Strategic Environmental Assessment

Strategic environmental assessment is the environmental assessment of policy, plan and program initiatives and their alternatives. The focus of strategic environmental assessment (SEA) is on identifying and evaluating the possible environmental implications of alternative futures and opportunities for regions and sectors, as opposed to individual development projects (seeENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT ASSESSMENT).


SEA is required under The Cabinet Directive on the Environmental Assessment of Policy, Plan and Program Proposals (established in 1990) when a policy, plan or program proposal is submitted to an individual minister for federal CABINET approval, and when implementation of the proposal may result in environmental effects, either positive or negative. Such proposals may include, for example, NATIONAL PARK management plans, licence issuing for offshore energy planning, amendments to acts and regulations, applications to the TREASURY BOARD, eco-energy initiatives, and international trade and investment programs. There are no formal requirements for SEA in Canada's provinces and territories but there are many examples of ad hoc and informal applications of SEA to forestry and land use planning.


The purpose of SEA is to integrate environmental considerations into the development and implementation of policies, plans and programs. SEA is based on the notion that many of the decisions that affect the ENVIRONMENT are made long before individual projects are proposed. By focusing on the sources of environmental impacts, SEA is intended to achieve benefits that cascade downward resulting in more informed and environmentally SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT actions at the project level. SEA ensures the consideration of alternative policy, plan and program options, and their environmental implications, at an early stage when there is greater flexibility with respect to decisions about future development.

SEA Process

As an impact assessment process, SEA typically follows a systematic procedure: i) describing the policy, plan, or program context and the problem to be addressed; ii) conducting a baseline study to identify the environmental issues of concern, key drivers of change, and conditions against which the policy, plan or program will be assessed; iii) identifying alternatives to the policy, plan or program initiative; iv) assessing the potential environmental effects of these alternatives and the implications for other policies, plans, programs and projects; v) identifying a preferred alternative or strategy for the development or implementation of the policy, plan or program; and vi) implementing the chosen alternative and monitoring for unanticipated environmental effects, the effectiveness of impact management programs, and whether the policy, plan, or program goals and objectives are being met. SEA can be applied to facilitate the development of policies, plans, and programs, or to assess the potential impacts of proposed or existing ones.