22 Jan The Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development Reports: Fall 2018 Edition
In late 2018, the Commissioner of Environment and Sustainable Development (CESD) released her Fall 2018 Reports. There are four reports:
Report 1: Toxic Substances,
Report 2: Protecting Marine Mammals,
Report 3: Departmental Progress in Implementing Sustainable Development Strategies, &
Report 4: Environmental Petitions Annual Report,
along with The Commissioner’s Perspective which provides an overview of the audit findings.
In The Commissioner’s Perspective, the CESD states that it is “important that the people making decisions today actively seek ways and means to balance the social, economic, and environmental considerations of their decisions, both in the immediate and in the long term”.
The Commissioner’s Perspective also briefly discusses the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development which “sets out 17 sustainable development goals and related targets aimed at, among other things, eliminating poverty and hunger, establishing gender equality and high-quality education, promoting decent work and economic growth, and protecting the world’s land, water, and biodiversity for future generations”. The CESD notes that Canada presented its Voluntary National Review in mid-2018 which identifies which departments will lead federal action, announces funding, and commits to work with provinces, territories, civil society groups, and Indigenous communities to develop a national strategy.
Report 1: Toxic Substances
In the audit of toxic substances, the CESD focused on whether Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) enforced regulations under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA) to control the risks of toxic substances. As at December 2017, there were 138 substances considered toxic under CEPA.
The audit found that ECCC “still had significant work to do in selected areas to effectively control the risks of toxic substances and to inform Canadians about those risks”. While the department conducted inspections and other enforcement activities to ensure that businesses complied with regulations on toxic substances, in most cases it did not base enforcement priorities on human health and environmental risks (most enforcement activities centred on one substance used in dry cleaning operations).
The CESD also found that ECCC lacks timely access to information about which businesses are regulated and has not set time frames to follow up on violations. As well, ECCC has not addressed all enforceability issues that it had previously identified in regulations.
With respect to public access to information about toxic substances, the CESD found that the information on Health Canada’s website was often unclear and difficult to find. Communication activities to explain environmental risks were limited. The CESD concluded that these weaknesses made it difficult for Canadians to find information for making informed decisions about toxic substances.
Further, the CESD found that ECCC and Health Canada had not yet completed work to address the CESD’s 2009 recommendation to assess whether these departments were meeting their overall objectives to reduce the risks of toxic substances to human health and the environment.
Report 2: Protecting Marine Mammals
The CESD noted that there are several indirect threats to marine mammals, such as threats resulting from climate change and contaminants. Other activities pose direct threats, such as threats resulting from interactions with commercial fishing and marine vessels. Direct threats include
o collisions with ships;
o underwater noise and disturbance from vessels;
o contamination from vessels, such as oil spills;
o bycatch (being caught unintentionally by fishers);
o entanglement in fishing gear, such as ropes or traps;
o depletion of food sources by fisheries; and
o habitat loss.
In this audit, the CESD looked at the efforts of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), the ECCC, Parks Canada, and Transport Canada to address threats to marine mammals from marine vessels and commercial fishing (not including the harvesting of marine mammals). These threats include entanglements, bycatch, depletion of food sources, noise and disturbance, oil spills, and collisions with marine vessels.
The CESD found that the responsible federal organizations had not fully applied existing policies and tools to proactively manage threats to marine mammals from commercial fishing and marine vessels. Existing policies and tools include recovery strategies and action plans under the Species at Risk Act, guidelines for planning and managing marine protected areas, and integrated fisheries management plans to implement the Policy on Managing Bycatch.
For instance, the CESD found that marine mammals were not explicitly included in the National Oil Spill Preparedness and Response Regime. As well, while marine protected areas exists, marine mammals were not consistently considered when the areas were being established. Further, the CESD concluded that marine protected areas provide only limited protection to marine mammals from commercial fishing and marine traffic threats. The CESD also found that DFO lacked the resources and national guidance to effectively support the partners who are working to respond to distressed marine mammals.
By the end of the audit period, the responsible federal organizations began to implement actions aimed at protecting marine mammals by reducing threats from commercial fishing and marine vessels. Measures have been put into place to limit commercial salmon fishing with the aim of increasing food sources for the southern resident killer whale; to reduce entanglements and bycatch from fisheries for the North Atlantic right whale; and to introduce speed limits in some areas to protect both the North Atlantic right whale and the St. Lawrence Estuary beluga whale. As well, after the audit period, amendments to the Marine Mammal Regulations were finalized (and would address some disturbances from marine vessels).
While the CESD report briefly mentions these actions, they were not audited because their implementation was under way only at the end of the audit period. The CESD does note that the responsible federal organizations have yet to apply sustained planning and management policies, tools, and measures to reduce threats for all marine mammals.
Report 3: Departmental Progress in Implementing Sustainable Development Strategies
This aspect of the audit provided a bright spot in the CESD’s Fall 2019 Reports.
Since 1990, the Cabinet Directive on the Environmental Assessment of Policy, Plan and Program Proposals has required federal organizations to perform strategic environmental assessments to inform Cabinet of the important positive or negative environmental effects of proposed policies, plans, and programs. The CESD found that federal organizations had applied the Cabinet directive to 93% of policy, plan, and program proposals submitted to Cabinet in 2017. This is a marked improvement over initial audits (where adherence to this directive was low).
The CESD found that 17 of the 26 organizations (to which the Cabinet directive applies) applied the Cabinet directive to all of their proposals submitted to Cabinet. Seven other organizations had high compliance rates, although they were unable to demonstrate compliance in all cases, as required by the Cabinet directive. Two organizations had no submissions during the audit period.
As well, the CESD found that the relevant federal organizations were working to strengthen their environmental assessment practices. For example, since the CESD’s initial audits, all organizations had developed or updated their internal guidance and tools to apply the Cabinet directive.
Report 4: Environmental Petitions Annual Report
An environmental petition process has been established under the federal Auditor General Act and is implemented by the CESD. The environmental petitions process allows any Canadian resident (either individually or on behalf of an organization) to bring environmental concerns to the attention of the federal government. An environmental petition is submitted to the Office of the Auditor General who forwards the petition to the appropriate Ministry. The Minister is required to respond to an environmental petition within 120 days of its receipt.
The number of petitions, the subject-matter of the petitions and the status of the petitions is reported on annually by the CESD. Within the audit period covered by the Report, 10 environmental petitions were submitted. The petitions addressed a wide variety of issues, including ecological integrity, the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the sustainable development goals, nuclear waste disposal and management, and environmental assessments of projects.
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