Guidance: Describing effects and characterizing extent of significance
- Guidance: Describing Effects and Characterizing Extent of Significance
- 1 Introduction
- 2 Describing positive and adverse effects
- 3 Characterizing extent of significance of adverse federal effects
- 4 Characterizing extent of significance in the Impact Statement
- 5 Characterizing extent of significance in the Impact Assessment Report
- 6 Decision-making
- Annex 1: Criteria for describing effects
- Annex 2: Case studies of lower to higher extent of significance of adverse federal effects
- Annex 3: Additional methods and best practices
- Annex 4: Resources
Guidance: Describing effects and characterizing extent of significanceFootnote1
This guidance is for practitioners and participantsFootnote2 of impact assessments and applies to designated projectsFootnote3 under the Impact Assessment Act (IAA). For projects on federal lands and outside of Canada that are not designated projects, the methodologies and best practices set out in this document may be used as appropriate to assist authorities in meeting their obligations to determine a project’s environmental effects under sections 81–91 of the IAA. For more information, see the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada’s (the Agency’s) Guidance Document for Projects on Federal Lands and outside of Canada on Sections 81 to 91 of the Impact Assessment Act.
1.1 Purpose and scope
This document provides guidance to practitioners and participants involved in impact assessments on how to describe a designated project’s likely effects in a manner that supports the public interest determination under the IAA. Effects are defined as changes to the environment or to health, social or economic conditions and the positive and negative consequences of these changes. This document also provides guidance on how to characterize the extent to which the likely adverse effects within federal jurisdiction, and those that are adverse direct or incidental effects ("adverse federal effects"), are significant.Footnote4
The description and characterization of effects is based upon the scope of the impact assessment and the valued components identified in the project’s Tailored Impact Statement Guidelines (for reference, see the Tailored Impact Statement Guidelines template). This document is intended to support proponents of designated projects in the preparation of an Impact Statement, in conjunction with other Impact Assessment Agency of Canada (Agency) policy and guidance instruments. This document informs the preparation of the Agency’s Impact Assessment Report.
The following text box cites the effects within federal jurisdiction listed under the IAA.
Effects within federal jurisdiction
As defined in section 2 of the IAA, effects within federal jurisdiction are:
- a change to the following components of the environment that are within the legislative authority of Parliament: fish and fish habitat (as defined in subsection 2(1) of the Fisheries Act), aquatic species (as defined in subsection 2(1) of the Species at Risk Act), migratory birds (as defined in subsection 2(1) of the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994), and any other component of the environment that is set out in Schedule 3;
- a change to the environment that would occur on federal lands, in a province other than the one where the physical activity is carried out, or outside Canada;
- an impact – occurring in Canada and resulting from any change to the environment – to Indigenous peoples, such as to physical and cultural heritage, the current use of lands and resources for traditional purposes or any structure, site or thing that is of historical, archaeological, paleontological or architectural significance;
- any change occurring in Canada to the health, social or economic conditions of the Indigenous peoples of Canada; and
- any change to a health, social or economic matter that is within the legislative authority of Parliament that is set out in Schedule 3.
The description and characterization of a designated project’s likely effects supports Indigenous peoples and the public in understanding the potential effects of a project, the interactions between these effects and their positive and negative consequences. It supports Indigenous governing bodiesFootnote5 in considering their free, prior and informed consentFootnote6 to a designated project by providing them with the necessary information to understand the types and significance of effects on their communities. More generally, this document aligns with and complements the existing Guidance: Assessment of Potential Impacts on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
This document informs the analysis of factors to be considered in impact assessments as required under section 22(1)),Footnote7 such as:
- the extent to which a designated project contributes to sustainability;
- the extent to which a designated project hinders or contributes to the government’s ability to meet its environmental obligations and climate change commitments;Footnote8
- the effects of malfunctions or accidents that may occur in connection with the project;
- any cumulative effects that are likely to result from the project; and
- any change to the project that may be caused by the environment.
As outlined in Figure 1, this document specifically outlines the approach to:
- describing the environmental, health, social and economic effects that are likely to be caused by the carrying out of a project; and
- characterizing the extent to which likely adverse federal effects are significant.
Figure 1: Describing effects and characterizing extent of significance
Consider Indigenous knowledge, community knowledge and input received from Indigenous communities, the public, federal authorities and other stakeholders.
1.2 Technical concepts and definitions related to the assessment of effects
The following concepts and definitions, listed in the order in which they appear in the impact assessment process, are defined and explained according to how they inform the assessment of effects under the IAA, including the extent to which adverse federal effects are significant.
Valued components (VCs) refer to elements of the human and natural environment that are important to participants in an impact assessment process. Valued components are identified by Indigenous communities, the public, federal authorities or proponents. They may have scientific, biological, social, cultural, economic, historical, archaeological or aesthetic importance, and may be intricately related to community healthFootnote9 and well-being.
Valued components provide the foundation for the assessment of effects. They should be clearly linked to issues raised during engagement activities for a project, and related to relevant assessment matters, including environmental, health, social, economic and Indigenous interests. The scoping of issues will identify valued components that are protected by frameworks (such as federally protected species at risk) or valued components that are linked to factors to be considered in impact assessment under the IAA (e.g., the extent to which the project contributes to sustainability).Footnote10 Issues scoping should include consideration of scientific and community knowledge alongside Indigenous knowledge.
The term effect pathway refers to the cause–effect linkage between a project and components of the human or natural environment. Understanding the effect pathways and the interaction between effects helps to clarify the relationship between valued components when describing effects, and can be used to focus the assessment of effects. In some cases, the pathway between a project and a component of the human or natural environment is direct. In other cases, the project may affect the component indirectly by causing additional (incidental) changes in the human or natural environment on which the component depends. The description of relevant effect pathways may help to identify valued components and the mechanisms by which effects link to other components.
For example, activities related to exploration drilling in Arctic waters may introduce heavy metal contaminants in the ocean water column, causing mortality to Arctic char directly through damage to respiratory organs. If the Arctic char population in the vicinity of the contaminated water column is affected, then the ecosystem may not be able to provide adequate fish resources necessary for harvesting. This may result in direct impacts on Indigenous rights to harvest fish for food, social and ceremonial purposes. Indirect effects (e.g., altered predation behaviour) on predators of Arctic char, such as sea otters and polar bear, may occur as a result of reduced prey abundance or reproductive failure in Arctic char from contamination of the water column.Footnote11
Indicators, qualitative or quantitative metrics used to assess the condition and trend of valued components, represent another aspect of valued components that are important in understanding the potential effects of a project. Indicators and their parameters should be clearly identified in order to better understand the interactions between the project’s effects and the selected valued components. For example, the degree of change to the quality of the harvesting experience for an Indigenous community may be used as an indicator to describe effects on the valued component "current use of lands and resources".
A residual effect is the effect of a project that remains, or is predicted to remain, even after mitigation measures (see definition below) have been implemented. When identifying residual effects, proponents must consider the existing conditions of the valued component, the project-related effects on the valued component, and the proposed mitigation. The effectiveness of mitigation and the timing for effectiveness should both be considered when identifying residual effects. The best available evidence, science and Indigenous knowledge should be considered when identifying residual effects, and all uncertainties related to the effectiveness of mitigation measures must be considered. The residual effects analysis should be clearly documented, and all supporting rationales should be described in sufficient detail to support the analysis.
Mitigation measures are features of a project intended to eliminate, reduce, control or offset the adverse effects of a project (e.g., treating discharge water from a mine). They include restitution for any damage to the environment caused by those effects through replacement, restoration, compensation or other means (e.g., replacing lost fish habitat). Mitigation measures must be technically and economically feasible.
Extent of significance is the principal means of characterizing adverse federal effects in a manner that enables decision-makers to understand the importance of adverse effects on areas of federal jurisdiction. Although there is no definition of "significance" in the IAA, the common dictionary definition of the term applies: "the quality of being worthy of attention; importance".Footnote12 In the context of designated projects, the extent to which a project’s adverse federal effects are significant must be supported by findings based on the outcomes of the effects assessment and a consideration of the other factors set out in section 22 of the IAA. Extent of significance applies only to residual effects.
1.3 Roles and responsibilitiesFootnote13
This section outlines the roles and responsibilities of proponents, Indigenous peoples, the public, expert federal authorities, the Agency or review panel, and the decision-maker in relation to the description and characterization of effects.
Proponents support the impact assessment process through their description of a project’s likely effects and their characterization of the extent to which adverse federal effects are significant. Proponents must provide the Agency with the information or studies set out in the Tailored Impact Statement Guidelines issued with the Agency’s Notice of Commencement. As part of this requirement, proponents must consider Indigenous knowledge, scientific information, community knowledge and other evidence, and collaborate and partner with Indigenous communities to identify potential effects, gather information and address concerns that may be raised.
In their Impact Statement, proponents must describe all likely potential effects in a manner that is sufficient to enable impact assessment participants to understand:
- the changes that are likely to be caused by the project and the positive and negative consequences of these changes (i.e., the effects);
- the interaction(s) between effects;
- any cumulative effects that are likely to result from the project, combined with the effects of other past, present and reasonably foreseeable projects and activities; and
- the sources and degree of uncertainty in the assessment for all effects and how this uncertainty may affect the potential conclusions of the assessment.
For adverse federal effects, proponents are to:
- indicate, from among the residual effects that are likely to be caused by the carrying out of the project, those that are adverse federal effects; and
- propose and implement a means of characterizing the extent to which adverse federal effects are significant.
Indigenous peoples play a crucial role in the impact assessment process, and may identify key issues of concern, including effects on Indigenous peoples and impacts on Indigenous rights. Indigenous communities often engage with proponents to scope and undertake studies, in addition to informing or co-developing relevant information for the description of a project’s likely effects and to understand and characterize the extent to which adverse federal effects are significant. Indigenous communities may choose to conduct their own studies and compile their own information, and may undertake their own assessments, including community engagement activities and assessments under Indigenous laws.
If an Indigenous community is interested in doing so, they may lead the assessment of effects on their community (see section 2.1 for further detail). Indigenous communities are best placed to understand how a project may affect their rights and their community. The assessment of impacts on rights, the description of likely effects on Indigenous peoples, and the characterization of the extent to which adverse federal effects on Indigenous peoples are significant may be undertaken in tandem if Indigenous communities choose to do so. A discussion among Indigenous communities, the proponent and the Agency about this approach, including how Indigenous communities would like to see the assessment reflected in the Impact Statement, should occur early in the impact assessment process.
