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


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.


[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.

[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

[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

[5] Survival International. November 14, 2014. Parks need peoples. Survival International Report. Accessed online February 6, 2015

[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.


Striving for a Green Economy: novel concept or novelty?

(Photo by Kalikasan Party)

According to the European Environmental Agency, “the green economy” is a concept that consists of balancing economic growth and environmental protection [1]. The idea is to incorporate the environment into economic development. Will the idea of the green economy be a solution to environmental sustainability? It is a novel concept but could it become a simple novelty instead?

The past year has had a lot of focus on sustainable activity. The United Nations 2014 Climate Summit took place to lead up to the 2015 Summit in which the UN will discuss a replacement for the Kyoto Protocol [2]. Al Gore streamed an event called 24 Hours of Reality that listed a myriad of solutions to lower carbon emissions [3]. Even Pope Francis has begun emphasizing the need to turn our attention towards climate change [4].

Currently, President Obama has proposed designating 4.8 million hectares of Alaskan territory as wilderness areas [5]. Opposition to this proposal has to do with a large area of Alaska being put off limits for oil exploration. In addition, in the United Kingdom, MPs are in debate about a moratorium on fracking in order to meet emission reduction goals [6].

The question is, with our growth towards “the green economy”, how are environmental assessments responding to projects? As easy as it is to fall on oil and coal as our main sources of energy, there are numerous alternative and sustainable sources of energy. Does this trend towards green energy give more easily permission to green projects?

There are cases where a good idea goes wrong. An example is Germany’s transition to renewable energy and the implementation of wind farms in the mid-2000s. Striving for a cleaner source of energy had switched Germany from an energy exporter to importer due to the power strain on the power grid [7]. Due to a quick transition and poorly assessed plans on the output of energy, the power demand, and the unpredictability of wind caused the problem [7]. It continues with the need to expand and deliver energy impeded by activists who preventing approval of construction [7]. A similar problem occurred with a solar plant:

“[…] I will never forget those seemingly endless days of summer spent inside while it rained incessantly. Bavaria is like Seattle in the United States or Sichuan province in China. You don’t want to put a solar plant in Bavaria, but that is exactly where the Germans put it. The plant, with a peak output of 10 megawatts, went into operation in June 2005.

It happened for the best reason there is in politics: money. Welcome to the world of new renewable energies, where the subsidies rule—and consumers pay.”

– Vaclav Smil, writer for IEEE commenting on a proposed plan for a solar plant [8].

What we see here is not the fault of the type of resource, but the system and approval of a plan not well assessed. The poor planning leads to ineffective energy production which leads to an increase price in energy and loss in potential. We get caught up with the trend of green projects that we neglect some of the problems. In 2011, a project in Saskatchewan involving a wind turbine encountered skepticism such as:

 “I feel like I’m fighting a losing battle because as soon as you announce a project is green, everybody stands and salutes the flag.”

– Councilor Pat Lorje  [9]

It is a fair point. People have the right to question a new project. In this case, they wanted to see the documents of the project assessment. Is it not their prerogative? If we want to advance towards a green economy, these projects need to be approved after proper assessment and planning. EA reports should not become more lenient to projects that are labeled “green”. I do not want to sound punitive but I would prefer to see few successful projects than many failed projects. Green is not the new black, it should be a way of living; let us judge it so.

[1] European Environment Agency, 2011. Europe’s environment — An Assessment of Assessments. From:

[2] Brown P. 2014. New York summit is last chance to get consensus on climate before 2015 talks. The Guardian.

[3] The Climate Reality Project, 2014. 24 Hours of Reality: 24 Reasons for Hope.

[4] The Associated Press, 2015.  Pope Francis’ stand on climate change deepens distrust among US conservatives. NOLA.

[5] BBC News, 2015. Obama push to expand Alaskan refuge. BBC News: Science & Environment.

[6] Briggs H., 2015. MPs: Ban fracking to meet carbon targets. BBC News: Science & Environment.

[7] Watts A, 2012. Germany in skeptical turmoil on both Climate and Solar/Windfarms.

[8] Smil V., 2012. A Skeptic Looks at Alternative Energy. IEEE Spectrum.

[9] Eyre B., 2011. Green skeptics simply tilting at windmills. The Starphoenix.

