Incorporating Ecosystem Services into the Environmental Assessment Process

The Alberta economy depends heavily on natural resource extraction. These activities can have significant environmental and social impacts on regions in which they operate. The environmental assessment (EA) process has been put in place, both federally and provincially, to protect the interest of stakeholders impacted in these regions. The overarching goal of the process is to ensure the proposed project is in the best interests of the stakeholders. While ecological impacts from proposed projects are easily tracked within the corresponding EA, they don’t necessarily speak to how the project will affect human well-being.

Ecosystem Service Assessments (ESAs) directly link human well-being to changes in ecosystem function. It can be argued that the inclusion of ecosystem services within the EA process may bridge the gap between ecological impacts from industrial development and human well-being. ESAs may also provide better inclusion of impacted communities by improving stakeholder engagement and highlighting community values in easy-to-understand language.

In addition, the federal EA process is currently under review. The goal of the review is to develop new processes that are fair, grounded in scientific evidence, respect the rights of Indigenous peoples, and protect the environment for future generations to enjoy. Recommendations on how to incorporate ecosystem services into the EA process couldn’t be more timely.

Silvacom, with funding provided by Alberta Innovates, is working with regulators and proponents to assess easy entry points to incorporate ecosystem services into the EA process. This is not meant to be an added regulatory burden, but rather a way to identify where ecosystem service concepts can help improve decision-making from the strategic level down to site level impacts.

Over the next seven months, we will:

  • Complete a Gap Analysis to identify where the current EA processes, both federally and provincially, align with ecosystem service concepts;
  • Develop a framework to incorporate ecosystem services into the EA process; and
  • Test the framework on a previously approved environmental impact assessment.

If you or your organization are interested in participating in this project, or you’re just interested in learning more, please contact Silvacom:

We also recommend Silvacom's previous blog on how ecosystem services are being used in corporate sustainability reporting:

This blog was originally published by Silvacom on May 30, 2017.