Incorporating Climate Change Considerations in Environmental Assessment: General Guidance for Practitioners

Introduction

The purpose of this document is to provide environmental assessment (EA) practitioners with general guidance for incorporating climate change considerations in project EA. It is the result of federal, provincial and territorial collaboration, and is applicable across jurisdictions. This document provides general guidance, to be considered at the discretion of jurisdictions and regulatory authorities. It marks a unique initiative in Canada's response to climate change, and includes:

  • methods that can be used to obtain and evaluate information concerning a project's greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and the impacts of climate change on a project;
  • key sources of information that practitioners can use to address climate change considerations in project EA; and
  • methodology to encourage the consistent consideration of climate change in the EA process across federal, provincial and territorial jurisdictions and institutions of public government responsible for EA.

The document has been developed because:

  • climate change has been recognized internationally and by the federal, provincial and territorial governments in Canada as an important environmental issue;
  • EA has the potential to link project planning to the broader management of climate change issues in Canada; and
  • members of the public and government agencies have raised questions and expressed interest in how climate change is, and should be considered in project reviews.

The Intentions of Canadian Jurisdictions for the Guide

Jurisdictions expect that the consideration of climate change in project EAs will:

  • be consistent with broader climate change policy;
  • increase attention to, and awareness of, GHG emissions from projects subject to EA;
  • stimulate consideration of less emission-intensive ways to design and operate projects;
  • help proponents manage or reduce the potential risks associated with climate change impacts on projects; and
  • assure the public that climate change considerations are being taken into account.

Incorporating climate change considerations in EA can help to determine whether projects are consistent with jurisdictional actions and initiatives to manage GHG emissions, such as under the Climate Change Plan for Canada. It can also assist proponents in using best practices that adapt to possible climate change impacts, such as changes in the frequency or intensity of extreme weather events, increases in mean temperatures or altered precipitation patterns and amounts.

Jurisdictions recognize that our understanding of climate change and its implications is still developing. Furthermore, there are currently no legal requirements or clearly sanctioned benchmarks for GHG emission reductions. Similarly, the assessment of potential climate change impacts and the identification of effective adaptation responses are new and evolving fields in which more research is required. While our understandings and policies are advancing, it is still useful that project proponents and government EA practitioners and decision makers be aware of any important climate change implications related to proposed projects. Potential risks to the project, providing they do not affect the public, public resources, the environment, other businesses or individuals, may be borne by the project proponent and are not generally a concern for jurisdictions.

Jurisdictional policies and regulations, for example the national Climate Change Plan for Canada, or Alberta's Climate Change Action Plan, should be the cornerstones of climate change related EA practice. Project EA conducted in accordance with this guidance document may include the following actions:

  • the initial estimation/prediction of GHG emissions for projects;
  • explicit, project specific consideration of GHG management in projects with medium to high emissions;
  • review of all projects at the planning stage to promote consideration of best practices for the class or sector (i.e. lowest emissions intensity or volume);
  • review of project plans in relation to jurisdictional climate change policies or objectives;
  • identification of project sensitivities to climate parameters and variability;
  • review of existing studies and information on climate change and the local, regional or inter-provincial/territorial changes to environmental conditions resulting from climate conditions, including trends and projections where available;
  • public interest decision makers are made aware of the climate change context within which a project is being proposed; and
  • jurisdictional variations in circumstances and approaches are respected.

This guidance will evolve as climate change related science, and broader policy and action evolve. General policies on GHG emission mitigation are being put into effect in Canada. The sections of this guidance relating to GHG requirements have not yet been translated into specific requirements of emitters. Once the entity or facility requirements arising from those broader climate change policies are in place, they will constitute the GHG mitigation requirements for assessments. The consideration of climate change in environmental assessments is not intended to impose any mitigation obligations over and above the obligations that will be imposed through the implementation of the general climate change policies. Likewise, the methodology described in this document for assessing potential climate change impacts should be recognized as an initial attempt to be tested and refined as new information becomes available.

Some proposed projects may not be covered by the obligations arising from the general policies. Inclusion of climate change mitigation considerations may be appropriate for those projects. For all projects, the assessment may include the consideration of the impact of climate change on projects, where the impacts may be significant, likely and applicable.