To ensure that all information and studies outlined in the Tailored Impact Statement Guidelines are included, Indigenous communities may wish to review the proponent’s Impact Statement and provide advice to the Agency during the Impact Statement Phase. In keeping with the Agency’s Guidance: Assessment of Potential Impacts on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Indigenous communities may co-develop, with the Agency, sections of the draft Impact Assessment Report, potential conditions and the draft Consultation Report relevant to the communities affected. If the impact assessment of a project is referred to a review panel, details about how the review panel will engage with Indigenous communities will be set on a case-by-case basis.
Collaboration and partnership with Indigenous peoples are essential to understanding the potential effects of a project. The participation, expertise and knowledge of Indigenous peoples provide for a more robust and accurate description of effects. This also supports the assessment of potential impacts on the rights of Indigenous peoples, as outlined in the Guidance: Assessment of Potential Impacts on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and helps to validate the information and analysis of other participants in the impact assessment process.
In addition, collaboration with Indigenous peoples in impact assessments supports the Agency’s progress on the government’s commitment to reconciliation and the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, as it relates to the impact assessment process and its outcomes. The description and characterization of effects is an important building block in developing informed outcomes, decisions and consensus-based conclusions.
The public provides input and comments on key documents during the impact assessment process, contributes community knowledge, and may identify key issues of concern for the assessment of effects. The public may review and comment on the Tailored Impact Statement Guidelines and the proponent’s description and characterization of effects in the Impact Statement.
Public participation should begin early in the impact assessment process. During all phases of the impact assessment, practitioners play a crucial role in supporting meaningful public engagement by describing and characterizing effects in a manner that enables members of the public to understand them and to provide their perspectives in a way that informs and influences decisions.
Expert federal authorities provide specialist information and knowledge that support the impact assessment process. They review and provide input on the Tailored Impact Statement Guidelines and, when requested by the Agency, engage the proponent to specify information necessary for the assessment of effects. Federal authorities review the proponent’s Impact Statement to ensure that all information and studies outlined in the Tailored Impact Statement Guidelines are included, and examine the proponent’s information, analysis and results relevant to their respective mandates. In addition, during the Impact Assessment Phase, federal authorities provide expert advice to support the development of the Agency or review panel’s Impact Assessment Report and potential conditions.
The Agency or review panelFootnote14 considers and assesses the information provided by the proponent, Indigenous communities, federal authorities, the public and other participants in the impact assessment process to determine the likely effects of a project in a manner that enables the decision-maker to fully understand the project’s potential effects. The Agency or review panel’s findings are set out in the Impact Assessment Report, which is the basis for the public interest determination.Footnote15 The report:
- sets out and describes the positive and adverse effects that are likely to be caused by the carrying out of the project;
- indicates, from among the residual effects set out in the report, those that are adverse federal effects and characterizes the extent to which those effects are significant; and
- provides a rationale, conclusions and any recommendations in relation to the likely effects of the project and any mitigation measures and follow-up programs that are required.
After taking into account the Agency or review panel’s Impact Assessment Report, the Minister of the Environment and Climate Change (the Minister) or Governor in Council (Cabinet) must determine whether the adverse federal effects that are indicated in the report, in light of the five public interest factorsFootnote16 and the extent to which those effects are significant, are in the public interest.
2 Describing positive and adverse effects
In their Impact Statement, proponents must:
- set out positive and adverse effects on valued components identified in a project’s Tailored Impact Statement Guidelines;
- consider technically and economically feasible mitigation measures for adverse effects, and identify follow-up programs, monitoring and adaptive management plans; and
- describe the likely residual environmental, health, social or economic effectsFootnote17 for all phases of the project (i.e., construction, operation, decommissioning and abandonment), including the effects of malfunctions or accidents that may occur in connection with the project.
The description and characterization of effects must consider likely effects. Likely effects are interpreted to mean "more likely than not" (i.e., greater than a 50% probability of occurrence) but should also be understood in the context of risk, as even an unlikely effect may be unacceptable if it is severe enough (see the discussion of likelihood in Annex 3). The degree of confidence in the probability or likelihood of the effect occurring should be included in the analysis.
Proponents must describe likely residual effects in a manner that is sufficient to enable impact assessment practitioners, participants and, ultimately, the decision-maker, to understand the effects and their importance to the impact assessment. The description of effects may be qualitative or quantitative, and should take into account the social and ecological contexts within which they occur.
The description of likely residual effects should be based on a comparison of baseline conditions and the predicted future conditions with the project in place. In some cases it may be appropriate to determine future conditions both with, and without, the project in place in order to account for potential changes in baseline conditions (e.g., changes to socio-economic conditions or potential future climate change) and to reflect the full range of potential cumulative effects. The description of effects must rely on evidence-based methods informed by science and Indigenous knowledge, and describe the degree and nature of uncertainty related to the data and methods used. This includes the uncertainty associated with describing or quantifying benchmarks or criteria (e.g., the uncertainty of the magnitude of the effect). Sources of uncertainty should be clearly outlined to provide a basis for the stated degree of confidence in the analysis, and proponents should ensure that the perspectives of Indigenous communities regarding uncertainty are integrated within the assessment of effects on Indigenous peoples (see the description of uncertainty in Annex 1).
The description of effects must include a separate cumulative effects assessmentFootnote18 that considers any cumulative effects likely to result from the project in combination with other physical activities that have been or will be carried out. The criteria used to quantify and qualify adverse effects also apply for cumulative effects. Consideration must be given to the risks and uncertainties associated with cumulative effects, and the results of any interactions between valued components, the project and other physical activities.
When describing likely residual effects, proponents must consider input received from Indigenous communities, the public, federal authorities, other jurisdictions and other participants in the impact assessment process. Proponents must work collaboratively with Indigenous communities and strive to form partnerships during the impact assessment process. Where possible, Indigenous communities should lead the assessment of effects on their community. As each Indigenous community is unique, the circumstances that may cause an effect on Indigenous peoples (e.g., effects on their use of lands and resources for traditional purposes) must be examined for each community and involve their direct input. The analysis of all effects (not only those on Indigenous peoples) must reflect Indigenous knowledge systems and community perspectives.
The description of effects should be appropriate for the type of effect (e.g., social effects may be described differently than biophysical effects) using the following criteria: magnitude, geographical extent, timing, frequency, duration, reversibility, social and ecological contexts, and uncertainty (see Annex 1). Where evidence-, scientific- or value-based management or ecological standards, guidelines, objectives or descriptorsFootnote19 exist, effects should be described in relation to these benchmarks (note that appropriate reference values should be determined in advance of the analysis). The interplay between the criteria and the contexts within which the effects occur (such as the sensitivity, resilience, scarcity, stability and capacity of the receiving environment) must be described.
Proponents and practitioners should work with Indigenous communities to define and apply criteria and relevant benchmarks including but not limited to the description of effects on Indigenous peoples. Criteria may include those identified in Guidance: Assessment of Potential Impacts on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and other relevant criteria proposed by an Indigenous community. These criteria should be applied to determine the extent to which adverse federal effects on Indigenous peoples are significant.
In the absence of evidence-, scientific- and value-based standards, guidelines, objectives or descriptors, proponents should apply the criteria listed above but may also use alternative criteria when it is more appropriate to do so. Proponents or Indigenous communities must provide a definition of the alternative criteria and a rationale for their use. Definitions and rationales should be sufficient to enable all participants involved in the impact assessment to understand the proponent’s analysis of effects.
For all positive and adverse effects:
- Proponents should describe effects in relation to any existing best practice or evidence-, scientific- or value-based standards, guidelines, objectives and descriptors that are relevant to the effect. For example, water quality guidelines establish limits for the discharge of contaminants such as phosphorus and nitrogen into water because such contaminants are known to have adverse effects on human health and to cause eutrophication of freshwater lakes.
- Where effects are described quantitatively, proponents should use variables that summarize degrees of difference. For example, the effects of a project over time with climate change may be described quantitatively in degrees of difference between current and future baseline conditions (e.g., by considering changes to components such as wetland function and rainfall extremes due to future climate change).
- In other cases, proponents may describe the effect in relation to a relevant comparator, such as another major project or activity. For example, proponents may describe the direct and indirect employment that would be created by the project in relation to an existing local or regional employer.
- Tolerance or acceptability levels as provided by Indigenous communities must be considered in the description of effects. For example, an adverse effect on an Indigenous community’s current use of land and resources is one where the proposed use of land for the project may create a change or disruption that restricts or degrades traditional land uses to the extent that the change is defined by a community as culturally and environmentally unacceptable.
- Descriptors such as "high/moderate/low (or negligible)" or other descriptors of variability or range may be used. For example, ordinal variables such as high, middle or low income may describe socio-economic status. When describing effects in this manner, proponents should describe the relative or absolute degree of difference between descriptors.
- When using descriptors of variability such as "high/moderate/low (or negligible)", proponents should not describe effects in a subjective way, as project effects may be viewed differently by different people or groups. When describing effects, proponents should consider the social and community context within which the effects occur, as this will help to understand whether effects are perceived as positive or adverse. If proponents use normative descriptors,Footnote20 they should describe where there may be differing perspectives among affected individuals and groups as to how these descriptors should be applied. In addition, proponents should note that more than one description may be necessary for an effect.
2.1 Effects on Indigenous peoples
Under the IAA, all impact assessments must assess:
- the effects of a project on the health, social and economic conditions of the Indigenous peoples of Canada; and
- the impacts that may result from any change to the environment, on physical and cultural heritage, the current use of lands and resources for traditional purposes, or any structure, site or thing that is of historical, archaeological, paleontological or architectural significance.
Practitioners are to work collaboratively with Indigenous communities to assess all areas of concern identified by Indigenous communities as potentially affected by the project (see Box "Describing Effects on Indigenous Peoples" below). If they so choose, Indigenous communities may lead the assessment of effects on their community. If they choose not to lead, Indigenous communities should be offered an active role in all process steps undertaken by the proponent, such as identifying relevant criteria, thresholds and descriptors appropriate to the description of effects, as well as validating and providing conclusions on the extent of significance of effects, and pathways of effects, on their communities.
Proponents should discuss with Indigenous communities whether proponents may provide conclusions on the extent to which effects on an Indigenous community are significant. While proponents may choose to provide conclusions for effects within federal jurisdiction, Indigenous communities are encouraged to provide their own assessment findings and conclusions with respect to the extent of significance of effects on their community. In both cases, it is strongly encouraged that the assessment of effects use the methodology for the assessment of potential impacts on the rights of Indigenous peoples (see next paragraph), including the use of criteria to evaluate the potential severity of impacts. Practitioners and proponents should refer to the Guidance: Indigenous Participation in Impact Assessment, the Guidance: Collaboration with Indigenous Peoples in Impact Assessment and the Tailored Impact Statement Guidelines for information on how to build consensus and seek agreement with Indigenous communities regarding the assessment of effects on Indigenous peoples.
