Cumulative Effects Framework Overview

The Province of British Columbia is committed to considering cumulative effects in natural resource decision-making. Improving cumulative effects assessment and management will be a vital part of sustainable and integrated resource management.

The Cumulative Effects Framework (CEF) includes policy, procedures and decision-support tools that complement current land management achieved through B.C.’s legislative framework, land use plans and various best practices and processes. The framework provides important foundational information that can be used in a number of ways, including the potential to inform consultation with First Nations where a proposed decision or activity by the Province may affect claimed or proven Aboriginal or treaty rights. Transparently reporting on cumulative effects assessment information and management considerations will enable coordinated, consistent management of cumulative effects across the natural resource sector.

CEF 101: Overview of the Cumulative Effects Framework

Video providing an overview of B.C.'s Cumulative Effects Framework.


CEF 201: Windpower Case Study

Video outlining how cumulative effects information was used to inform a wind energy permitting application in Thompson Okanagan Region.


Cumulative effects are defined in the B.C. cumulative effects framework as "changes to environmental, social and economic values caused by the combined effect of past, present and potential future human activities and natural processes".

As the demand for natural resources continues to grow in British Columbia, we need to be able to efficiently and consistently assess the combined effects of activities on environmental, social and economic values. Many laws, regulations and policies around natural resource management in British Columbia focus on a specific sector – such as forestry, mining, or oil and gas. While formal environmental assessments consider cumulative effects when evaluating large projects, many proposals are small in size and do not require such assessments. The cumulative effects framework will help capture these combined effects, large and small, in assessments for values that are important to the people of British Columbia.

The cumulative effects framework is a set of policies, procedures and decision-support tools that helps identify and manage cumulative effects consistently and transparently across British Columbia's natural resource sector.

The cumulative effects framework does not create new legislative requirements; rather it informs and guides cumulative effects considerations through existing natural resource sector legislation, policies, programs and initiatives. Integrating the cumulative effects framework into existing natural resource decision-making processes and enabling cross-sector governance will ensure cumulative effects are identified, considered and managed consistently.

Specifically, the cumulative effects framework will help to:

  • improve government’s ability to achieve existing legal and policy objectives for values
  • allow faster and better decisions, with readily available and up-to-date information
  • give project proponents timely access to information for planning resource activities - large and small
  • help government meet its legal obligation to consider cumulative impacts as they relate to First Nations aboriginal and treaty rights
  • avoid costly mitigation and delays with durable and consistent decision-making

Information about the current conditions of values will allow resource managers, decision makers and interagency committees to make well-informed decisions that support better environmental outcomes and increase social and economic benefits for both communities and government. The cumulative effects framework set of policies, procedures and decision-support tools can help identify cumulative effects considerations and guide management options to lessen any potential environmental impacts of natural resource activities.

Government must consider potential cumulative impacts to values related to Aboriginal and treaty rights and interests in natural resource decisions. By providing open access to the most current information for values, the cumulative effects framework will help support government’s obligation to provide cumulative effects information on potential impacts to First Nations rights and interests. First Nations can also use this information to monitor and manage the condition of values in their own areas of interest.

The cumulative effects framework does not establish limits for development. Cumulative effects framework assessments will provide information and guidance to resource users for the condition of values and government’s objectives prior to initiating a project. Thus, expected costs of mitigating undesirable impacts can be known upfront by the resource user and decision makers can better evaluate management options relevant to requested activities. If assessments show there are potential concerns for a particular value, mitigation actions could be added to the application by the proponent or conditions may be attached to an authorization by the decision maker. The authority to determine whether any residual impacts of a specific authorization are acceptable rests with the statutory decision maker.

Implementation of the cumulative effects framework is a multi-year and multi-phase effort. Phased implementation allows the cumulative effects framework to evolve and adapt over time. Engagement and collaboration help to ensure continual policy improvement throughout the phased implementation. The current priorities for implementation are:

  • build and improve provincial policy, procedures, standards and tools for assessing and reporting
  • develop and implement regional assessments and management responses in selected areas
  • evaluate effectiveness of cumulative effects framework interim policy and value assessments
  • support staff extension and training to build cumulative effects framework capacity
  • implement provincial and regional strategies to engage First Nations and stakeholders

The phased implementation of the cumulative effects framework will use an adaptive management approach that can incorporate new information and refined assessment methodologies to allow for the continuous improvement of the framework.

The framework recognizes existing land use objectives, which establish government direction or desired outcomes for a range of natural resource values. These objectives are set through legislative or policy processes that typically involve external consultation – for example, Strategic Land Use Plans or legal orders for objectives under the Land Act or Forest and Range Practices Act. The framework itself does not set new objectives nor does it affect any existing statutory decision making authority.

The framework is led jointly by the Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development and the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy. However, a team of executive members of the government’s five natural resource sector ministries reviews all cumulative effects framework policy and procedures and provides advice and guidance to the ministers.