By Stephen Leahy* – IPS/IFEJ
In the past 15 years, all of Canada’s environmental indicators have suffered, say experts who distribute the blame among local and national governments, businesses and the public.
TORONTO, Nov 5 2007 (Tierramérica).
In the 1980s, Canada was a bright green engine of change, pushing the global community forward on sustainable development and global warming. But now it is falling behind in almost every environmental aspect.
The lead author of the landmark 1987 Bruntland Report, “Our Common Future“, was Canadian Jim MacNeill. The very first international climate change meeting involving scientists and political leaders was held in Toronto in 1988.
Canadian Maurice Strong organized the first World Conference on the Environment in Stockholm in 1972, was the first executive director of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), and was secretary-general of the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.
But after this flourish on the world stage, Canada sat back and did virtually nothing domestically. The country ranks 28th out of 30 high-income countries in terms of environmental sustainability, according to an independent Canadian study. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development ranked Canada 27th in terms of environmental performance.
In the past 15 years all ecological indicators have declined, said David Runnalls, president of the International Institute for Sustainable Development in Winnipeg, Canada, and who has a 30-year history with various governmental and non-governmental institutions around the world, including UNEP and the World Conservation Union.
“Sustainable development is alive and well and working in Europe, but not in North America,” Runnalls told IPS at a recent conference tracking Canada’s efforts since 1987 towards sustainable development, which entails preserving natural resources while respecting social rights.
Europeans made sustainable development part of their laws and regulations; Canada did not. Instead, governments slashed budgets in environmental departments and corporate leadership stopped being interested in sustainability, he said.
“You couldn’t get 15 minutes with a senior environmental official to talk about sustainable development in Canada,” said Johanne Gelinas, former commissioner of the environment and sustainable development for the Canadian government.
“Sustainable development has never been a priority in the federal government, no matter which party was in power,” she said.
Any progress that has been made in Canada is mainly thanks to non-governmental organizations like Greenpeace forcing governments and industries to act. Today, the corporate sector is moving ahead and could push governments towards creating sustainable policies.
“If large institutions like Canada’s banking sector decided to only buy paper from Forest Stewardship Council suppliers (which have been certified for sustainable practices), it would have a huge impact,” Gelinas said.
“Ninety-five percent of government effort is to keep everything going as usual,” said Tim Sale, former health minister in the central province of Manitoba.
“Governments only act when they perceive there is a serious emergency. Climate change is not seen as an emergency,” Sale said. Nor does the public really understand issues like climate change, he added.
For complete story see A Blind Eye to Environment – O Canada!
* This story is part of a series of features on sustainable development by IPS-Inter Press Service and IFEJ-International Federation of Environmental Journalists.