As outlined in Guidance: Assessment of Potential Impacts on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, impact assessments also require a separate assessment of potential impacts on the rights of Indigenous peoples. This assessment will require cooperation between the rights-holding Indigenous community, the proponent, the Agency, other federal authorities and, in many cases, the government of another jurisdiction. The roles and responsibilities of each party may vary from one impact assessment to another, depending on the circumstances. If an Indigenous community is interested in doing so, they should lead the assessment of impacts on their rights as they are best placed to understand how their rights and their relationship with the landscape may be affected by the project. In such cases, the Agency would work with the Indigenous community on the assessment while coordinating the process with other federal authorities and the proponent, as needed.
In cases where Indigenous peoples and the Agency provide direction to the proponent, parts or all of the assessments of effects on Indigenous peoples and the impacts on Indigenous rights may be done together. This allows Indigenous communities to conduct effects assessments in a meaningful way and promotes consistency in the methodologies and conclusions. For example, effects on the current use of lands and resources for traditional purposes and impacts on Indigenous rights to hunt, fish and trap are often the same since they consist of changes to the same activities that Indigenous peoples undertake on lands and waters. Therefore, where directed, undertaking these assessments together will facilitate reaching consistent conclusions while demonstrating that these conclusions apply both to impacts on Indigenous rights and effects on Indigenous peoples as per the IAA. It is important to note that if the assessment is done together, it must be demonstrated that all of the distinct requirements of the IAA for each type of assessment have been fulfilled. For further information, consult the Guidance: Assessment of Potential Impacts on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Describing Effects on Indigenous Peoples
Describing effects on Indigenous peoples involves an understanding of the lands, waters and resources necessary to support the meaningful practice of Indigenous rights, and the relationship that the Indigenous community has with these resources. Potentially affected valued components, as identified by Indigenous communities, may comprise factors such as culturally defined values, culturally important species and important cultural landscapes (see Table 1 below). Valued components should be considered within their social and ecological contexts – for example, ancestral connection, a sense of place, and social determinants of health and well-being. When describing and characterizing effects on Indigenous peoples, criteria such as cultural well-being, cumulative effects, governance, impact inequity and health, developed in collaboration with Indigenous communities, should be applied.
For guidance on a suggested methodology and criteria to evaluate the degree to which the rights of Indigenous peoples may be adversely affected, consult the Guidance: Assessment of Potential Impacts on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This methodology and criteria should be applied when assessing the extent to which adverse federal effects on Indigenous peoples are significant.
Table 1: Degrees of severity for adverse effects on Indigenous peoples
Note: Adverse effects on Indigenous people may include criteria from different categories of severity (i.e., low/moderate/high severity). The final conclusion should be informed by a reasonable weighing of all evidence and rationales provided.
- Low severity
- Effects are likely to be minor in scale, of short duration, infrequent, small in spatial extent, reversible or readily avoided or reduced; cultural well-being is minimally disrupted; no or few effects on health and/or country foods; few (or no) existing or proposed developments or historic impacts in a community’s territory; the project and activities are in alignment with a community’s development, land- or water-use plans; sub-groups of the population are resilient enough to sustain impacts and maintain exercise of rights; mitigation should allow for the practice of the right to continue in the same or similar manner as before any impact.
- Moderate severity
- Effects are likely to be medium in scale, of moderate duration, occasionally frequent, possibly/partially reversible, and spatial extent affects preferred use areas or disrupts interconnectedness and/or knowledge transfer; cultural well-being is impeded or altered; impacts exist to individual and/or community holistic health, including perceptions of impacts; the project interacts with a few preferred areas where rights can be practiced, and some historic, existing or proposed development and/or disturbance; the project may not be compatible with aspects of land-use plans or application of traditional laws and governance; diverse populations are likely to experience higher impact on the ability to exercise rights; mitigation may not fully ameliorate impact but should enable the Indigenous community to continue exercising its rights as before, or in a modified way.
- High severity
- Effects are likely to be major in scale, permanent/long-term, frequent, possibly irreversible and over a large spatial extent or within an area of exclusive/preferred use; cultural well-being is disrupted, impeded or removed; the project interacts with the only area where a right may be exercised and there are many historic, existing or proposed developments and/or disturbance; decision-making associated with governance and title adversely affected; sub-groups will be disproportionately affected by the project and experience no to little benefit; mitigation is unable to fully address impacts such that the practice of the right is substantively diminished or lost.
2.2 Other factors to consider: Gender-based Analysis Plus (GBA Plus)
Gender-based Analysis Plus (GBA Plus) is an analytical tool – a way of thinking, as opposed to a specific set of prescribed methods. It provides a framework and a set of analytical questions to guide an impact assessment and determine whether there are different effects on diverse populations. These effects may vary based on identity factors (e.g., Indigenous identity, ethnicity, gender, sex, age ability and location) and their intersectionality (e.g., Indigenous women in rural communities; children with respiratory issues). For example, identities interact with structural forms of exclusion such as poverty, racism, colonialism, sexism and ableism, which influence how people and communities experience a project’s potential effects.
In order to support a comprehensive description of a project’s potential positive and adverse effects, practitioners should describe effects in relation to diverse populations who may experience effects differently. The application of GBA Plus to the assessment of effects may reveal differing levels of effects for diverse populations (e.g., youth and Elders), including who will receive benefits, who may be more adversely affected, and how this relates to a community or group’s overall physical and mental well-being, both in the shorter term and across future generations. Proponents and practitioners should refer to the Guidance: Gender-based Analysis Plus in Impact Assessment for further detail and begin to incorporate such considerations early in the impact assessment process.
3 Characterizing extent of significance of adverse federal effects
Understanding the extent to which adverse federal effects are significantFootnote21 is central to decision-making under the IAA, and enables the Minister or Cabinet to understand the adverse effects a project may have on areas of federal jurisdiction. The characterization of the extent of significance of adverse federal effects must consider likely effects and applies only to residual effects.
Under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (2012), significance was a binary determination: adverse federal effects were significant or not. Designated projects that were likely to cause significant adverse effects were referred to Cabinet for decision. For impact assessments under the IAA, significance is not a binary determination but considers the extent to which adverse federal effects are significant, supported by findings based on the outcomes of the effects assessment and a consideration of factors set out in section 22 of the IAA.
The approach for characterizing extent of significance is based on the principle that significance determinations systematically integrate and consider all relevant science- and evidence-based knowledge and perspectives, such as benchmarks (where they exist) and criteria that are clearly defined and appropriate to the assessment of effects. Benchmarks such as standards, guidelines, descriptors or objectives may help to understand the extent to which effects alter a valued component’s environmental, health, social or economic conditions (whether through specific or multiple stressors) and provide information on levels of effects on a valued component.Footnote22 Benchmarks may include tolerance or acceptability levels as defined by Indigenous communities. Criteria should be based on both the physical characteristics of an effect (e.g., magnitude, geographical extent, timing, frequency, duration, reversibility and uncertainty) and the context-specific value characteristics (e.g., environmental, health, social and economic conditions).
The determination of the extent to which adverse federal effects are significant also considers the nature of the effect and the context in which the effect occurs (including baseline conditions), and may involve a value-based judgement about the severity of the effect, informed by science, evidence, Indigenous knowledge, and the perspectives of Indigenous communities and the public.Footnote23 In addition, the characterization of extent of significance:
- is not exclusively technical or quantitative, but may be value dependent (e.g., considers the lived experiences and perceptions of individuals and communities, including experiences resulting from cumulative effects);
- allows scientific quantification, qualification and prediction of effects to be jointly considered alongside Indigenous knowledge;
- ensures that methods are fully defined, substantiated and appropriate to the assessment of effects and their interactions;
- ensures that Indigenous peoples are provided the opportunity to identify relevant criteria and benchmarks, and to validate and provide conclusions on the extent of significance of effects to their communities;
- considers whether effects may be experienced differently among diverse populations (GBA Plus); and
- considers the sources and degree of uncertainty in the assessment and how this uncertainty may affect extent of significance determinations.
The extent to which adverse federal effects are significant may be characterized along quantitative or qualitative (descriptive) scales such as "negligible/low/moderate/high". This sliding scale of extent of significance should take into account benchmarks (e.g., standards, guidelines, descriptors or objectives, where they exist), criteria (e.g., magnitude, geographical extent, timing, frequency, duration, reversibility and uncertainty) and environmental, health, social and economic conditions.Footnote24 Such scales should clearly define the levels of measurement (e.g., nominal, ordinal, interval or ratio), and the relative or absolute degrees of difference between each level. Benchmarks should be determined in advance of the analysis. The text box below provides additional considerations for cumulative effects.
Considering cumulative effects against benchmarks and limit values
Benchmarks may include:
- legal benchmarks for scarce or unique resources and sensitive receptors;
- standards that protect disruptions to the functioning of ecological, social or economic systems;
- impact intensity criteria, such as magnitude, duration or frequency;
- impact characteristic criteria, such as permanent or irreversible effects; and
- thresholds of acceptable change, such as those set in reference to Indigenous laws and norms.
It is important to consider that many benchmarks are not intended to determine the effects of a single project but to establish limits for all projects and activities within an area (e.g., an air-shed or watershed). Using benchmarks as limit values must take into consideration other inputs in an area and its baseline characteristics (e.g., whether an environment is already degraded). While the residual adverse effects of a project on their own may be considered low, the cumulative effects of the project combined with past, present and foreseeable activities may approach or exceed a limit (and may therefore have a high extent of significance). For example, if a project’s effects result in an increase in air pollutants that approach half the legal limit, this may still be considered a high extent of significance in the context of cumulative effects.
The parameters for predicted change to valued components against standards, guidelines, descriptors or objectives should be based on science or Indigenous knowledge, and may draw from experiences, practices, knowledge systems, beliefs and core values. When establishing value-based objectives or descriptors, a previous preferred state or a desired future state (as determined by the communities affected and an assessment of baseline conditions) should be assessed in relation to the capacity to achieve this state based on potential effects on health, social, cultural or economic conditions. The text box below provides an example of culturally appropriate thresholds of harvesting experience as defined by an Indigenous community.
What are culturally appropriate thresholds?