Farmland Preservation: Enhancing sustainable development in Maine through civic agriculture

An important shift is taking place in the way people are relating to their food.  With the demand for   organic, locally produced foods and a growing interest in community supported agriculture [2], the reintegration of society and local economics into food production has led to a new agricultural paradigm; civic agriculture.  Defined by Lyson 2000, as “an agriculture and food production system that is grounded in a place, relies on local resources, serves local markets and customers, and is committed to social justice, ecological sustainability and mutually supporting social relations” [5].

Maine, the most Northeastern state of the U.S., has a prominent civic agriculture movement.   Farmers’ markets, community supported agriculture, and small-scale  farmers are ubiquitous, growing steadily since the 1970’s [5].  Unfortunately the future viability of small to medium scale agriculture is uncertain.   Farmland preservation is threatened; contending with development, urban sprawl and the shifting demographics of aging farmers encountering difficulty transferring their land to the younger generation [5,2].


Maine Farmland Trust is a vibrant not-for-profit organization dedicated to preserving farm land [4]. Boasting an array of programs and social efforts to keep farmland in operation, the trust prevents farmland conversion and attracts new farmers to the region. Agricultural conservation easements are one tool used to ensure that farmland remains farmland into perpetuity.  Easements allow farmers to either sell or donate the development rights to their farm thus ensuring that farm land is never developed when acquired by other owners [4]. The land, when sold, is then sold at farmland property value and not at the developable value thereby facilitating purchase by new farmers.  Maine Farmland Trust can also step in to protect farmland at risk of development through their Buy/Protect/Sell program by purchasing the land, applying a conservation easement and re-selling it at farmland value [4].

The Maine FarmLink program matches farmers interested in buying, leasing, or adopting non-traditional tenure arrangements with older farmers who have land and are interested in either selling or mentoring new farmers [4]. This provides opportunities for people with the desire to farm but who have little initial capital and limited experience.  These aspiring farmers are able to acquire farmland more affordably and benefit from knowledge transfer from experienced farmers [5].

The 2012 Census reflects the success of such proactive programmes and efforts. One of the oldest states in the Nation, Maine’s civic agricultural movement is attracting a significant number of young farmers to the region.  The number of farmers under the age of 35 grew by 40% between 2007 and 2012, a far cry from 2000 when farm numbers and acreage were declining [1].  Moreover, between 2007 and 2012, farm numbers have grown by 24% and farmland acreage has increased by 90,000 acres between 2002 and 2012.

Farmland conservation supports the conservation of wildlife, provides protection to forests and hydrological features [3].  Moreover, farmland conservation is paramount to Maine’s way of life and to  the continuation of civic agriculture;an important segment of Maine’s economy.


1)Curtis A. (2014). USDA Farming Census: Maine has more young farmers, more land in farms.  Bangor Daily News.  Accessing on March 17th, 2014

2)Hamilton, N (1999) Preserving Farmland, Creating Farms, and Feeding Communities: Opportunities to Link Farmland Protection and Community Food Security.  Northern Illinois University Law Review 19: 657-669.

3)Lyson, T.A. 2000. Moving toward civic agriculture. Choices 15(3):42–45.

4)Maine Farmland Trust (2014) Accessed on March 16th, 2014 at

5)Ross N. (2005) How civic is it? Success stories in locally focused agriculture in Maine.  Renewable Agriculture and Food System 21(2) 114-123.

6) Picture by Bridget Besaw. Retrieved from on April 12th, 2014.

Mandatory Environmental Corporate Social Responsibility: Can Canada become a leader?


Corporate Knights, 2011 [3]

Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) has become an integral part of the corporate decision-making process. This acceptance of EIA as a project decision making tool with processes for identifying and evaluating impacts has translated into the world of corporate management with the creation of various public reports on corporate social responsibility (CSR). Over the past decade sustainable development reporting has been adopted by the majority of Canadian companies as a means of strengthening the link between the companies and their stakeholders [2]. Unfortunately, the comparison of those reports is hampered by the difficulty of defining corporate social responsibility [3]. As Cory Searcy states in his article [1] corporations have been struggling with the question of what information they should be sharing with the public and how should they be presenting it.

