July 18, 2005

Manitoba's first Sustainability Report integrates environmental, economic and social indicators

Manitoba's 2005 Provincial Sustainability Report, recently released by Conservation Minister Stan Struthers, expands on previous State of the Environment reports by presenting information on the interrelationships between environmental conditions and economic and social factors. The report is the first to be issued in accordance with the provincial Sustainable Development Act, which requires sustainability reporting every five years.

By examining a range of categories and indicators within the dimensions of the natural environment, the economy and social well-being, the sustainability report attempts to demonstrate to Manitobans how actions and activities can affect communities and environment. For each of the indicators, the report assigns a trend assessment (e.g. positive, negative, stable, etc).

The purpose of the report, said Struthers, is to provide timely, accurate information on important sustainability issues and trends that affect Manitoba, and to encourage the province's residents to participate in the long-term strategies for sustainable development. "We developed this report following recommendations for sustainability indicators from the Manitoba Round Table for Sustainable Development," he added.

The natural environment dimension examines six categories: biodiversity and habitat conservation, fish, forests, air, water and climate change. Among the indicators (and trend rankings) are: natural lands and protected areas (positive); commercial fish harvest (varies, depending on fishery); forest renewal and forest type and age class (both stable); urban Air Quality Index (unchanged for Winnipeg and Brandon, improving for Flin Flon); water quality (stable); temperature and precipitation (both negative); and greenhouse gas emissions (stable).

The report points out that the list of familiar threats to the environment, such as water and air pollution, has grown to include factors such as climate change and invasive species. Many of these issues are connected and cannot be addressed in isolation. Consequently, integrated programs like Manitoba's Water Strategy, which take these links into account, show considerable promise if implemented properly.

The recovery of a number of previously endangered species illustrates how the right approach can reverse negative trends, the report continues. Focused attention is now needed, however, in some emerging problem areas. Among those cited are excessive nutrient loadings in Lake Winnipeg, which have contributed to deteriorating water quality; the potential impacts of climate change (which, although difficult to predict, could be significant); and indoor air pollution (for which there is still a lack of monitoring data).

The economic categories are economic performance, agricultural viability, mining, energy efficiency and conservation, consumption and waste management, employment and education. While a trend to continued economic growth is expected, the report cautions that, along with benefits such as more employment opportunities, this will also mean increased consumption of material goods and concurrent waste generation. With recycling rates rising in Manitoba as well as elsewhere, there will be ever greater reliance on industry to design products and services that minimize waste, says the report.

Another areas of economic growth has been Manitoba's agriculture and agri-food sector. The report points out that the average size of a farm in the province has grown in recent years in response to the need for economies of scale to offset rising costs. The implications of this shift for the environmental as well as economic and social dimensions of sustainability will need to be closely monitored and studies in the years to come.

The social well-being dimension looks at demographics, equity and rights, community and culture, governance, health and justice.

The government is inviting public comments on the report, which may be submitted on the accompanying Web site, www.gov.mb.ca/conservation/sustainabilityreport/. This feedback will help shape future reports.

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