An Indigenous community states that 6 moose and 80 fish must be harvested per month to ensure food security for families and the continued transfer of Indigenous knowledge for future generations. If a project’s activities cause harvest rates to go below these threshold numbers, the Indigenous community will experience adverse effects on food security and cultural continuity. This may also result in impacts on Indigenous rights due to a lessening of the viability of harvesting skills over time. The extent to which these effects are significant will depend on the degree to which harvest rates fall short of culturally appropriate harvest thresholds, and what socially acceptable parameters of change (for present and future generations) the Indigenous community may accept.
Table 2 provides suggested criteria for extent of significance determinations and represents a sliding scale of likely adverse effects on a valued component, ranging from negligible/low to moderate to high. Adverse residual federal effects may include criteria from different levels. For example, an effect may be low in magnitude, moderate in spatial extent and irreversible. The final characterization of extent of significance may include multiple criteria and multiple benchmarks. The value ascribed to the affect by Indigenous communities and the public should also be considered, and conclusions on extent of significance should be informed by a reasonable weighing of all evidence and rationales provided. See Annex 2 (Table 4) for case studies of lower to higher extent of significance of adverse federal effects.
|Negligible* or Low||Moderate||High|
Effects are likely to be negligible or minor in scale if they are negligible or low in magnitude, of short duration, infrequent, small in spatial extent, reversible or readily avoided, and to generate few or minor impacts in social or ecological contexts. Mitigation measures will allow baseline conditions to remain largely unchanged.
* A "negligible" effect does not mean "no effect" but that an effect is sufficiently small to likely not result in a noticeable change to the valued component. However, in the context of cumulative effects, a negligible effect may be important in understanding regional effects as a whole. For example, while an effect may be negligible on its own, it may be amplified if other physical activities affect the same valued component.
Effects are likely to be medium in scale if they are moderate in magnitude, of moderate duration, occasionally frequent, possibly/partially reversible, and to generate a moderate level of impacts in social or ecological contexts. Mitigation measures may not fully eliminate, reduce, control or offset effects but should enable affected communities to maintain economic and social well-being, and should prevent the diminishment or loss of key components of the environment and its ecological functioning.
Effects are likely to be severe in scale if they are high in magnitude, permanent/long term, frequent, irreversible, and over a large spatial extent or within an area of exclusive/preferred Indigenous use or of ecological/environmental sensitivity. High levels of impacts in social or ecological contexts are expected. There is a high degree of uncertainty of the effectiveness of mitigation measures, or mitigation measures are unable to fully address effects such that valued components are diminished or lost.
Characterizing extent of significance along quantitative or qualitative scales is a recommended methodology for assessing adverse federal effects. Other methods exist, however, such as risk assessment and modelling, quantitative and qualitative aggregation, and reasoned argumentation and professional judgement (see Annex 3).
These methodologies and best practices are often interrelated and can be used in combination to determine extent of significance. In addition, scientific evidence, Indigenous knowledge, community knowledge and stakeholder information may be used in combination to inform methods and approaches. For example, collaborative approaches with Indigenous communities that consider Indigenous knowledge and Indigenous values may be used to adapt benchmarks, and to establish criteria and thresholds more appropriate to a particular effect.
Practitioners should refer to Annex 3 for further methodologies and best practices, and to Annex 4 for a list of resources.
4 Characterizing extent of significance in the Impact Statement
In the Impact Statement, proponents will propose and implement a means of characterizing the extent to which adverse federal effects are significant. Extent of significance applies only to residual effects. Proponents should:
- Describe any environmental, health, social or economic effects, including the interactions between these effects and their positive and negative consequences.
- Consider the extent to which planned mitigation measures will eliminate, reduce, control or offset the adverse effects of a project.
- Indicate, from among the likely effects of the project, those that are adverse residual federal effects.
- Propose and implement a means of characterizing the extent to which adverse residual federal effects are significant. This should draw on the description of residual effects, and follow the approach outlined in section 3 above.
- Take into account Indigenous knowledge and the comments received from Indigenous communities during the Planning Phase and during the development of the Impact Statement.
- Take into account public comments and community knowledge received during the Planning Phase and during the development of the Impact Statement.
- Provide conclusions by Indigenous peoples on the extent of significance of effects on their communities (see directly below).
For effects on Indigenous peoples, the proponent may choose to provide conclusions on the extent of significance of effects on the Indigenous communities affected by the project, or may have conclusions provided by the Indigenous community conducting the assessment. All perspectives and the rationale for conclusions should be documented in the Impact Statement. The information provided should be clear and sufficient to enable the Agency, review panel, Indigenous communities and other participants to evaluate the proponent’s characterization of residual effects and the analysis of the extent to which adverse federal effects are significant.
Proponents should consult with the Agency on any questions they may have about whether an adverse effect, or the adverse direct or incidental effect, is in federal jurisdiction. The Agency will validate the proponent’s determination of which of the project’s likely effects are adverse federal effects. In the Impact Assessment Report, the Agency or review panel will also validate the proponent’s characterization of the extent to which those adverse federal effects are significant.
5 Characterizing extent of significance in the Impact Assessment Report
The Impact Assessment Report is the basis for the public interest determination. Prepared by either the Agency or a review panel, the report sets out the description of a project’s likely effects and the proposed mitigation measures. The report characterizes the adverse residual federal effects and the extent to which they are significant, drawing on the proponent’s Impact Statement and the information gathered during the impact assessment process. In order to ensure that Indigenous communities, the public and other participants are provided a meaningful opportunity to participate in the impact assessment, the Agency or review panel will take into account comments received and any Indigenous knowledge provided. If there are differing conclusions put forward by Indigenous communities, or there are conflicts between Indigenous and scientific knowledge, they should be highlighted by the Agency or review panel, alongside the accompanying rationale and conclusions. Review panels are also required to hold public hearings that offer meaningful participation in the impact assessment process.
In the Impact Assessment Report, the Agency or review panel should:
- Set out the positive and adverse residual effects that, in their respective opinion, are likely to be caused by the carrying out of the project, including effects on the environment and on health, social and economic conditions, and effects on Indigenous peoples.
- In doing so, consider the extent to which planned mitigation measures will eliminate, reduce, control or offset the adverse effects of a project.
- Set out how the Agency or review panel, in determining the project’s likely effects, took into account and used any Indigenous knowledge provided with respect to the project.
- Describe how comments and information provided by Indigenous communities, the public and other participants were considered.
- To the extent possible, reflect the outcomes of the assessment of impacts on Indigenous rights together with conclusions on the extent to which adverse federal effects on Indigenous peoples are significant.
- Indicate, from among the likely effects set out in the report, those that are adverse federal effects and characterize the extent to which the effects are significant. This should be done in a manner that supports the decision-maker in understanding the extent of significance of adverse federal effects for the broader determination of whether the project is in the public interest.
- Provide conclusions by Indigenous peoples on the extent of significance of effects on their communities and a rationale if the advice in the Impact Assessment Report differs from the conclusion provided by the affected Indigenous communities.
- Provide a rationale, conclusions and any recommendations in relation to the likely residual effects of the project and any mitigation measures and follow-up programs required.
After considering the Impact Assessment Report, the Minister or Cabinet determines whether the project’s adverse federal effects are in the public interest. Under previous legislation, designated projects that were likely to cause significant adverse effects (a binary determination) were referred to Cabinet for decision. Under the IAA, for impact assessments conducted by the Agency, the Minister is responsible for making the public interest determination or may refer to Cabinet. For assessments conducted by a review panel, Cabinet is always responsible for making the public interest determination.
The Agency or review panel’s description of the project’s likely positive and adverse effects, its determination of the extent to which the adverse federal effects are significant, and its rationale, conclusions and recommendations in the Impact Assessment Report supports the decision-maker in making the public interest determination. With respect to obtaining the free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous peoples, as per the government’s implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the Impact Assessment Report describes the participation of Indigenous communities in the process, including the steps taken to create an informed process that leads to informed outcomes and decisions that may be more likely to result in consensus conclusions.
Once the public interest determination is made, the Minister must issue a Decision Statement, which informs the proponent of the decision made by the Minister or Cabinet. The Decision Statement includes the reasons for the decision and may also include conditions established under section 64 of the IAA. The reasons for the decision must demonstrate that the Minister or Cabinet, as the case may be, based the determination on the Impact Assessment Report and considered each of the five public interest factors, including the extent to which the project’s adverse federal effects are significant.
Further information on decision-making is available on the Agency’s website (see Policy Context: Public Interest Determination under the Impact Assessment Act).
Annex 1: Criteria for describing effects
Table 3: Definitions of Criteria to Describe Positive and Adverse Effects Footnote25
Magnitude refers to the amount of change in a measurable parameter relative to the baseline conditions of a valued component (VC), with and without the project in place, or to other standards or guidelines (e.g., proportion of species habitat affected or number of lost hunting days). There may be multiple measureable parameters relevant to a VC. When evaluating the magnitude of effects, consider both the proportion of the VC affected within identified spatial boundaries and the relative effect (e.g., relative to the natural annual variation of the VC or other relevant characteristic).
The magnitude of an effect should be expressed in measureable or quantifiable terms, where possible, but may also be expressed qualitatively if empirical data are not available or appropriate (e.g., for describing effects on Indigenous peoples based on oral Indigenous knowledge). When using quantitative or qualitative descriptions of magnitude, clear definitions of terms should be provided that delineate the levels of magnitude. The definition of these terms may vary according to the VC under consideration, and definitions should be sufficiently clear to allow practitioners and participants to reach the same magnitude of description for a given effect on a VC. For example, if using categories such as negligible, low, moderate or high, each category should be clearly defined, and the rationale for identifying an effect as being of a negligible, low, moderate or high magnitude should be documented.
Note. A "negligible" effect does not mean "no effect" but that an effect is sufficiently small to likely not result in a noticeable change to the VC. However, in the context of cumulative effects, a negligible effect may be important in understanding regional effects as a whole. For example, while an effect may be negligible on its own, it may be amplified if other physical activities affect the same VC.
Some considerations that may influence the evaluation of the magnitude of an effect include:
- natural variability, normal fluctuations or shifts in baseline conditions (including whether the VC has already been adversely affected by other physical activities or natural change); and
- scale at which magnitude is considered (e.g., the percentage of a population affected may represent 80% at a local level and 5% at the regional level).
- Geographic extent
Geographic extent refers to the spatial area over which the effect is predicted to occur. The description of effects should define the assessment boundaries for particular environmental, health, social and economic components since what may be considered an adverse effect in the immediate vicinity of a project (e.g., to a deer population or to the people who harvest deer for food in the project area) may not be considered adverse, ecologically or socially, in the context of the larger region around a project (e.g., where there may be regionally extensive habitat and a large, secure deer population available for hunting).