The issues of defining CSR and reporting how a company’s environmental, social and governance programs meet their corporate sustainable development goals can be addressed through the use of reporting standards. But what reporting standards should be used? There are a multitude of guidelines and standards for CSR reporting that have resulted in a very broad range in the quantity and quality of information in CSR reports [1]. The experience of the last ten years shows that voluntary reporting may not be serving stakeholders and the public very well. Analysis of 94 Canadian corporate sustainability reports showed that 585 different indicators were reported yet only three indicators were shared between the companies [1]. This degree of variance in the reports is surprising given the robust standard of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI). Voluntary reporting may be widely accepted, but it clearly is not serving the needs of the stakeholders and the public.

GRI Reporting Cycle

GRI Reporting Cycle [4]

Mandatory reporting addresses most of the shortcoming of voluntary reporting. It allows for clearer corporate communication with mutually understood terminology and measures, and allows stakeholders to more easily compare the CSR statements of various companies [2]. In 1993 Canada was one of the leaders in mandatory reporting with the Whitehorse Mining Initiative, but has lagged since then. Corporate lobbying and government reluctance to regulate has left Canada with a poor voluntary reporting process and few standards. In countries where mandatory reporting structures have been adopted, socially responsible managerial practices have increased, and sustainable development key performance indicators have been implemented [2]. With a mandatory reporting structure in place, overall social responsibility increases due to improvements in communication and comparability.

How can Canada regain a leading position in CSR reporting? Adopting mandatory reporting standards based on the GRI guidelines for all companies would be a good start. The current reporting structure involving the financial and other regulated industries needs be expanded to incorporate the GRI standards. On the world stage, this would allow Canadian companies to better demonstrate their commitment to corporate sustainable development and would help Canada to repair its environmental reputation.



[1] Searcy, Cory (2012) Mandatory reporting? Corporate Knights, 11(1), 38-39.

[2] CGA-Canada (2011) Regulating sustainability reporting – Is a mandatory approach better than a voluntary one? December 2011.

[3] Drohan, Madelaine (2011) Big country, small steps: Taking a critical look at the last decade of corporate social responsibility in Canada. Corporate Knights, issue 35, 25-28.

[4] Brown, H. S., de Jong, M., & Levy, D. L. (2009). Building institutions based on information disclosure: lessons from GRI’s sustainability reporting. Journal of Cleaner Production, 17(6), 571-580.

Do you know where your money is going? Environmental Policy in the Canadian ‘Big Five’ Banks

Written by: Derek Davies

Most people are familiar with how the average banking system works. Banks are financial institutions that work by giving the bank your money, which they re-invest by loaning out a portion of the money to people or businesses that need it, connecting surplus with deficits. The banks make their money off the interest rates that are paid and charged by the bank to the user.

In Canada there are five main banks, known collectively as the ‘Big Five’ banks, they consist of the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC), Toronto Dominion Bank (TD), the Bank of Nova Scotia (Scotiabank), the Bank of Montreal (BMO), and the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC). Over 96% of Canadians have a bank account[1] , and unless you invest your own money within the financial system, you likely have no say or idea as to where your money is going. For example, the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) has a strategy known as, ‘Rank ‘Em and Spank ‘Em’. This strategy is aimed at revealing international banks that finance Oil Sand expansion through loans from the year 2007. RBC ranked 1st, with lending, followed by TD (4th), CIBC (5th), Scotiabank (8th), and BMO (9th)[2] . The mounting pressure from the Rainforest Action Network, is forcing the ‘Big Five’ to change their environmental policy in order to raise environmental standards within the financial industry. For example, in 2010, with the pressure from RAN, RBC has adopted an environmental and social standard to not finance clients that have not received consent from indigenous communities[3] .Logo-Equator-Principles

The ‘Big Five’ follow the Equator Principles, which are internationally recognized principles used when a financed project totals a certain cost. The client must undertake an environmental and social review. Over 50 banks around the world are signatories to the Equator Principles, representing 85% of the global project finance market[4] . The Equator Principles comprise of ten principles that serveas a common framework to reach responsible development. These principles include environment and social assessment, environmental and social standards, stakeholder engagement, and monitoring. For a full list and summary of the ten principles, click here.  Projects are categorized within three different classes, ranking from: significant adverse environmental and social impacts (A), to potential limited adverse environmental and social risk (B), to projects with minimal or no environmental and social risk (C). However, only categories A and B undertake the environmental and social assessment. In addition to this, the equator principles only apply within the ‘Big Five’ if they lend out in access of $10 million.

