Connecting cumulative effects assessment to decision-making

Cumulative effects assessment (CEA) is all about taking a holistic, historical, and predictive view of human impacts on the environment and natural resources. This involves sifting and analyzing large volumes of disparate data, and providing multi-disciplinary knowledge to support decision-making. Managing cumulative effects is one of the most persistent issues in Canadian natural resources management.

Doing CEA is not necessarily technically difficult, but accounting for social-economic changes and connecting it to decision-making can be tough to do without the right governance arrangements and a good understanding of the needs, capacities, and power of decision-makers.

First Nations in BC also see CEA as a key tool for integrating their values into land use planning at local and regional scales. A CEA process Indigenous communities control and direct could help exercise greater control over resource development on their traditional lands.

This project is funded by SSHRC and involves researchers from CEAR, the UBC Faculty of Forestry, and the University of Saskatchewan. Graduate student led projects are being developed collaboratively with staff and leadership from the Tsilhqot’in National Government.

The work focuses on four main questions. What methods and approaches can we adapt from the social sciences to better integrate human dimensions into CEA? What implementation challenges exist in adapting CEA to First Nations contexts? What institutional arrangements are needed for effective CEA implementation? And what does the BC experience with CEA offer other jurisdictions?

The research helps address a key challenge in CEA — putting it into effective practice to maximize environmental protection and improve planning.