Typical qualitative measures for describing geographic extent include site-specific, local, regional, provincial, national or global scales, and should be defined for each VC. It may also be useful to state the extent of the effect in relation to the distribution of the VC to clarify the scale of the effect. Prediction of the geographic extent should be quantitative whenever possible (e.g., hectares of habitat change). The traditional territories and use of lands, waters and resources by potentially affected Indigenous communities, informed by Indigenous knowledge, must also be considered.
Depending on the VC, it may be important to take into account the extent to which effects caused by the project may occur in areas far removed from it (e.g., the long-range transportation of atmospheric pollutants). For some projects, positive economic effects may occur far from the project site (e.g., lower electricity prices in a major city), while adverse economic effects (e.g., higher housing prices) may be concentrated locally.
Timing should be considered when it is important in the evaluation of the effect (e.g., when the effect could occur during breeding season or during species migration through an area). It may also be relevant to discuss variation in the timing of project activities and how this may cause varying effects (e.g., reservoir level fluctuations).
For non-biophysical effects, it is important to take into account seasonal aspects of land and resource use and whether timing is related to Indigenous spiritual and cultural considerations or whether it may affect impacts on Indigenous rights.
Frequency describes how often the effect occurs within a given time period (e.g., alteration of aquatic habitat will occur twice per year) and is usually closely related to the frequency of the physical work or activity causing the effect. The frequency of the effect in relation to the characteristics of the VC may be important (e.g., in relation to sensitive or critical life stages for a biophysical VC).
Frequency should be described using quantitative terms, such as daily, weekly or number of times per year, but may also be described qualitatively (e.g., rare, sporadic, intermittent, continuous, irregular or regular). If using qualitative terms, these should be defined for each VC.
Duration refers to the length of time that an effect is discernible (e.g., day, month, year, decade or permanent). This can refer to the amount of time required for the VC to return to baseline conditions through mitigation or natural recovery (e.g., return of wildlife to previously disturbed habitat).
The duration of the effect may be longer than the duration of the activity that caused the effect. For example, the discharge of a substance into a water body may occur only during the operation of a project, but the effect to aquatic biota may last beyond the operational lifespan of the project. In this example, if the discharge is continuous throughout operation and results in reduced fish populations, then the frequency of the effect is continuous and the duration spans operation and post-operation up to the point where fish populations return to baseline conditions. It is also important to consider the duration of the effect in relation to the characteristics of the VC (e.g., in relation to sensitive or critical life stages for a particular biophysical VC).
Effects may not occur immediately following project activities but must still be considered. For example, when a tailings impoundment is created to store mined waste, changes in water chemistry in the downstream watershed may not occur until post-mine closure, with potential risks to fish and fish habitat. Similarly, the effect on the intergenerational transfer of knowledge in an Indigenous community may not be observed until many years after a project disrupts a specific traditional use of the land, such as food gathering or stewardship of water.
A reversible effect is one where the VC is expected to recover from the effects caused by the project. This would correspond to a return to baseline conditions or other target (e.g., a population management objective or a remediation target) through mitigation or natural recovery within a reasonable timescale. An effect may be fully reversible, partially reversible or irreversible.
Reversibility is influenced by the resilience of the VC to imposed stresses and the degree of existing stress on that VC. Reversibility is also closely linked with duration. The length of time required for a VC to fully or partially recover to its pre-effect condition or functionality will vary, while an irreversible effect is always of permanent duration.
- Social context
The social context within which a project’s potential effects may occur should be taken into account when considering the effects criteria. Context is considered one of the most critical factors when evaluating effects, and the impact assessment should consider potentially or existing effects or pressures on social, economic and health conditions affecting the sensitivity or resilience of a VC. Additional supporting narrative may be required to explain contextual factors that cannot adequately be assessed through a simple ranking (e.g., whether the magnitude of the effect has been considered in relation to diverse populations, as well as the general population).
The particular social context within which a project occurs may include:
- unique values, customs or aspirations of a community that influence the perception of an effect (including cultural factors);
- a VC that is integral to the functioning of a community of people;
- the existing condition of the VC and the impact of natural and human-caused trends on the condition of the VC, including cumulative effects;
- the cultural and social significance placed on the VC; and
- social limits and thresholds, including the vulnerability and resiliency of social systems and components.
Communities and stakeholders may experience and respond to effects in different ways, depending upon social context. For example, project effects may link to the status of food security within Indigenous communities, as well as to health concerns through the consumption or use of country foods exposed to contaminants in the water, air or soil. Inequities and socio-economic disparities may also arise from increased reliance on commercial rather than subsistence foods due to real or perceived contamination of country foods. Less harvesting of country foods may have additional social and spiritual effects due to the loss of food sharing and ceremonies related to harvesting and sharing of food.
Alternatively, wage employment and a strong economy from a project’s economic opportunities may help communities to manage the cost of living, while education and skills training provided by a project can augment employability and strengthen community resilience and physical and mental well-being (see Social determinants of health and health inequalities - Canada.ca for information on social determinants of health and on physical and mental well-being).
The social context of the effect should include a discussion of the social and cultural consequences of the predicted effect. The current and future sensitivity and resilience of the VC to change caused by the project should also be considered. For example, in the case where a community is already struggling to adapt to population increases, the community may have low resilience to additional demands on infrastructure and community services. The assessment should indicate the level of sensitivity and/or resilience and explain the factors contributing to the ranking of sensitivity and/or resilience. Qualitative terms (e.g., negligible, low, moderate or high) and/or quantitative terms (e.g., range) should be clearly defined for each VC.
Note. The description of social context must also include Indigenous knowledge systems, cultural perspectives and worldviews, and should provide information for assessing cumulative effects, including potential cumulative effects on Indigenous peoples.
- Ecological context
The ecological context within which potential environmental, health, social and economic effects may occur should be taken into account when considering the effects criteria, such as species sensitivity and resilience. For example, a species that is already endangered or threatened may be more susceptible to adverse effects from additional disturbance than a species that is secure. Indigenous knowledge may provide valuable information on ecological context, as often the Indigenous community has built up knowledge about the environment over a greater time period than scientific evidence can provide. The ecological context of the effect should include a discussion of the environmental consequences of the predicted effect. For example, is a critical life stage of a species affected by the project? Is an important link in the food chain affected by the project? Is there a potential effect on Indigenous land-use activities? Information on the ecological context may reveal:
- a unique characteristic of the area (e.g., proximity to park lands, ecologically critical or fragile areas, or valuable Indigenous spiritual, heritage or land-use resources);
- the vulnerability status of a species;
- a VC that is important to the functioning of an ecosystem or ecological community; or
- a VC for which a target has been established.
Note. Activities over the life cycle of the project should be considered. As an example, planned decommissioning activities may influence the criteria and context within which potential effects may occur. Effects may also extend beyond the period of physical interaction between the project activity and the VC, and may involve cumulative effects if the VC has been, or can be, affected by other past, present or future projects or physical activities.
Uncertainty associated with information and methods may be introduced at many points in the assessment of effects. All impact assessments involve some level of uncertainty, often over many geographic, biophysical and social dimensions, and observed results may deviate, to some degree, from predictions made in the assessment. Uncertainty could be related to a number of factors, such as project design and components, baseline conditions, spatial and temporal scope, VC response, effectiveness of mitigation measures, overall scope of factors considered, cumulative effects, and natural and human causes of accidental events. Note that all uncertainties related to the effectiveness of mitigation measures must be considered when determining residual effects. Transparency in describing sources of uncertainty is critical to understanding the confidence that can be attributed to the analysis of effects and is important to decision-making.
Throughout the impact assessment, efforts to address uncertainties should be focused on those uncertainties that are most meaningful to decision-making, such as how the biophysical and human environment will respond to changes and the efficacy of mitigation measures. Where computer models are used, it is important to identify which uncertainties have the greatest impact on effects predictions to focus further study and analysis during the assessment. Scientific and Indigenous knowledge are important sources of information to reduce the uncertainty of predicted effects.
Uncertainty may be related to:
- knowledge (e.g., limitations in the understanding of processes, interactions or behaviour);
- unpredictability (e.g., complex systems or human behaviour, or mitigation efficacy);
- modelling (e.g., inadequate, oversimplification or omission of processes);
- data (e.g., limitations in data availability or quality, spatial or temporal resolution challenges, or poorly known model parameters); or
- perspectives (e.g., values or terms may be interpreted differently by different people).
All predictions of effects on VCs or on Indigenous peoples must include a description of uncertainty and the level of confidence in predicted effects. The assessment should describe the nature and degree of uncertainty and confidence related to the data, modelling and methods used for the analysis, assumptions, effectiveness of mitigation measures (including timing for effectiveness) and proposed adaptive management measures. The sources of uncertainty should also be clearly described to provide a basis for the stated level of confidence. Where applicable, the confidence limits, confidence interval or the confidence level should provide information about the range in which the true value lies within a stated degree of probability.
The application of statistical methods to quantitative data may allow for the determination of confidence limits. When statistical methods are used, it is important to consider the nature and quality of the data, the scientific validity of the hypotheses and statistical significance. Statistical significance is characterized by a low probability of error and a high confidence level.
In the absence of statistical methods, professional judgement and the knowledge of practitioners and Indigenous peoples are often applied to characterize the level of confidence in predicted effects with qualitative terms such as "negligible", "low", "moderate" and "high". The criteria for determining the level of confidence should be defined and documented to enable consistent interpretations by reviewers.
Note on Indigenous knowledge. The practice of considering uncertainty in impact assessments must include Indigenous knowledge. Indigenous knowledge is holistic and can provide evidence and understanding related to the biophysical environment; to social, cultural, economic and health issues; to Indigenous governance, traditional laws, customs and use of resources; and to the uncertainties of potential associated effects.Footnote26
Annex 2: Case studies of lower to higher extent of significance of adverse federal effects
Table 4 presents case studies of lower to higher extent of significance for a range of adverse federal effects. Refer to Table 2 for suggested criteria for characterizing extent of significance of adverse residual effects.
Table 4: Case studies of lower to higher extent of significance of adverse federal effects
* Note that this table presents an example of gender-based violence that may be upsetting for some readers. The example in this table is intended to emphasize the importance of identifying and addressing the potential effects of gender-based violence in a meaningful way. Although dealing with difficult subjects, every attempt has been made to present the example respectfully.