So, where do you fall in? Below is a listing of how each of the ‘Big Five’ defines their lending and financing environmental standards.

1.    Royal Bank of Canada (RBC)



Environmental Policy: Equator Principles (Environmental Assessment for projects exceeding $10 million loans) & International Finance Corporation Standards & Environmental and Social Risk Management.

Responsible Lending: Finance clients intending to reduce GHG emissions, improve water quality, and facilitate adaption to climate change. Not engage financial activity with unsustainable forestry and only with clients with adequate certification. Only finance projects with indigenous approval. Not engage finance with any clients violating environmental laws[5] .

2.    Toronto-Dominion Bank (TD)


Environmental Policy: The Equator Principles, high-level screening of projects, social and environmental assessment procedure, and risk management decision tree.

Responsible Lending: Does not lend to activities within World Heritage Sites, activities that would degrade Conservation Areas, or finance illegal logging operations or finance manufacturing of weapons, nuclear, or of chemicals[4] .

3. Bank of Nova Scotia (Scotiabank)


Environmental Policy: The Equator Principles, Environmental Risk Management, investment in renewable energy, Carbon Credit Trading.

Responsible Lending: Scotiabank has undertaken the highest amount of Environmental and Social Assessments under the Equator Principles among the top five banks (15)[6] .

4. Bank of Montreal (BMO)


Environmental Policy: The Equator Principles and Environmental Risk Management

Responsible Lending: Evaluates risk on climate change, not engage in any unsustainable resource extraction such as rainforest logging[7] .

5. Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC)


Environmental Policy: The Equator Principles, Environmental Credit Risk, Environmental Risk Management, and Pre-Approved Environmental Consultants for undertakings

Responsible Lending: Manage high-environmental risk and Carbon Management Program[8] 

One argument many people have is that these banks should adopt the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act procedure when financing projects but, if you think about how banks cross all boundaries, it makes sense to use an internationally recognized environmental principle system in which is the baseline for all comparisons.  The ‘Big Five’ banks in Canada are well ranked within the financial industry worldwide, consistently ranking amongst the worlds best for their environmental practices. The Equator Principles are very similar to the environmental assessment process – with the goal of environmentally responsible decision making, and in some cases, based on each respective bank, they go above the requirements by implement greater restrictions. This ensures that the private sector is covered under environment assessment in some form and if clients do not comply with these standards, they must look elsewhere for funding.


[1] Canadian Bankers Association. (2014, January 4). Banks and Consumers. Retrieved January 20, 2014, from Canadian Bankers Association:

[2] Rainforest Action Network. (2011, September 28). Banks Ranked and Spanked on the Tar Sands. Retrieved January 20, 2014, from Rainforest Action Network:

[3] Rainforest Action Network. (2010, December 22). Royal Bank of Canada Steps Away from Tar Sands With Support for First Nation Rights. Retrieved January 20, 2014, from Rainforest Action Network:

[4] TD Bank Financial Group. (2009). Responsible Financing and Lending. Retrieved January 21, 2014, from TD Bank Financial Group:

[5] Royal Bank of Canada. (2012). RBC Environmental Blueprint: 2012 Report Card. Report Card, RBC.

[6] Scotiabank. (2013). Project Finance and the Equator Principles. Retrieved January 20, 2014, from Scotiabank:,,441,00.html

[7] Bank of Montreal. (2013). Responsible Lending. Retrieved January 20, 2014, from Bank of Montreal:

[8] CIBC. (2013). Lending and Investing. Retrieved January 20, 2014, from CIBC:

EIA and Sustainable Development: Recommendations from the Entropy Law, and Life-Cycle Assessment (LCA)

Defining Sustainability…

The management of the Earth’s resources in a way that does not threaten the ability of future generations to use the same resources

-The Brundtland Commission Report

The problem of achieving sustainability lies in the challenge of today’s societies figuring out how to “provide for the well-being of future generations given [Earth’s] ecological constraints” [2].

Earth as a Closed System

Consumers may not think of the creation, use, and destruction of a product as a cyclical process when they pick it off a Wal-Mart shelf.

The fact is they should! And so should EIA practitioners with a project.

When one “throws something out”, where do they think they are throwing it out to? The Earth is a closed system, and the reality is that they are throwing it out into the environment. It may be temporarily contained by an impermeable landfill, or incinerated into gases which are released and diluted into the atmosphere… but is this truly eliminating the product? No.

