Environmental Assessment for Mining Activities

Sustainability Assessment Model

Failings in the current EA model have prompted a shift towards a broader “Sustainability Assessment” model.469 The main objective of this model is to ensure that development contributes to sustainability. This entails a change in focus away from negative effects and towards encouraging positive ones.470

Sustainability assessment (SA) asks the question: Does this project advance our economy & society toward a sustainable future?  And not just: How can this project be made less bad?                                                                                                                      SA seeks to improve positive elements of a project as well mitigate negative elements.                                                                                                                                                                                                 SA asks questions about fairness & justice as well, by emphasizing inter-generational equity as well as intra-generational equity.

– Ecojustice (2011)471

This approach recognizes that although trade-offs between different elements of sustainability should always be avoided; in some cases they are necessary. Where this is the case, the trade-offs should be guided by the following:472

  • maintenance of maximum net gains;
  • avoidance of significant adverse effects especially in areas of existing concern;
  • denial of trade-offs that displace significant adverse effects from the present to the future generation;
  • explicit justifications for all trade-off proposals; and
  • examination of all trade-off proposals in an open processes.

The Sustainability Assessment model moves away from merely determining whether significant adverse effects are likely or not. Instead, a likely outcome from a Sustainability Assessment is an “evaluation matrix”. For example, possible outcomes can be classified as:473

  • fully beneficial results: likely improved outcomes and no significant damages anticipated;
  • results with net benefits: some negative effects that can likely be mitigated through tested methods;
  • no assurance of net benefits: significant damages are likely and adequate enhancement of positive effects coupled with mitigation of adverse effects may depend on more information or firmly imposed conditions; or
  • likely net losses.

This type of graded evaluation promotes a careful trade-off analysis that supports more sustainable development.


The current EA process is limited in scope and does not adequately evaluate long term risks and benefits associated with projects.  In focusing on mitigation of environmental harm, the current EA process ignores broader issues, such as society’s need for the project, and if minerals might be better left for the use of future generations.

Recommended Solution

Replace current EA model with a Sustainability Assessment model

[Tags: EA; Sustainability Assessment]

Sustainability assessment models have emerged in many joint panel reviews (for example, the Mackenzie Gas Project474). In addition, they have been partially embedded in federal laws implementing northern aboriginal claims agreements (including the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act475, and the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act476). Strategic-level EAs have also been adopted in other jurisdictions including the EU and China.477

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