The potential adverse effects of a pipeline project were identified as disturbance or mortality to a species at risk. An Indigenous community identified the species as a culturally valued component of the ecosystem and a source of revenue through outfitting.
- The valued component was identified as a species at risk.
- Baseline information provided by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada demonstrated how recent conservation measures and restrictions on industrial activity meant that the species no longer exceeded cautionary thresholds of disturbance. Species at Risk Act (SARA) species survival and recovery thresholds also placed the species at low to moderate risk of decline.
- The information gathered throughout the impact assessment included the oral history and records of Indigenous harvesters, information from traditional ecological studies, scientific research and baseline studies, and ecological benchmarks.
- In collaboration with the Indigenous community, the proponent committed to mitigation measures that would restrict the laying of the pipeline to winter months, so that only a small percentage of foraging habitat would be lost and species disturbance would be low.
- With the implementation of mitigation measures, individual project components were determined to have effects on species stability that were adverse, low in magnitude, of short duration, intermittent in frequency and reversible. SARA species recovery and survival thresholds placed the species at low risk of decline.
The extent of significance of potential adverse effects on a species at risk was determined to be low.
A natural gas liquefaction facility was determined to have potential adverse effects on human health as a result of changes in air and water quality.
- The valued component was identified as human health.
- Health Canada determined that human health effects could occur during all phases of the project as a result of degradation of air quality from dust emissions, gaseous contaminants and volatile organic compounds, and potential contamination of drinking water through accidental spillage of hydrocarbons or hazardous materials into the environment.
- Members of the public living in the project area expressed concerns about the effects of the project on human health in relation to the exceedance of the nitrogen dioxide emission standard and the possibility of water contamination from a major spill. The cumulative effects of other industrial activities in the area that could combine with those of the project were also a concern.
- The proponent committed to implementing mitigation measures to reduce air emissions to a minimum, including emissions for which there is no known health effect threshold. The proponent also developed a risk management plan in the event of spills or accidental releases of hydrocarbons or hazardous materials to drinking water. Mitigation measures took into account the advice of federal experts and were in compliance with environmental regulations and standards. The proponent also committed to discussing with stakeholders the potential effects on recreational and drinking water in the event of spills or accidental releases.
- Based on Health Canada water and air quality guidelines, and on human health effects assessment criteria, and taking into account the implementation of mitigation measures, the project was determined to cause moderate effects on air and water quality. Adverse effects could occur in relation to exceedances of criteria and standards regulating sulphur dioxide and hydrocarbons, and non-threshold substances such as nitrogen dioxide. The extent of these effects would be local and long term, extending beyond the project area and throughout the life of the project. These human health effects would be continuous over time as the liquefied natural gas plant would contribute to air and water quality degradation and potential health effects. These effects could be partially reversible if baseline conditions returned after plant closure.
The extent of significance of potential adverse effects on human health as a result of changes in air and water quality was determined to be moderate.
The potential adverse effects of mining development in a remote Indigenous community were determined to include risks to the health, safety and security of Indigenous women, girls and gender-diverse peoples. An influx of transient workers, fly-in, fly-out rotation schedules, and rapid social change (including the loss of traditional mixed economies) were found to be accompanied by racial and sexual violence, substance abuse, sexually transmitted diseases, crime and adverse effects on home and family life.
- The valued component was identified as the health and well-being of Indigenous peoples, including the safety and security of Indigenous women, girls and gender-diverse peoples.
- Information gathered throughout the impact assessment process focused on the experiences of women and gender-diverse peoples, and on intersecting forms of violence within communities. Qualitative and quantitative data drew from community-specific health and socio-economic information, interviews and focus groups, workshops and ethnographic studies.
- Despite strong participation by women’s groups and individuals with diverse identities throughout the impact assessment process, women and diverse populations felt that their requests for support, programs and services to influence mining development outcomes and to manage the risks of gender-based violence were weakened by toxic masculinity and systemic barriers within the industry.
- Gendered and culturally sensitive approaches to analyzing the effects of violence towards women and gender-diverse peoples highlighted the persistence of such effects in the community, particularly as a result of family breakdown, risks posed by transient workers, and disruptions to cultural traditions.
- The proponent committed to providing mechanisms to ensure that Indigenous women and gender-diverse individuals would be consulted throughout the impact assessment process and during all project phases. This would allow gendered effects, including the potential rise in domestic and sexual violence, to be identified early on and to develop mitigation measures to eliminate, reduce or control such effects. Other mitigation measures included the provision of childcare services, training to promote and improve cultural and gender-based awareness, zero-tolerance policies for harassment and violence, appropriate healthcare and the removal of barriers to employment through Impact Benefit Agreements that prioritize the hiring of women and diverse populations.
- Risk assessment modelling determined that there was high uncertainty that mitigation measures would ameliorate the potential for sexual or racial violence. Potential effects extended beyond employment equity to concerns about safety and well-being within the community.
- Based on this information, the effects on the health, safety and security of Indigenous women, girls and gender-diverse peoples were determined to be high in magnitude, permanent or long-term, irreversible, with high uncertainty regarding the effectiveness of proposed mitigation measures and high risk of violence.
The extent of significance of the potential effects of gender-based violence on the health and well-being of Indigenous peoples, including the safety and security of Indigenous women, girls and gender-diverse peoples, was determined to be high.
Annex 3: Additional methods and best practices
Where evidence-, scientific- or value-based benchmarks are not available or appropriate to the characterization of effects, other methodologies and approaches to characterizing extent of significance may be used.Footnote27 The methodologies and best practices described below are often interrelated and can be used in combination in determining extent of significance. In addition, scientific evidence, Indigenous knowledge, community knowledge and stakeholder information may combine to inform methods and approaches. For example, collaborative approaches with Indigenous communities that consider Indigenous knowledge and Indigenous values may be used to adapt benchmarks, and to establish criteria and thresholds more appropriate for an effect (see "Best practices" below).
Where possible, effects should be characterized quantitatively and in a manner that defines degrees of difference. Where quantitative assessment is not appropriate to the description and characterization of effects (e.g., for describing effects on Indigenous peoples based on Indigenous knowledge or other collaborative or consensus-based approaches) and a qualitative approach is used, it is important that qualitative terms such as ordinal categories are defined, are applied in a transparent manner, and are supported by explanation and discussion to avoid variability in interpretation. Practitioners and participants should clarify any assumptions or limitations in the approach, including the way in which qualitative and quantitative methods are integrated and compared, and all uncertainties involved.
Likelihood should be considered throughout the effects assessment and is an important element in the description of positive and adverse effects, and in characterizing extent of significance of adverse federal effects. Likelihood is defined as the probability that an effect will occur as a result of a designated project. The likelihood of an effect occurring may be based on knowledge and experience of similar past effects, and should be considered for the full life cycle of a project, including its various stages and lifespan. All sources of uncertainty should be clearly outlined to provide a basis for the stated degree of confidence in the analysis, and the perspectives of Indigenous communities regarding uncertainty must be included.
When characterizing the extent of significance of adverse federal effects, likelihood should be understood in the context of risk (see "Risk assessment modelling" below). In the case of low-probability, catastrophic effects where the potential consequences, although unlikely, are certain and determined to be severe (e.g., risk of blowouts in offshore drilling), these effects may be considered high risk, and warrant a precautionary approach and a higher characterization of extent of significance. Uncertainty, associated with the potential for irreversible harm, may also elevate extent of significance determinations.
In the context of extent of significance determinations, therefore, standards, guidelines, descriptors or objectives for assessing effects are based on multiple parameters of likelihood that include probability of occurrence, degree of uncertainty, social and ecological contexts, and risk. For example, if a wildlife species is endangered, has low species resiliency to disturbance, has a high degree of scientific certainty attributed to adverse effects, and is valued as important by society, species survival and recovery thresholds would be higher than for a similar wildlife species in the same area without such characteristics. In the wildlife example, socially derived thresholds or standards are important in determining the societal value that an Indigenous or local community may place on the wildlife species and, therefore, levels of acceptable risk.Footnote28
Risk assessment and modelling
Extent of significance may be characterized on the basis of an acceptable or unacceptable level of a specified risk, using quantitative or qualitative ecological, human health or social risk assessment. The objective of risk assessment is to understand the level of risk associated with adverse effects based on their likelihood of occurrence and consequences. Where quantitative assessment is not possible, the probability or likelihood of effects is often determined based on a qualitative approach using terms such as "low", "moderate" and "high" probability or "unlikely", "probable" and "very likely". This may be a useful aid for addressing uncertainty. A common method is to use a risk evaluation matrix that compares estimates of likelihood and consequence concurrently. Thresholds and criteria are applied, and the approach taken to rank the likelihood and consequences of risks should be clearly described. Risk evaluation may be used to compare the results of the risk assessment with risk criteria, enabling risks to be ranked, and acceptable and unacceptable risks to be identified.
Considerations for applying this methodology include the following:
- Quantitative risk assessment may be used to determine the extent of significance of the risks to human or ecological health from, for example, carcinogens. Its use is restricted to agents that have predictable dose–response or exposure–effect relationships. The response, effect or risk is often measured in terms of increased incidence of a particular health outcome per million people exposed. By using the dose–response relationship, it may be determined whether or not the dose or exposure would result in an unacceptable level of risk. Ecological risk assessments are used to assess risks to ecosystem processes, habitats and biotic resources.
- Cost-benefit analysis may be used to determine the importance of a range of risks in relation to significance determinations. Under cost-benefit analysis, external benefits may be defined as increases in human well-being (e.g., clean water) and costs may be defined as reductions in human well-being (e.g., polluted water). For example, the social cost of greenhouse gases (GHGs) measures the incremental additional damages that are determined to occur from an increase in GHG emissions, and the avoided damages that are determined to occur from a decrease in GHG emissions.Footnote29 Conducting a cost-benefit analysis begins with compiling all of the costs and benefits associated with the project, and aggregating and comparing the costs to the benefits.
- Information on who has set risk levels and how acceptable risk levels are determined should be presented. The views of Indigenous communities must be considered regarding tolerance or acceptability levels of environmental, health, social and economic change.
- Risk assessments may use generally available and tested models, models that have been adapted to better address the circumstances of the project, or models developed specifically for the project (see the example of the Climate Lens provided in Figure 2).
Figure 2: An example of a risk evaluation matrix for the likelihood and risk of extreme climate events
Note: In this example, risks from weather and climate events, for discrete present and future periods, are evaluated based on their likelihood of occurrence and the consequence of potential effects. The Climate Lens has two components: a greenhouse gas (GHG) assessment, which measures the impacts of anticipated GHG emissions from major resource projects, and the climate change resilience assessment, which uses a risk management approach to anticipating, preventing, withstanding and responding to climate-change related effects.