Over long periods of time the landfills may leach, and the atmosphere will become even more saturated with incinerated chemicals. The solution to “disposal” of products or projects is to not think of is as “disposal” at all. It must be considered as a cyclical process with the natural environment as both source and sink.

We are responsible for keeping our sink clean.


Figure 1: Hierarchy of physical and economic systems, adapted from [2]

Thermodynamics: The Entropy Law

Our production levels far exceed the levels of the Earth to assimilate our used outputs [2], and this is a problem for sustainability.

The second law of thermodynamics, the Entropy Law, takes into account the irreversibility of using inputs from the natural environment [2].

All physical process convert low-entropy energy and materials into high-entropy wastes.

– McMahon and Mrozek, 1997, 504

The directionality of the entropy law states that over time, the world becomes more disordered, and entropy increases. McMahon and Mrozek (1997) argue that the entropy law will be the eventual constraint to economic growth, and thus to sustainability, under our current neoclassical economic theory.*

Limited resources

Once a product is disposed of and forgotten, consumers often concede that it is no longer their problem. This mentality has pocketed the Earth with massive waste piles. Societies are digging massive holes to pump unused, high-entropy refuse into. We are hoping to never have our waste cross our minds again.

That is, until we collectively realized that mineral resources are becoming scarcer. After all, “resources may appear abundant until shortly before they are exhausted” [2].

The big question: Which processes and tools could help achieve sustainability?


EIA practitioners are instructed to use EIA as a tool for improved planning and decision-making for activities which involve the natural and human environments. CEAA ensures Canadians that EIA regulatory mechanisms are in the business of sustainable development because they are used to assess impacts and to mitigate accordingly, always with the future in mind [1].

Life-Cycle Analysis

Just as its very name implies, Life-Cycle Analysis (LCA) “is a tool designed to evaluate the impacts of the production, use and waste management of goods”, or in other words, to evaluate goods from “cradle-to-grave” [5].

Thus, it is suggested that the EIA process should not only be about project development but also about acknowledging Life-Cycle Assessment of inputs and outputs required to operationalize and decommission these development projects.

LCA is flexible in that choices on how to proceed in LCA (i.e. specific methodologies) can be determined based on “the goal of an LCA study” as well as “on the scientific perspectives of the researcher or practitioners” [3].

So why could it not be used to assess large-scale projects and not just the “cradle-to-grave” of one product?

Bringing EIA, Entropy and LCA Together…

What EIA practitioners must do is ensure that the development of projects does not continue to proceed in a linear fashion. LCA can offer the tools to ensure this. By examining life-cycles of large scale projects and minimizing inputs and outputs, a minimum of entropy is created where the planet is no longer a wasteworld of our damaging practices.

As societies become more aware of the importance of EIA and its role in sustainable development, EA practitioners could help consumers become aware of the importance of LCA.

LCA is a strategy to further reduce environmental impacts, increase societal awareness of resource use (and disuse). It also adds to proponent accountability for environmentally sound project development.

*Under neoclassical economic theory, sustainability lies in technological capabilities and societal innovations; but over time, substitutability will be less possible as entropy increases and low-entropy inputs become scarcer [2].


[1] Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency. (2013a). Overview: Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012. Retrieved November 17, 2013 from Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency:

(Note: At the time of retrieval the word “sustainability” was used on this webpage. It has since been modified (January 21, 2014) and the word omitted. This gives clear indication that EIA practitioners should be armed with knowledge and tools such as LCA to address sustainable development in EIA in the future.)

[2] McMahon, G. F., & Mrozek, J. R. (1997). Economics, entropy and sustainability. Hydrological Sciences Journal, 42(4), 501-512. doi: 10.1080/02626669709492050

[3] Rebitzer, G., et al. (2004). Life cycle assessment: Part 1: Framework, goal and scope definition, inventory analysis, and applications. Environment International, 30(5), 701-720.

[4] The World Commission on Environment and Development. 1987. Our common future. New York: Oxford University Press.

[5] Tukker, A. (2000). Life cycle assessment as a tool in environmental impact assessment. Environmental Impact Assessment Review, 20(4), 435-456.

