Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) is a systematic and comprehensive process for evaluating the environmental effects of a proposed policy, plan, program, or other strategic-level initiative.
The Cabinet Directive on the Environmental Assessment of Policy, Plan and Program Proposals (the Cabinet Directive) requires that departments and agencies conduct an SEA when a proposal is submitted to a Minister or Cabinet for approval and when the proposal may result in important environmental effects, either positive or negative. SEA is for policies, plans and programs, and while distinct from the environmental assessment (EA) of projects required under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012 (CEAA 2012), can be a tool to streamline future project-level EAs.
SEA requirements were first introduced at the federal level with the 1990 Cabinet Directive. The Cabinet Directive was subsequently updated in 1999 and in 2004 to clarify obligations of departments and agencies, to strengthen the role of SEA in the implementation of sustainable development strategies, and to improve transparency in the SEA process. The Guidelines for Implementing the Cabinet Directive on the Environmental Assessment of Policy, Plan and Program Proposals were also updated in 2010, requiring departments and agencies to report on the potential impacts of their proposals on Federal Sustainable Development Strategy goals and targets in their SEAs, and on SEA performance in their respective Reports on Plans and Priorities and Departmental Performance Reports.
SEA provides the means for incorporating environmental considerations early in decision-making, on an equal basis with economic and social considerations, and is thus considered an effective tool towards achieving sustainable development. When conducted properly, commencing at the early planning stages of the proposal, the SEA can identify potential negative environmental effects to be avoided or mitigated and potential environmental benefits to be enhanced, in time to inform the development of the proposal.
Natural Resources Canada’s SEA Process
NRCan has developed a tri-level SEA process to assist its employees in conducting SEAs and in meeting the requirements of the Cabinet Directive.
NRCan’s tri-level SEA process is composed of the:
- Preliminary Strategic Environmental Assessment (Pre-SEA), which assists officers in determining the need for and appropriate level of SEA;
- Strategic Environmental Assessment Scan (SEA Scan), which helps to determine the importance of the environmental effects likely to arise from a proposal, if implemented; and,
- Detailed Strategic Environmental Assessment (Detailed SEA), which provides for a comprehensive analysis of important environmental effects.
The Cabinet Directive requires that departments and agencies prepare a public statement of environmental effects when an assessment of environmental effects has been conducted through a Detailed SEA. The purpose of the statement is to demonstrate that environmental factors have been integrated into the decision-making process. Departments determine the content and extent of the public statement according to the circumstances of each case.
Upon the official announcement of the initiative, NRCan will post a public statement summarizing the Detailed SEA results.