July 4, 2005

North American environment ministers adopt five-year plan for environmental co-operation

A five-year strategic plan adopted by the top environment officials of Canada, the United States and Mexico sets out goals relating to specific priorities for international co-operation on the environment. These priorities include: the development of information for decision-making; support for capacity building; and continuing work to address trade and environment issues more effectively in order to promote environmental protection and sustainability.

The Council of the Commission for Environmental Co-operation (CEC), which comprises the three ministers, will also seek to expand partnerships for environmental stewardship and has agreed to work to increase the contribution of the private sector and other stakeholders in all three nations toward the implementation of the strategic plan. The Council members are Canadian Environment Minister Stéphane Dion, Mexican Secretary for Environment and Natural Resources Alberto C·rdenas JimÈnez, and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Stephen Johnson.

The Council introduced the plan during its annual meeting, held June 22 in Quebec City. Building on work done at its meeting last year in Puebla, Mexico, the document describes how the three jurisdictions intend to work together to protect the environment in North America, to promote and facilitate co-operation among themselves, and to provide tools and information to enable industry and citizens, as well as governments, to protect North America's shared environment. The priorities it addresses were set out in the 2004 Puebla Declaration, developed from discussions at last year's meeting. The plan has also taken into account the recommendations stemming from a ten-year review of the CEC, as well as advice from the CEC's Joint Public Advisory Committee (JPAC) and key stakeholders.

With regard to information for decision-making, the ministers endorsed a suite of initiatives aimed at enabling governments and other decision-makers, in both the public and private sectors, to make better-informed decisions on environmental concerns. The goal is to develop and share a description of North America using integrated, comparable and consistently high-quality environmental information.

The plan will focus initially on enhancing the quality and comparability of North American air quality information. Future efforts will expand this focus to refine the portrayal of some common North American issues, including invasive species, toxic substances and wildlife conservation.

The plan's strategy for capacity building seeks to strengthen the ability of the three countries to manage environmental issues of common concern by sharing what each nation does best in order to improve their ability to make progress together faster. The Council has committed to improving, over the next five years, their jurisdictions' abilities to assess and manage chemicals of concern, undertake pollution prevention, participate in biodiversity conservation, and develop effective environmental management programs. The CEC will focus its initial efforts on Mexico, where the opportunity is greatest. The Council also discussed approaches to work with the private sector, to improve competitiveness and environmental performance through an innovative partnership to integrate environmental management.

Finally, the Council emphasized the importance of trade and environment, noting that promoting better understanding of trade and environment relationships is central to the CEC's mission. The strategic plan will help increase the countries' capacity to detect and address trade-related environmental concerns, enhance the relationship between the CEC and the NAFTA Free Trade Commission and bring more focus to the work of the CEC.

Overall, the Council aims to promote policies and actions that provide mutual benefits for North America and to this end has endorsed several initiatives to accomplish this over the next five years. These include: improving capacity to assess the environmental effects of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA); establishing key elements to enhance markets for renewable energy; developing tools and practical approaches to foster green purchasing; developing a North American approach to reduce the cost and harm caused by invasive alien species; and improving enforcement of environmental laws, particularly along international borders.

The CEC works to build co-operation among the NAFTA partners in implementing the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation (NAAEC), the environmental side accord to the NAFTA. It addresses environmental issues of continental concern, with particular attention to the environmental challenges and opportunities presented by continent-wide free trade. More information is available on the CEC Web site, www.cec.org.

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