Environmental Rights Act

What is the purpose of the Environmental Rights Act?

The Environmental Rights Act (ERA) recognizes the right to protect the integrity, biological diversity and productivity of the ecosystems in the Northwest Territories (NWT), and to provide NWT residents with the tools and processes needed to ensure these rights are protected by the Government of the Northwest Territories (GNWT).

The ERA works in combination with other GNWT legislation that permits, licenses or allows activities related to air, land and water use. The Act provides an overarching commitment to ensuring a healthy environment for NWT citizens, achieved through the implementation of complementary, issue-specific legislation, such as the Waters Act and the Environmental Protection Act (EPA).

Why do we need amendments to the Environmental Rights Act?

Every day, residents rely on effective environmental protection practices to live, work and participate in recreation activities in the NWT. The proposed amendments to the Act will increase coherence and consistency across legislation, based on best practices in Canada. The amended Act will result in improved implementation, enforcement and decision-making, leading to a more sustainably managed environment by enabling the GNWT to assume post-devolution responsibilities for land, air and water.

The amendments will also enable the GNWT to assume responsibility for elements of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA). This requires that the NWT Environmental Protections Act (EPA) also be amended.

What are the key components of the Act?

The proposed amendments to the ERA will:

  • Extend the right to protect the environment.
  • Reflect numerous well-accepted developments in land claims and Aboriginal and treaty rights, environmental law, human rights and international law.
  • Ensure consistency with provisions and approaches in other NWT legislation.
  • Clearly acknowledge what is meant by the right to a healthy environment.
  • Clearly acknowledge and emphasize the obligation of the GNWT to act in accordance with the public trust.

What are the key differences from the current legislation?

  • Principles of environmental law have been incorporated into the new ERA, including the precautionary principle and access to best available information, to ensure the wise management of the environment on behalf of present and future generations.
  • The right to protect the environment will be extended in the revised ERA to include anything that might be of harm to the health of the environment.
  • The new Act will require a State of the Environment report to be issued every 4 years.
  • Departments will be required to develop Statements of Environmental Values to guide their planning and decision-making under the Act.
  • Amendments will acknowledge the GNWT’s responsibility to appropriately protect the environment and the right to a healthy environment, in accordance with the public trust.
  • The ERA will apply to all relevant GNWT legislation, including the EPA and Waters Act.
  • The new Act will explicitly recognize and affirm the protection of asserted and established Aboriginal and Treaty rights, along with the commitments of land claim and self-government agreements.