Commitment to strengthen the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999, and to recognize a right to a healthy environment
Key findings from the strategic environmental assessment conducted for Commitment to strengthen the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999, and to recognize a right to a healthy environment.
The Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA) is the main federal law for preventing pollution and protecting the environment and human health. It is the legislative basis for many environmental and health protection programs through which Environment and Climate Change Canada delivers its mandate to preserve and enhance the quality of the natural environment, including water, air, soil, flora and fauna. Such programs include the Chemicals Management Plan (CMP), a Government of Canada initiative aimed at reducing the risks posed by harmful chemicals to Canadians and the environment.
Since its inception in 2006, the CMP has assessed thousands of potentially harmful chemicals, implemented over 400 risk management actions (e.g., regulations, codes of conduct) that stimulated preventive measures by industry, and contributed to better-informed decisions by Canadians. The CMP has made considerable progress in preventing pollution and protecting human health and the environment.
While CEPA is well structured, amendments are needed to modernize the Act. This was most recently recognized by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development (“ENVI Committee”) in its 87 recommendation report released on June 15, 2017 and entitled “Healthy Environment, Healthy Canadians, Healthy Economy: Strengthening the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999”.
Bill C-28, Strengthening Environmental Protection for a Healthier Canada Act, which was tabled in April 2021 seeks to modernize CEPA by strengthening provisions respecting chemicals management and recognizing a right to a healthy environment as provided for under the Act.
The proposed amendments to CEPA would lead to important positive environmental outcomes for Canadians and the environment.
Key expected outcomes of the initiative:
- recognition of a right to a healthy environment
- implementation of a rights framework that will ensure principles such as environmental justice and non-regression are considered in administering the Act
- improved control of toxic substances and living organisms
This initiative will enable the recognition of a right to a healthy environment (including implementation of a rights framework) and strengthen substantive and procedural environmental rights in CEPA, including:
- access to information and transparency by requiring reasons for confidential information claims and requiring disclosure of masked name substances when risk management measures are in place
- public participation and access to justice improvements
- expanded information gathering authorities
- environmental justice will be recognized through increased consideration of vulnerable populations and cumulative effects in risk assessments
A primary focus of the initiative and the ENVI Committee’s report is toxic substances and living organisms. The initiative contains numerous changes to the chemicals management regime under CEPA to make improvements and updates – some long overdue, some new and pressing in the face of evolving health and environmental toxicity challenges. The new substances program will provide the Minister with enhanced flexibility to obtain additional key information for risk assessments while supporting innovation. Much-needed forward-looking changes to replace the virtual elimination regime will have the outcome of minimizing Canadians’ exposure to toxic substances that pose the highest risk – such as carcinogens, mutagens, and reproductive toxins. The cumulative effects of chemicals will have to be considered in risk assessments.
The proposed amendments through this initiative would contribute directly to three of the 2019-2022 Federal Sustainable Development Strategy (FSDS) goals and their targets.
Effective action on climate change:
- several amendments, if implemented, could contribute to reducing air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, by ensuring that regulations can be made applicable to any part of Canada by enabling the development of regulations that target pollution or emissions in certain areas or zones
- these proposed amendments would also support the recent Government of Canada commitments to meet its 2030 GHG emission reduction target and achieve net-zero emissions by 2050; they would also contribute to the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goal (SDG)#13 - Climate Action
Pristine lakes and rivers:
- the proposed amendments, if implemented, would contribute to protecting lakes and rivers, by controlling toxic substances and living organisms – improving risk assessment and risk management
- these actions would also contribute to SDG#14 – Life below Water
Safe and healthy communities:
- a modernized CEPA would contribute to protecting Canadians from harmful substances, including air pollutants, by:
- recognizing a right to a healthy environment and implementing a rights framework that will ensure principles such as environmental justice and non-regression are considered in administering the Act
- improving risk assessment and risk management provisions
- requiring vulnerable populations to be considered in risk assessments
- actions under this FSDS Goal would also contribute to SDG#3 – Good Health and Well-Being, SDG#6 – Clean Water and Sanitation, SDG #12 – Responsible Consumption and Production, SDG #13, Climate Action, SDG #14, Life below Water, and SDG #15 – Life on Land
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