, Volume 37, Issue 2, pp 153-161
Date: 14 Dec 2005

The Impotence of Cumulative Effects Assessment in Canada: Ailments and Ideas for Redeployment

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Cumulative effects assessment (CEA) in Canada is in dire straits. Despite a huge amount of talk and a flurry of developmental activity associated with CEA concepts, it has not lived up to its glowing promise of helping to achieve sustainability of diverse valued ecosystem components. This article aims to articulate that failure, to examine it in terms of six major problems with CEA, and to propose solutions. The six problem areas include (1) application of CEA in project-level environmental impact assessments (EIAs), (2) an EIA focus on project approval instead of environmental sustainability, (3) a general lack of understanding of ecologic impact thresholds, (4) separation of cumulative effects from project-specific impacts, (5) weak interpretations of cumulative effects by practitioners and analysts, and (6) inappropriate handling of potential future developments. We advocate improvements not only within the purview of project-specific EIAs, but also mainly in the domain of region-scale CEAs and regional environmental effects frameworks (or perhaps land use planning). Only then will the CEA begin to approach the promise of securing sustainability of valued ecosystem components.