Lake Strange Project in Quebec. Part of this project implies a processing plant in Bécancour, an already heavily industrialized town. In parallel to the announcement of the future plant, Quest also announced the creation of a follow-up committee that includes city councillors, members of the agricultural sector and aboriginal communities [5]. This is on top of the regular BAPE hearings. It closely follows the main lines of what scholars recommend make best practice in public participation, which is rather encouraging [6]. If legislation toward incorporation of sustainability into EIA practices is stalling, could it be that effective public participation becomes the effective vehicle to put a greater weight on sustainability in EIAs?

Experts in the field suggest that an improved public participation process will benefit society by allowing “better attention to multiple sustainability purposes, better selection among possible options and better design and implementation of the projects that are selected” [2]. This is exactly what new trends in communications in the mining industry aim at: communication is no longer unidirectional but becomes a an exchange between partners [4]. This approach allows a company to better understand its own sustainability agenda by constantly adapting it with stakeholders’ expectations and thereby being able to solve environmental risk challenges faster. In other words, best practice in risk communications is public participation in the EIA process but at the corporate level.

REFERENCES:

[1] Gibson, R. B. (2000). Favouring the Higher Test: Contribution to sustainability as the central criterion for reviews and decisions under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. Journal of Environmental Law and Practice, 10(1), 39-54.

[2] Doellea, M., & Sinclair, J. A. (2006). Time for a new approach to public participation in EA: Promoting cooperation and consensus for sustainability. Environmental Impact Assessment Review, 26(02), 185–205.

[3] IFC. (2013). CHANGING THE GAME: Communications & sustainability in the mining industry. International Finance Corporation.

[4] Deloitte. (2014). Tracking the trends. Toronto: Deloitte.

[5] La Presse canadienne . (2013, 11 06). Des terres rares transformées à Bécancour. Retrieved 01 21, 2014, from Le Devoir: http://www.ledevoir.com/economie/actualites-economiques/391845/projet-d-extraction-traitement-de-terres-rares-de-1-3-milliard-pour-becancour

[6] O’Faircheallaigh, C. (2010). Public Participation and Environmental Impact Assessment: Purposes, implications, and lessons for public policy making. Environmental Impact Assessment Review, 30, 19-27.