For further information on assessing GHG emissions and climate change resilience in the context of the impact assessment process, please see Strategic Assessment of Climate Change (strategicassessmentclimatechange.ca).
Source: Infrastructure Canada - Optique des changements climatiques - Lignes directrices générales, Annex G, Table 3
Quantitative and qualitative aggregation
Quantitative or qualitative aggregation methods involve attributing a scale ranking such as low, moderate or high that reflects the relative importance of each criterion to the overall characterization of adverse effects. Examples of this methodology include multi-criteria analysis for combining criteria scores with or without values weighting; paired comparison matrices and rating scales to allow comparisons between the importance of different effects; and decision trees. Criteria may include factors such as atmospheric emissions, hazardous waste, habitat destruction, distributional equity, human health and public acceptability. It is important to note that methods that weight or rank the severity of effects and that produce aggregated scores may be helpful in comparing effects but can also hide assumptions inherent in the weighting or ranking system, and should ensure that consideration is given to the context for each effect. For example, the influence of the criteria in describing effects (see Annex 1, Table 3) will vary between valued components. In most cases, reliance on a standardized ranking system across all valued components will not give adequate consideration to valued component-specific circumstances. In addition, weighting and ranking methods compare total effects so that the severity of individual effects may be masked (in other words, individual effects may lose their specificity). It is therefore important that qualitative terms are defined (e.g., using a defined percentage), applied in a transparent manner and supported by explanation and discussion to avoid variability in interpretation. Weighting and ranking exercises should also be conducted by, and draw on the knowledge of, a wide variety of experience and expertise, including Indigenous knowledge holders.
Example: Qualitative Aggregation
A proposed project may affect air quality on a nearby national park on federal lands, and also across a provincial boundary. A method based on qualitative aggregation and professional judgement is appropriate because the most relevant criteria for measuring air quality are magnitude, geographic extent and frequency.
Benchmarks for magnitude of air quality effects, available as established standards, are best understood in relation to the geographic extent and frequency criteria. Established air quality criteria apply to the wider environment, which means beyond the geographic extent of the project itself. The geographic extent of the effect can be tied to the predicted magnitude. For an effect on air quality on federal lands or in another jurisdiction (i.e., transboundary) to be adverse, the predicted air quality would need to exceed the relevant criteria, and to exceed the criteria more frequently than under baseline conditions. Air quality effects should also be understood in the context of GBA Plus as air quality has differential effects on, for example, children, the elderly or individuals with respiratory health issues. The criteria used to measure air quality should therefore consider the contexts within which effects are experienced.
The definitions of the most relevant criteria are as follows:
- Magnitude: the degree of change in concentration of indicator compounds (airborne particulate matter, combustion by-products and airborne metals) relative to applicable standards.
- Geographic extent: the spatial area over which the effect occurs, categorized by comparison to the established study areas for the valued component (e.g., local study area, regional study area, beyond the regional study area).
- Frequency: how often the adverse effect occurs within a given time period.
Descriptors of variability or range
Variability is a quantitative or qualitative description of the relative or absolute degree of difference in a set of values over space, time or within different members of a population. It is often expressed through statistical metrics such as variance, standard deviation and interquartile range that reflect heterogeneity or diversity within data. Range is frequently associated with thresholds and denotes a realm of what is considered acceptable, such as levels of effects that regulators allow (e.g., air quality indices). Variability may be present in environmental, health, social or economic factors (e.g., age, gender, behavioural patterns, socio-economic conditions and biophysical parameters). For example, studies on human health effects related to climate change have pointed to challenges associated with socio-economic variability within and between communities. Communities living in areas most affected by climate change, who rely on the surrounding environment and natural resources for food, cultural practices and income, who have higher levels of existing health issues when compared to other groups, or who live in isolated or low-income communities may be affected by climate change to a greater degree than other populations. In assessing the extent and nature of responses to climate change, the socio-economic variability inherent in the population is a critical component of extent of significance determinations.
It is important to note that uncertainty and variability may co-exist. Although distinct, variability and uncertainty may be "combined" in statistical models so that the uncertainty of the state of knowledge of the data or system being assessed (the variability) is also considered.
Collaboration, reasoned argumentation and professional judgement are best practices that may be used to inform the approaches and methods that characterize extent of significance. For example, by incorporating Indigenous knowledge and societal values in the assessment process, collaboration may be used to adapt benchmarks and establish criteria and thresholds more appropriate for an effect.
Collaboration with Indigenous communities
Indigenous communities may wish to undertake their own studies and assessments of the potential adverse effects of a project, such as effects on community well-being.Footnote30 Such collaboration would be an effective means of bringing Indigenous knowledge and Indigenous perspectives into the assessment process, and of giving Indigenous communities a voice in qualifying the measurability of effects. For example, information and knowledge provided by the Indigenous Guardians Program, which monitors, manages and stewards Canadian lands and waters by acting as the "eyes and ears" of Indigenous territory, can provide valuable data, research and context from the perspectives of communities for the effects assessment.Footnote31 Such collaborative approaches may also help to define criteria and tolerance thresholds to situate effects and their consequences for communities (see Guidance: Assessment of Potential Impacts on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples for information on Indigenous community-defined thresholds). For important information on collaborative processes and approaches with Indigenous communities, see Guidance: Collaboration with Indigenous Peoples in Impact Assessments.
A proposed project may affect the current use of lands and resources for traditional purposes by an Indigenous community. Due to the importance of Indigenous perspectives in understanding and interpreting effects on this valued component, a collaborative method is used to inform considerations of predicted effects:
- Traditional knowledge holders and leaders from the affected Indigenous community, as well as the proponent’s technical experts in biology and archaeology, participated in a three-day workshop to discuss the assessment of positive and adverse effects. The objectives of the workshop were clearly defined:
- share and understand the rationale behind the effects identified;
- define and discuss the criteria (i.e., magnitude, geographic extent, timing, frequency, duration, reversibility, social and ecological contexts, and uncertainty) that are typically used to describe the effects; and
- achieve consensus on the criteria to be considered for this valued component and the process that will be used to apply these criteria.
Concerns raised at the workshop were used to inform the design of the project and application of mitigation measures. For the Indigenous community, loss of access to lands and natural resources is not easily mediated by means such as shifting location or switching to other available resources. The collaborative approach enabled the scale of effects identified to better align with the Indigenous community, and provided the community with the ability to determine if effects would exceed acceptable levels. Questionnaires and interviews with members of the Indigenous community resulted in additional baseline information and a greater understanding of their ranking of issues on a scale of negligible/low/moderate/high, related to current use of lands and resources for traditional purposes.
Collaboration with the public and other stakeholders
Collaborative interactions among experts and other stakeholders can also inform the characterization of effects and the scaling or defining of criteria. Collaboration generally involves identifying stakeholder representatives who can participate in forums that may require multiple sessions and an investment of time. These forums are typically distinct from general public participation opportunities provided by the proponent, the Agency or a review panel.
Considerations for applying this methodology include the following:
- the objectives of interactions with stakeholders (e.g., seek advice, achieve consensus) should be clear to all participants;
- the rationale for the description and characterization of adverse effects should be clear for all participants to enable clear conclusions;
- the methodology should be conducive to the integration of scientific, Indigenous and community knowledge, mutual learning, creative interpretations and problem-solving; and
- the methodology is highly dependent on effective participation methods.
Consideration should be given to using multiple forms of participation (e.g., public meetings, site tours and focus groups), taking into account the needs and characteristics of the collaborating parties, making use of knowledge holders with the appropriate background and experience, as well as specialists with facilitation and mediation skills.
Reasoned argumentation involves presenting a clear, well-reasoned, substantiated and organized argument in support of a conclusion. The reasoned argumentation approach has the potential to weave together scientific knowledge, Indigenous knowledge and community knowledge, multiple perspectives, and both qualitative and quantitative information into a comprehensive and fully substantiated form (either written or oral argument) to which all participants can contribute, understand and respond. A reasoned argument should allow a wide audience to reasonably draw the same conclusions as the author. The argument will use relevant information, be based on a comparison of the predicted adverse effect to a benchmark, where appropriate, and consider the most appropriate criteria.
Example: Reasoned Argumentation
A proposed project could affect habitat quality and quantity for a migratory bird species on federal lands, and disrupt breeding and nesting periods. Professional judgement, Indigenous knowledge and reasoned argumentation are used to identify benchmarks to determine predicted effects on this valued component. Scientific literature, traditional land-use studies, species life history traits, predicted changes in measurement indicators and experience from past impact assessments, monitoring programs and regional studies informed this work.
Adverse effects on this valued component could be when one or more of the following population outcomes are reached:
- habitat loss or reduced habitat quality causes permanent adverse changes to survival or reproduction at the population level;
- habitat loss and fragmentation reduce population connectivity to the point that it disrupts demographic rescue between source and sink habitats (or areas); or
- adverse effects on abundance and distribution are measurable at the population level and likely to decrease resilience and increase the risk to maintaining self-sustaining and ecologically effective populations.
Professional judgement involves developing interpretations informed by an understanding of project characteristics, predicted effects, and general impact assessment and sustainability principles to establish a rational basis for a conclusion. The factors and logic leading to the conclusion should be clearly presented. Professional judgement may comprise Indigenous knowledge, scientific analysis, community knowledge and stakeholder information, and should be applied by individuals who have the appropriate background and experience to make the judgement. Professional judgement is often used in combination with other methodologies, such as risk assessment and reasoned argumentation.
Considerations for applying professional judgement as the main or single methodology when describing and characterizing effects include the following:
- a variety of factors should be taken into account, such as the status, size and range of a population unit, broad-scale habitat conditions, established benchmarks such as standards or guidelines for closely related species, and area-specific policies for land-use and species management; and
- comparison to evidence-, scientific- or valued-based benchmarks.
Example: Indigenous knowledge as professional judgement – Adams Lake Cumulative Effects Assessment
In response to development and planning pressures (forestry, tourism, mining, community expansion, fisheries, transmission lines, roads and agriculture), the Adams Lake Indian Band, with support from the British Columbia provincial government, undertook a cumulative effects land-use and management assessment in 2016. The initiative was part of provincial reconciliation efforts. The objective was to understand the implications of alternative management strategies for two key community values: water and forests, with a focus on sockeye salmon. The goal was to create a management framework for the region that coincided with pre-contact conditions in the Adams River watershed and a regional plan for 50 years into the future. In developing the Land and Resource Governance Framework, the Adams Lake Indian Band consulted traditional use studies, draft land-use zoning plans, cumulative effects assessments using scenario planning, oral histories and Secwépemc Laws.
