Provincial Environmental Assessments and Climate Change
As we have previously written, the federal government is currently undertaking a review of a suite of environmental regimes. This review includes both the federal environmental assessment (EA) regime and the National Energy Board (NEB), which conducts assessments of proposed pipeline projects.
Following changes that were introduced by way of two omnibus bills in 2012, the federal government has been under pressure to make significant changes to its environmental assessment regime. In particular, federal assessments of major projects, particularly the NEB’s evaluation of proposed pipelines, have been criticized for refusing to consider a proposed project’s potential implications for climate change. That position began to show signs of softening with the change in federal leadership in 2015.
While there has been considerable scrutiny and debate around federal EAs, including how and whether they might account for climate impacts, Ontario’s approach to climate change in provincial EAs has received comparatively very little attention.
In August 2016, the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (MOECC) released a draft guide outlining the MOECC’s “expectations for considering climate change in the preparation, execution and documentation of environmental assessment studies and processes.”
The guide provides non-prescriptive guidance on how a project proponent can ensure that both climate mitigation and adaptation considerations form part of a project’s design and implementation. For example, it provides practical questions and approaches a proponent might consider in determining whether a project will generate greenhouse gasses (GHGs) and whether a project will positively or negatively affect the reduction of GHGs from the atmosphere. The guide also offers guidance on how a project might be impacted by the effects of climate change and what measures might be put in place to mitigate those impacts.
Provincial EAs in Ontario are governed by the Environmental Assessment Act, RSO 1990, c E.18, which applies to certain activities or projects undertaken by or on behalf of provincial ministries and agencies as well as municipalities and other public bodies. Private projects are subject to the Act only if designated by regulation.
The draft guide was posted to the Environmental Registry for a public comment period, which has now closed. Presumably a finalized, or updated, guide will be forthcoming shortly.