Government of Canada

Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada

Strategic Environmental Assessment


What is a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA)?

Environmental assessments of development projects focus on how a project should be implemented environmentally. To address whether, where, and what form of development is environmentally sustainable, it is important to integrate environmental considerations "upstream" or early in the decision-making process, i.e. at the policy, plan and program levels.

While the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA) sets out the process for conducting the environmental assessments of projects, the Cabinet Directive on the Environmental Assessment of Policy, Plan and Program Proposals sets out the process for reviewing these proposals to incorporate environmental considerations.

So what is an SEA? It is a proactive tool that provides decision-makers and stakeholders with information on the environmental implications of a policy, plan or program before major alternatives and directions have been chosen. An SEA is the systematic and comprehensive process of examining environmental effects. As well, most SEAs may also identify significant economic and social effects. In short, its purpose is to promote integrated decision-making.

Why should an SEA be conducted?

The Cabinet Directive on the Environmental Assessment of Policy, Plan and Program Proposals clarifies the obligations of departments and agencies, and links the SEA process to the implementation of sustainable development strategies.

Ministers expect an SEA for a policy, plan or program proposal when the following two conditions are met:

  • a proposal is submitted to an individual Minister or to Cabinet for approval; and
  • the implementation of the proposal may result in important environmental effects, either positive or negative.

When circumstances warrant, it is recommended that SEAs be conducted for other policy, plan or program proposals. For example, an initiative may be selected for assessment to help implement goals in sustainable development or if there are strong public concerns about possible environmental consequences.

Some of the benefits of an SEA are that it:

  • advances the sustainability agenda
  • strengthens policy, plan and program decision-making processes
  • considers cumulative and synergistic effects
  • facilitates the implementation of more environmentally sustainable projects

When should an SEA be conducted?

At CIDA, an SEA would typically be conducted for the following documents:

  • allocation memoranda and other memoranda to Cabinet (MCs)
  • Treasury Board submissions
  • country (and regional) development programming frameworks (CDPFs, RDPFs)
  • strategic plans, implementation plans and action plans
  • policies
  • development programs
  • sector-wide approaches (SWAps)
  • sectoral reviews and guidelines

How should an SEA be conducted?

The SEA process at CIDA, as shown in the following process flowchart, entails four main steps:

  1. Preliminary scan
  2. Conduct SEA
  3. Prepare SEA report
  4. Approval of the policy, plan or program

The SEA Process at CIDA

Description of graphic
Graphic showing the SEA process at CIDA

Public Statements

As of January 1, 2004, the Cabinet Directive requires that federal departments and agencies prepare public statements of environmental effects upon the completion of a detailed SEA. This requirement assists in meeting the demand for increased transparency and accountability in Government of Canada operations.

The Cabinet Directive defines public statements of environmental effects as:

A statement that is made at the time that the policy, plan or program is announced, indicating the likely environmental effects of the policy, plan or program. The statement may be included as part of a general announcement by the government respecting the policy, plan or program, or it may be a stand alone document that explains the results of the strategic environmental assessment.

For More Information

The CIDA SEA Handbook has been prepared to provide guidance to the Agency on the environmental assessment of policies, plans and programs. The handbook is intended for those who may be involved in the development of a policy, plan or program, i.e. Cabinet liaison staff, environment specialists, program and project analysts, and policy-makers.

The handbook guides CIDA employees through the Agency's SEA process and:

  • provides a set of principles on SEA that offers general guidance on how to conduct an effective SEA
  • outlines the process of conducting an SEA

For more information on the SEA process, contact:

Environmental Assessment and Compliance Unit
Environment Division, Policy Branch
Canadian International Development Agency
200 Promenade du Portage,
Gatineau, Quebec

Telephone: 819-934-2421