Assessing the Cumulative Social Effects of Projects: Lessons from Canadian Hydroelectric Development

Environ Manage. 2022 May;69(5):1035-1048. doi: 10.1007/s00267-022-01622-x. Epub 2022 Mar 25.


Cumulative effects assessments are often expected to include an analysis of cumulative social effects to people, their communities, and livelihoods caused by resource development projects and land use activities. Understanding cumulative social effects is important for decisions about prospective resource development projects, but there has been limited attention devoted to how to complete such an assessment. This paper critically examines how cumulative effects frameworks are applied to social impacts during environmental assessments. We do this by analyzing semi-structured interviews exploring practitioner experience in environmental assessments for hydroelectric development in British Columbia and Manitoba, Canada. The results provide a conceptual framework for cumulative social effects and illustrate how identified challenges for cumulative effects assessment are exacerbated by social impacts that introduce additional complexities in impact identification, assessment, and decision-making. The paper concludes with a discussion of how these challenges can be addressed and recommendations for improving environmental assessment practice.

Keywords: Cumulative effects assessment; Cumulative social effects; Environmental assessment; Social impacts.

MeSH terms

  • British Columbia
  • Humans
  • Prospective Studies
  • Social Change*