Small steps for the World Bank Group, still waiting on their big step

by Sara Munčs

It is not immediately obvious to most environmentalists the huge role that banks have to play in terms of achieving environmental goals. Banks, being the lenders of the money, have the power to set conditions on the money they lend. Of course, at the individual or small business scale, these conditions generally involve having a good credit rating and enough personal assets to potentially cover losses. When we look to larger scale businesses and projects these conditions start to become more demanding. The World Bank Group (WBG), among the largest financial institutions in the world, has been setting environmental conditions on their borrowers since the late 1980s.

The World Bank created its central Environmental Department in 1987 and issued its Operational Directive 4.00 on Environmental Assessment (EA) in October 1989 (1). This EA directive established a screening process undergone by all projects seeking loans, where projects posing serious or medium environmental risks (A or B category respectively) would have to undergo environmental impact assessments (1). This process has evolved and improved over time; today the International Finance Corporation’s (IFC) (one of the WBG’s member institutions) performance standards on Environmental and Social Sustainability are largely regarded as best EA practice (2). However, many ambiguities in the WBG’s EA policy have led some to question their dedication to the environment.

For one, while the WBG establishes the requirement for EA to take place and gives general guidelines and standards, it is the borrower that conducts the assessment at their own discretion (1,2). There is, therefore, room for the borrower to submit insufficient assessments and get their projects approved. Furthermore, these assessment requirements do not strictly apply to projects being funded by a financial intermediary (3). That is, when the bank funds smaller financial institutions, who play the role of intermediary between the WBG funding and the project, as is generally the case with micro, small and medium-sized projects or enterprises (SME), these projects are no longer screened directly by the bank and IFC performance standards are not a requirement (2,3). Many projects with environmental impacts can escape scrutiny in this manner. Finally the Bank, historically, has put more emphasis on mitigation measures than on pursuing alternative projects with less impact (1). This demonstrates an acceptance by the bank that development cannot take place without environmental damage: a position that should be accepted as a last resort not as an unavoidable truth (1).

The WBG does seem to be changing this idea though, as can be seen in the following video outlining their new environmental strategy, which was adopted in 2012.

The concept that real development cannot take place without some level of environmental security seems to be taking hold, and it is recognized that neglecting to account for environmental damages will only continue to exacerbate social and economic problems, particularly in the developing world  (4). This position is even being accepted by smaller scale financial institutions as demonstrated by the increasing number of banks adhering to the Equator Principles for environmental and social risk management (5). The new environmental strategy proposes a number of actions to make the world greener, cleaner and more resilient, but what do they propose in terms of EA? Despite being an already existing tool that has a number of flaws, the answer to this question is “not much”.

Capacity building (as the usual go-to solution) is suggested, particularly to deal with the second problem that was mentioned about intermediary financial institutions. The WBG proposes to help financial institutions establish Environmental and Social Management Systems and to reach Equator Principle Member status. However, if one looks at Equator Principle membership it becomes obvious that institutions from developing countries are still lagging behind: only a handful of members are from Africa and none are from Asia with the exception of Japan (5). Granted this strategy has not been in place long, but clearly capacity building needs to be stepped up a notch.

What would have even more of an impact on EA and the environment than capacity building is, of course, not even acknowledged as a problem. It is clear that the WBG is playing the role of regulating authority for the EA’s conducted for the projects it finances: The WBG determines if an EA is required or not, has guidelines regarding how the EA should be conducted and makes the decision on whether the project will be approved for funding. However, the WBG is being lazy in this role and giving the proponents too much rein in how the EA is conducted. While general guidelines are given, project specific guidelines, similar to typical terms of reference documents would perhaps be more effective at ensuring the EA process is conducted properly. The WBG has to stop taking tiny, typical steps and make more drastic changes if they really want to support sustainable development.

1-Haeuber, R.(1992) “The World Bank and Environmental Assessment: The Role of Nongovernmental Organizations” Environmental Impact Assessment Review, Vol 12: 331-337.
2- IFC (2012) IFC Peformance Standards on Environmental and Social Sustainability.
3-Faubert, K. et al. (2010) “Environmental Assessment in Multilateral Development Bank Intermediary Lending” Journal of Environmental Assessment Policy and Management, Vol 12, No. 2: 131-153.
4-World Bank Group (2012) Towards a Green, Clean and Resilient World for All: A World Bank Group Environment Strategy 2012-2022.
5-Equator Principles Association (2013) “Members and Reporting” Retrieved from