April 18, 2005

CIELAP updates assessment of sustainability in Canada

A heightened sense of urgency, in light of Canada's adoption of the Kyoto Protocol, surrounds recommendations presented by CIELAP, the Canadian Institute for Environmental Law and Policy, in its latest research project, titled Sustainable Development in Canada: 2005 Update.

In this report, CIELAP has revisited a policy paper issued in 2001 as part of the lead-up to the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg. Examining current conditions, lead researchers Mary MacDonald and Susan Holtz conclude that Canada has made progress toward sustainability, both internationally and domestically. Examples are found in policy statements, innovative partnerships and funding programs, sustainability initiatives by business and industry, community projects and research support.

The Sustainable Development in Canada: 2005 Update report specifically calls for:

*stronger political leadership from the Prime Minister and cabinet;

*more effective co-ordination and partnerships on sustainability priorities among federal departments and levels of government;

*a stronger sustainability education program for all federal employees (not just those working on sustainable development (SD) strategy development and implementation); and

*more support for science, environmental and sustainability monitoring.

The report also recommends the creation of more unconventional partnerships, for example across disciplines (e.g. psychology and environmental science), organizations (e.g. management schools and non-governmental organizations) and sectors (e.g. energy and education). This, it says, will stimulate innovation and promote a better understanding of the integrative dimension of sustainability.

CIELAP proposes a list of five priorities which it says will demonstrate a commitment by the government to sustainable practices. The federal government, it says, should focus on addressing: the Kyoto Protocol (climate change); "greening" Canadian competitiveness and innovation; cities (especially public transit and infrastructure); childhood poverty and deprivation (including early education); and long-term solutions to housing and homelessness.

CIELAP's original assessment of sustainability initiatives in Canada recommended a four-step process for creating SD strategies. Step 1--focusing on a "short list" of top-priority issues and setting long-term goals within each of these issue areas--has been revised to shorten the time line for long-term goals to between 25 and 35 years (rather than 50 to 100 years).

Step 2 called for setting shorter-term objectives with clear timelines, implementation mechanisms and resources, as interim steps toward reaching the long-term goals. Step 3 involves measuring and reporting on outcomes of sustainability initiatives, while Step 4 consists of a periodic review of progress, incorporating feedback, with revisions to the overall strategy made where needed.

The 2005 Update considers this proposed four-step SD planning process still highly relevant, emphasizing that the original recommendation for a federal SD strategy was not and is not intended to replace the departmental SD strategies mandated by the Auditor General Act. Rather, says the report, a strong federal strategy could provide a context for the departmental strategies, with a stronger mandate for interdepartmental co-operation on major priorities (such as those listed above).

The 2005 Update report may be viewed on the CIELAP Web site, www.cielap.org.

Also new from CIELAP is its Citizens' Guide to Pollution Prevention, a 48-page resource aimed at helping individual Canadians practise pollution prevention (P2). The Guide, researched and written with the help of the Canadian Centre for Pollution Prevention, focuses on toxic pollution from such substances as mercury, lead, dioxins, volatile organic compounds and endocrine disruptors. It discusses the sources of pollution in Canada, measures being taken to deal with it, and why citizens should be concerned.

In particular, the Guide makes a clear distinction between waste treatment or management and P2: the former deals with existing pollution, while the latter entails the use of processes, practices, materials, products, substances or energy forms that avoid or minimize the creation of pollutants and waste, thus reducing the overall risk to the environment and human health.

The Guide outlines Four Steps to P2 for individual Canadians:

- taking inventory

- examining the options and choosing priorities

- making and implementing a plan

- spreading the word

These steps are applicable in virtually all aspects of life, e.g. home cleaning and maintenance, personal care products, lawn care and gardening, vehicles and boats, and community action. Every citizen, notes the Guide, should be responsible for making smart and informed choices about the purchase and disposal of products.

The Citizens' Guide to Pollution Prevention also includes recommendations for other sectors.

Governments have a role to play in improving the development and implementation of policies and regulations to advance P2, which should continue to be a national priority. In addition, governments should take responsibility for maintaining and improving opportunities for exchanging ideas and facilitating the co-ordination of efforts among diverse stakeholders to enhance P2.

Industry: Every organization or facility should be committed to P2. Information-sharing among industry representatives should be a priority, and P2 planning should be a continuing process within every business.

Institutions: As highly visible members of the community, they should practice P2 to set an example.

The Citizens' Guide to Pollution Prevention is also available in pdf format on the CIELAP Web site; inquiries about multiple and bound copies should be directed to Iana Nikolova at 416/923-3529, ext 26, E-mail interns@cielap.org.

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