Indicators of Net Environmental Impact

Provincial net gain targets should be set for a number of environmental indicators, with net gain targets and the use of indicators applied at the regional level. Every upper-tier municipal plan should be required to work with the net gain targets, but should retain flexibility in deciding how the targets will be met.

To implement the net gain principle, indicators will be needed that measure the net environmental impact of new developments. The following discussion identifies potential indicators. There must be some room for trade-offs among indicators, depending on the circumstances of each new development (or re-development). Overall, however, there be no net loss on any indicator, with lower-tier municipal plans held responsible for achieving an overall net gain among the indicators.

A fair and transparent process will need to be put in place to ensure that the environmental budget for each new development is appropriate and that pollution reductions and/or offsets are made. While indicators may not always be as precise as desired, they should convey a strong sense of direction and be quantifiable wherever possible.

A number of possible sources of advice for indicators exist, including:

  • National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy;
  • Global Reporting Initiative;
  • Federation of Canadian Municipalities' Environmental Agenda;
  • Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment;
  • Virginia McLaren, University of Toronto;
  • Centre for Sustainable Transportation.

The list of potential environmental indicators could be lengthy. Pollution Probe believes that the following output- and outcome-oriented indicators may be feasible, recognizing that the choice of indicators should be made using an open and transparent public consultation process. Policy choices will inevitably have to be made in the selection and development of indicators relevant to growth management and in the practical application of the indicators by proponents, developers and regulators.

Ten indicators that could potentially be linked to net gain targets and environmental sustainability are noted below:

Ten Potential Indicators for Net Environmental Gain

  1. Emissions of nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds (which affect air quality and human health through ground-level ozone formation)
  2. Emissions of fine particles (which create smog and harm human health)
  3. Emissions of sulphur dioxide (which cause smog and acid rain, thus harming human health and natural capital).
  4. Emissions of greenhouse gases (which cause global warming and widespread negative effects on human health and natural capital).
  5. Total and per capita water consumption (which affects ecosystems and natural capital).
  6. Regional percentage of impervious surfaces (which is linked to water quantity and quality).
  7. Protection of significant woodlands and significant wildlife habitat (which contributes to increasing natural capital).
  8. Brownfield clean-up and re-development (which contributes to urban intensification and to restoring natural capital).
  9. Population density per hectare (which contributes to the viability and cost-effectiveness of urban transit and protects natural capital - greenfields - from unnecessary development).
  10. Agricultural and natural land preservation (which enhances food security and contributes to maintaining natural capital).

The following sections discuss environmental trends and problems and propose various solutions related to air, water, and soil quality. Special emphasis is given to transportation issues, since transportation is a very large source of, and contributor to, air, water, and soil quality problems, and is highly influenced by urban form. Each of the solutions discussed is relevant to net gain targets and indicators.