The Adams Lake Indian Band had two priorities to complete the project:
- ensure direct community engagement; and
- ensure Adams Lake Indian Band membership’s understanding of the implications of alternative management strategies for development in the Adams River Watershed.
In undertaking the study, Indigenous knowledge was used to prepare a baseline scenario for pre-European contact conditions during the 1800s, reflective of the Adams Lake Indian Band worldview. This knowledge relates directly to their tradition of fire keepers, and village establishment and movement in relation to prescribed fires. The Adams Lake Indian Band wanted to ensure that traditional laws and values were part of the decision-making framework. Scientific evidence was based on data from present-day timber harvest management, mining, agriculture, road, transmission lines, seismic operations, fire suppression practices, and climate change. Both types of knowledge were brought together in a hydrological modelling framework to generate historical and potential future changes. Two land-use scenarios were forecasted and compared so that a cumulative effects evaluation of human land use, climate and natural disturbance 50 years forward was compared with pre-contact conditions in the Adams River Watershed. The approach taken involved four facilitated community workshops and a community planning team. This provided an opportunity for direct community engagement in the Land and Resource Governance Framework.
Results of the simulations found that there had already been adverse cumulative effects in the Adams River watershed when compared to pre-contact conditions. Results showed that positive cumulative effects (economic benefits) were well documented but not equitably distributed, and largely benefited non-Indigenous peoples. Adverse cumulative effects on key Secwépemc values (fish, wildlife, water quality, food security, access to lands, heritage, timber, medicines, and berries) were severe but not well documented. Under the forecasted Adams Lake Indian Band scenario strategies, it was demonstrated that improvements could occur across all indicators (with the exception of moose). The scenario included a reduction in timber harvesting to allow for Indigenous tourism areas, which would also allow for benefits to wildlife (caribou and grizzly bear), habitat and health, and increased economic and cultural benefits to the nation. Through the workshops, the community was able to make recommendations for moving forward.
This approach allowed for the weaving of Indigenous knowledge and science, and provided informed evidence that the baseline for cumulative effects assessments could extend back to pre-contact conditions instead of using the present day. In bringing Indigenous knowledge and science together, this modelling approach demonstrated that it is possible to account for Indigenous perceptions of the land to pre-contact, and allows for a recognition of local Indigenous epistemology.
Source: Case Studies of Indigenous Knowledge and Science in Impact Assessments (Two Worlds Consulting, May, 2020)
Annex 4: Resources
Disclaimer: The documents and links below are useful resources in characterizing the extent to which adverse federal effects are significance, but do not replace or supersede the approach and requirements provided in this guidance, the Tailored Impact Statement Guidelines or the Impact Assessment Act. Please note that this list is not exhaustive and that the inclusion of a resource does not mean it is current or the best and most detailed information available. This list is also not meant to denote any methodological preference.
Significance determinations in impact assessment
Barnes, J. L. (2015). "The enigmatic pursuit of significance", IAIA15 Conference Proceedings, Florence, Italy
Beanlands, G. E. and Duinker, P. N. (1983). "An ecological framework for environmental impact assessment in Canada", Institute for Resource and Environmental Studies, Dalhousie University & Federal Environmental Assessment Review Office, Halifax
Blakley, J. A. and Franks, D. M. (eds) (2021). "The challenge and opportunity of applying ecological thresholds to environmental assessment decision making", in Handbook of Cumulative Impact Assessment, Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd, London
Blakley, J. and Noble, B. (in press). "The Keeyask hydroelectric project: No significant cumulative effects?", in A. Craft and J. Blakley (eds) In Our Backyard - The Keeyask Exerperience, University of Manitoba Press, Winnipeg, Canada
Campbell, M. A. et al (2019). "Quantifying the impacts of oil sands development on wildlife: Perspectives from impact assessments", Environmental Reviews, vol. 128(2), pp. 129–137
Douelle, M. and Sinclair, A. J. (eds) (2021). The Next Generation of Impact Assessment, Irwin Law Inc., Toronto
Ehrlich, A. and Ross, W. (2015). "The significance spectrum and EIA significance determinations", Impact Assessment and Project Appraisal, vol. 33(2), pp. 87–97
Gibson, R. B. (2001). Specification of Sustainability-based Environmental Assessment Decision Criteria and Implications for Determining 'Significance’ in Environmental Assessment, Report prepared under a contribution agreement with the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency Research and Development Program
Gibson, R. B. (ed) (2016). Sustainability Assessment: Applications and Opportunities, Routledge, New York
Greig, L. and Duinker, P. (2011). "A proposal for further strengthening science in environmental impact assessment in Canada", Impact Assessment Project Appraisal, vol. 29(2), pp. 150–165
Haug, P. T., Burwell, R. W., Stein, A. and Bandurski, B. (1984). "Determining the significance of environmental issues under the National Environmental Policy Act", Journal of Environmental Management, vol 18(1), pp. 15–24
Johnson, C. J. and Ray, J. C. (2021). "The challenge and opportunity of applying ecological thresholds to environmental assessment decision making", in Blakley, J. A. and Franks, D. M. (eds) Handbook of Cumulative Impact Assessment, Chapter 9, Edward Elgar Publishing, London
Johnson, C. J., Venter, O., Ray, J. C. and Watson. J. E. M. (2019). "Growth-inducing infrastructure represents transformative yet ignored keystone environmental decisions", Policy Perspective, https://doi.org/10.1111/conl.12696
Joseph, C. (2020). "Problems and resolutions in GHG impact assessment", Impact Assessment and Project Appraisal, vol. 38, pp. 83–86
Joseph, C., Zeeg, T., Angus, D., Usborne, A. and Mutrie, E. (2017). "Use of significance thresholds to integrate cumulative effects into project-level socio-economic impact assessment in Canada", Environmental Impact Assessment Review, vol. 67, pp. 1–9
Lawrence, D. P. (2005). Significance Criteria and Determination in Sustainability-Based Environmental Impact Assessment, Final Report Prepared for Mackenzie Gas Project Joint Review Panel
Lawrence, D. P. (2007a). "Impact significance determination – Designing an approach", Environmental Impact Assessment Review, vol. 27, pp. 730–754
Lawrence, D. P. (2007b). "Impact significance determination – Back to basics", Environmental Impact Assessment Review, vol. 27, pp. 755–769
Lyhne I. and L. Kornov. (2013). "How do we make sense of significance? Indications and reflections on an experiment", Impact Assessment and Project Appraisal, 31(3), pp. 180–189
Murray, C. C. et al (2018). "The insignificance of thresholds in environmental impact assessment: An illustrative case study in Canada", Environmental Management, vol. 61(6), pp. 1062–1071
Rowan, M. (2009). "Refining the attribution of significance in social impact assessment", Impact Assessment & Project Appraisal, vol. 27(3), pp. 185-191, http://dx.doi.org/10.3152/146155109X467588
Sileryte, R., Gil, J., Wandl, A. and van Timmeren, A. (2018). "Introducing Spatial Variability to the Impact Significance Assessment’, Geospatial Technologies for All, Delft University, The Netherlands, pp. 189–209
The Human Environment Group, Ltd. (2016). "Description of Impact Rating Criteria", Chapter 5 in Teck Frontier Mine Project Fort McKay Métis Integrated Cultural Assessment, Submitted by Fort McKay Métis Sustainability Centre (MMSC)
Westwood, A. et al (2019). "The role of science in contemporary Canadian environmental decision making: The example of environmental assessment", UBC Law Review, vol. 52(1), pp. 243–292
Wood, G. (2008). "Thresholds and criteria for evaluating and communicating impact significance in environmental statements: 'See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil’?", Environmental Impact Assessment Review, vol. 28, pp. 22–38
Winds and Voices Environmental Services, Inc. (2003). Determining Significance of Environmental Effects: An Aboriginal Perspective, Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, Ottawa
Best practices in describing and characterizing effects
Andrews, R. (1988). Environmental impact assessment and risk assessment: Learning from each other. In P. Wathern (Ed.), Environmental Impact Assessment: Theory and Practice, pp. 85–97, Unwin Hyman, London
Barnthouse, L. W. G., DeAngelis, D. L. Gardner, R. H., O’Neill, R. V., Sutter II, G. W. and Vaughan, D.S. (1982). Methodology for Environmental Risk Analysis, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, Tennessee
Barrow, C. J. (1997). Environmental and Social Impact Assessment: An Introduction, Arnold Publishing, London
Beanlands, G. and Duinker, P. (1983). An Ecological Framework for Environmental Impact Assessment in Canada, Institute for Resource and Environmental Studies and Federal Environmental Assessment Office, Hull, Quebec
Impact Assessment Agency of Canada (2022). Analyzing Health, Social and Economic Effects under the Impact Assessment Act - Canada.ca
Infrastructure Canada (2020). Climate Lens General Guidance, Version 1.3 – September 4, 2020
Jorgensen, S. E., Barnthouse, L., DeAngelis, D. L., Emlen, L. and van Leeuwen, K. (2000). Improvements in the Application of Models in Ecological Risk Assessment: Conclusion of the Expert Review Panel, American Chemistry Council, Washington, DC
Mahmoudi, H. et al. (2013). "A framework for combining Social Impact Assessment and Risk Assessment", Environmental Impact Assessment Review, vol. 43, pp. 1–8, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.eiar.2013.05.003
Maxwell, S. et al. (2012). Social Impacts and Wellbeing: Multi-criteria analysis techniques for integrating nonmonetary evidence in valuation and appraisal, Defra, London, https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/ attachment_data/file/69481/pb13695-paper5-socialimpacts-wellbeing.pdf
Noble, B. (2002). "Strategic environmental assessment of Canadian energy policy", Impact Assessment and Project Appraisal, vol. 20 (3), pp. 177–188
Sparling, E., Byer, P., Cobb, P. and Auld, H. (2017). Best Practices for Consideration of the Effects of Climate Change in Project-Level Environmental Assessments. Ontario Centre for Climate Impacts and Adaptation Resources (OCCIAR) and Risk Sciences International (RSI), Ontario, Canada
Vanclay, F. (2015). Social Impact Assessment: Guidance for Assessing and Managing the Social Impacts of Projects, IAIA, SIA_Guidance_Document_IAIA.pdf
Wood, C. (1995). Environmental Impact Assessment: A Comparative Review, Longman Scientific and Technical, London
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