Frequently asked questions

1. What is a "project environmental assessment"?

A project environmental assessment is used to determine whether a project might potentially cause any damages to a community’s natural or living environment—known in scientific terms as "negative environmental impacts"—and to define the measures to be taken to eliminate or mitigate such damages. Take the example of a building construction project in the forest that requires a number of trees to be cut down. If the trees are felled during the nesting period, this could have an adverse effect on various bird species. To eliminate this impact, the contractor could plan deforestation activities outside of the nesting period.

2. What is a "strategic environmental assessment"?

On a larger scale, governments put forth plans, policies and programs that, once implemented, could also generate negative environmental impacts. For instance, a tourism development policy may give rise to a series of projects that, taken together, have the potential to disrupt the natural environment. The likelihood of such an occurrence needs to be determined before moving forward with the policy and, should it indeed prove to be the case, appropriate measures must be taken to mitigate this undesired outcome. A strategic environmental assessment is therefore necessary wherever a policy, program or plan is deemed likely to produce an environmental impact; it requires that equal consideration be given to a measure’s environmental aspects as to its economic and social dimensions. The assessment is called "strategic" because it looks at the possible impacts from a global perspective rather than from a narrower, more detailed scope limited to a particular site, as is the case for projects. The strategic environmental assessment considers not only the negative impacts that may be generated by policies, programs and plans, but also at their potential for producing beneficial environmental impacts as well as at the measures that could be out in place to maximize such positive effects.

3. What is a "preliminary scan"?

A preliminary scan is the first step in the strategic environmental assessment process. It establishes whether or not a policy, program or plan proposal is likely to have an impact on the environment. Where such likelihood exists, a strategic environmental assessment is recommended. Where it does not, no particular environmental measures are taken.

4. Why has the Agency conducted a strategic environmental assessment and preliminary scan of its program?

The Cabinet Directive on the Environmental Assessment of Policy, Plan and Program Proposals (2010) requires that any policy, plan or program proposal submitted for ministerial or Cabinet approval that has the potential to generate significant environmental impacts, either positive or negative, be subject to a strategic environmental assessment. The directive may be viewed on the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency Website.