Cumulative Effects

Cumulative effects are the combined effects of past, present and foreseeable human activities, over time, on the environment, economy and society in a particular place.

Currently in Alberta, development that requires provincial approval is generally reviewed on a case-by-case basis. While this has allowed regulators to understand individual impacts, over time this approach has become inefficient and less responsive to place-based challenges.

Alberta needs a more effective and efficient management system that considers the cumulative effects of all activities. The current system is evolving and adapting to place-based challenges, which allows decision-makers to see the big picture and help those on the landscape to be more strategic and responsible in their development activities.

What is Cumulative Effects Management?

Cumulative Effects Management is an approach that establishes outcomes for an area by balancing environmental, economic and social considerations and implementing appropriate plans and tools to ensure those outcomes are met.

Cumulative effects management is:

  • Collaborative: building on a culture of shared stewardship, using a shared knowledge base
  • Comprehensively implemented: using both regulatory and non-regulatory approaches
  • Outcomes-based: clearly defining, desired end-state
  • Performance management-based: using adaptive approaches to ensure results are measured and achieved
  • Place-based: meeting the differing needs of regions within the province

Cumulative Effects Management System (CEMS)

Alberta is looking to shift to a Cumulative Effects Management System (CEMS). Within this system, various tools, resources and relationships will work together to comprehensively manage activities that affect the environment, economy and society in a particular place. It is an adaptive management system that follows a "plan-do-check" approach to setting, meeting and evaluating place-based outcomes.

The foundation of a functioning system is knowledge and performance management, having the best information possible to set outcomes, continuously assess them, and determine when management actions are required. Outcomes are meant to be measured and evaluated continuously and management actions can be enforced throughout the system.

If the system is working well, the Government of Alberta will be better able to:

  • Identify and maximize opportunities on the landscape
  • Inform, develop and achieve social, economic and environmental outcomes in an area
  • Make decisions based on knowledge, performance measurement and evaluation
  • Prevent against adverse effect to the environment
  • Simplify regulatory requirements and ensure alignment of provincial policies

The Government of Alberta is shifting to implement this system in the province, and Alberta Environment and Parks has a leadership role on the environmental (bio-physical) component.


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Updated: Mar 18, 2016