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Conferences & lectures

Environmental assessment and endangered species in Canada

How (and why) does the environmental state fail?

Thursday, April 22, 2021
5 p.m. – 6:15 p.m.

Registration is closed


Rosemary Collard and Jessica Dempsey


This event is free


Niem Huynh


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Caribou on a pipeline in northeast BC Photo credit: Land Use Department of West Moberly First Nations

Rosemary Collard (Assistant Professor, Geography, SFU) and Jessica Dempsey (Associate Professor, Geography, UBC) will speak about their work related to the environmental state. They will address the question "How (and why) does the environmental state fail?"

More on the topic

Since the 1970s, domestic environmental laws, including EA laws, have grown 38-fold globally. Today’s states have become “environmental states” with formal commitments to avoiding ecological crises like extinction. But in the same decades, rates of species loss have steepened, suggesting environmental states are failing. How can this “extinction paradox” be explained? We look to endangered woodland caribou in Canada for answers.

The main proximate driver of endangerment for caribou and 80 per cent of endangered species in Canada is habitat loss and degradation, driven largely by extractive development. This development must be approved by the state. To find out how the state justifies approval, we identified 65 EAs between 1995 and 2017 for projects with potential negative effects for caribou. An inductive analysis of these EAs reveals that most projects are approved on the basis of 1) proposed mitigation measures whose effectiveness is largely unknown; and 2) predicted public benefit – namely tax revenue and jobs. But how much benefit materializes?

Our collaborative forensic accounting analysis of financial data for three coal mines in endangered Central Mountain Caribou habitat in BC shows that far less benefit was produced than was forecasted in the mines’ EAs. Collectively, these findings indicate that the environmental state remains beholden to various imperatives that circumscribe its ability to protect endangered species. Still, we urge governments to: 1) require rigorous, even precedent-based mitigation and benefit predictions in EA; and 2) track mitigation and benefit creation (or lack thereof) more closely and transparently.

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