The time is now to improve the treatment of biodiversity in Canadian environmental impact statements
Gannon, P. (2021). The time is now to improve the treatment of biodiversity in Canadian environmental impact statements. Environmental Impact Assessment Review. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.eiar.2020.106504
Global biodiversity loss is among the pressing environmental challenges facing the planet in the 21st century. Environmental impact assessment (EIA) offers one possible means to address some of the drivers of biodiversity loss, yet research over the past 20 years has shown that the treatment of biodiversity within EIA is often insufficient. This review addresses how well biodiversity has been treated in the environmental impact statements (EISs) for 14 projects conducted under the federal Canadian Environmental Assessment Act or its 2012 successor (CEAA2012). The selected projects commenced between 2005 and 2014, cover most Canadian provinces, and include a range of project types. A biodiversity assessment index (BAI) is calculated to assess the information quality of EISs with respect to biodiversity, scoring projects from zero to one based on 49 review criteria. Results are discussed for each stage of the EIA process. Average BAI for the 14 projects was just below 0.5, indicating many substantial deficiencies regarding the inclusion of biodiversity. The BAI between projects conducted under the two Acts did not differ significantly, while project footprint, EIS page-length, and the page-length of biodiversity-related chapters were all positively related with BAI. Some common problems in these EISs included not defining ecologically relevant study areas, poor consideration of alternatives with respect to biodiversity impacts, limited description of the methods for comparing alternatives, impact assessments and analysis, mitigation and monitoring, and a lack of information on the likely success of mitigation, among others. Recommendations for improving the poor treatment of biodiversity in EISs are provided and include, inter alia, setting clear requirements regarding minimum survey efforts, implementing measurable targets or thresholds for important biodiversity features, and adopting regional-EIA to improve the treatment of cumulative effects. Improving the quality of biodiversity considerations in EISs will be important if EIA is to play a role in meeting the measurable outcome-based conservation targets envisioned for the post-2020 global biodiversity framework.