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Scenarios for the Future (28 November 1996)



A key component of Canada's transition to sustainable development is the contribution that can be made by our indigenous people. Indigenous people are finally achieving a degree of appreciation and recognition for their knowledge related to resource management, and for their spiritual connection with the natural environment.

Statement by Maurice Strong, Chairman, The Earth Council, to the Scenarios for the Future Group on 28 November 1996

It is with regret that I am unable to attend this session of the Scenarios for the Future group. For I am deeply concerned with Canada's future, even though my international commitments at the World Bank and the U.N. are keeping me away from home these days. Canada's economic and environmental future is closely tied to that of the rest of the world, and I would therefore like to take this opportunity to share with you some of my thoughts about Canada's future, especially within the context of the environment and globalization.

Environmental issues cannot be considered in isolation from other concerns. For they arise from pervasive imbalances in our industrial civilization and can only be addressed by fundamental changes in behaviour and the ways in which we manage our impacts on nature and our relations with each other. These issues are integral to Canada's social, economic and political future.

A new basis for national unity

Canadians are not an aggressively nationalistic people. Perhaps this is a weakness when we are striving to forge a new basis for national unity. But in another sense it is a very positive attribute because we are also one of the world's most international nations in the composition of our population, in our outlook and outreach, as well as in our dependence on the world economy. What happens in Canada is more important to the world community than most Canadians realize. For although we are relatively small in very positive attribute because we are also one of the world's most international nations in the composition of our population, in our outlook and outreach, as well as in our dependence on the world economy. What happens in Canada is more important to the world community than most Canadians realize. For although we are relatively small in numbers we have custody of one of the largest and most richly endowed pieces of the Earth's environment, and how we manage it will have a profoundly important effect on the global environmental future.

Among the most important manifestations of globalization affecting Canada today IS the North American Free Trade Agreement, which has created the world's largest free trade zone . Despite optimism about the economic advantages of NAFTA, we must be cautious that common market approaches to economic development do not exacerbate the existing imbalances between developed and developing countries. For example, the drive to convert knowledge into proprietary intellectual property could tend to reduce the total stock of knowledge and restrict access to the products of research and development for those who do not have the means to purchase them. An area where NAFTA can take the lead is in ensuring that the developing countries in economic alliances like NAFTA have access to the best state-of-the-art technologies and techniques so that in the course of their own development they do not add unnecessarily to the pressures on the Earth's environment and resources. This will become even more important when NAFTA opens its doors to future Central and South American partners.

However, the trend toward macro-markets need not preclude community-based initiatives . This has been well recognized within the context of NAFTA and its environmental side agreement, through the creation of the North American Environment Fund for community-based initiatives, administered by the Commission for Environmental Cooperation in Montreal, valued at $2 million (Cdn). This fund is one example of the increasing importance being placed on local initiatives.

Local initiatives 

Local initiatives are blossoming in Canada and around the world. While broad policy parameters are being formulated at the international level, many local governments are developing the thousands of concrete changes in economic, political and social behaviour required to forestall the environmental crisis. The International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI), based in Toronto, has been at the forefront of encouraging municipalities from all parts of the world in adopting "Local Agendas 21", which are locally-adapted strategies designed to guide municipalities on the path to sustainable development. In Canada, the Regional Municipality of Hamilton-Wentworth's "Vision 2020" has gained notoriety for its efforts to make the transition from unsustainable to sustainable use of its resources. Hamilton has also provided us with an excellent example of how business, government and community interests can come together to make significant improvements in the local environment. One of the primary areas in which Hamilton Wentworth has made a profound difference is in the clean-up of the Coot's Paradise marsh.

The Earth Council Institute - Canada, which is my home base here in Canada, is a new player in Canada's environment and development community, and is working closely with organizations like ICLEI in supporting the implementation of sustainable development initiatives in Canada. The role played -by non-governmental organizations like these will continue to grow, and it is important that Canadian business join together with the non-governmental sector in promoting sustainable development as traditional government funding sources continue to decline.

It is equally important that local initiatives be carried out in cooperation with international organizations which can add value to their initiatives. The Earth Council, founded after the Earth Summit in 1992, represents a new breed of international organization designed to act as a catalyst to facilitate and support the implementation of sustainable development at the level of people and communities. In doing so, it consults and cooperates with a network of several thousand organizations, most of them grass-roots in nature.

A key component of Canada's transition to sustainable development is the contribution that can be made by our indigenous people. Indigenous people are finally achieving a degree of appreciation and recognition for their knowledge related to resource management, and for their spiritual connection with the natural environment. However, as recently pointed out by the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, Canada still does not have in place the appropriate institutions - legal and otherwise - to ensure the full achieving a degree of appreciation and recognition for their knowledge related to resource management, and for their spiritual connection with the natural environment. However, as recently pointed out by the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, Canada still does not have in place the appropriate institutions -legal and otherwise -to ensure the full participation of indigenous people in a sustainable future for Canada. The Royal Commission report provides us with a solid agenda for moving beyond the status quo. At a time when we are talking more and more about decentralization and community-based initiatives around the world, shouldn't we be enabling native groups to develop their own environmental agendas for their own communities? However, the successful devolution of power to native communities depends on the existence of an adequate land and resource base for these comrnunrties.

One area in which we must continue to seek profound change is in the transition from unsustainable to sustainable use of our natural resources. Canadians have a special responsibility in achieving this as we are responsible for stewardship of one of the largest pieces of Planet Earth, containing some of its richest, most diverse, and -in some cases its most vulnerable natural endowments.

This century's unprecedented economic growth has depended to a great extent on the availability of low cost energy, principally in the form of fossil fuels. Curbing our appetite for fossil fuels is the single most important action that must be taken to reduce the risk of global warming. This transition will be a difficult one, but it is not impossible, as an increasing number of leading industries in Japan, Scandinavia, Korea, Germany, and North America are demonstrating.

An important example of how market forces can be invoked to meet sustainable development goals is the proposal by the Earth Council, in collaboration with the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development for the establishment of a Global Emission Trading System (GETS). It would focus first on carbon dioxide emissions and be designed to ensure that any revenue generated go to the places where it can be employed on the most cost-effective basis. As this will most often be in developing countries, it opens up a major new potential source of investment flows to developing countries for financing sustainable development. However, the implementation of GETS will require strong leadership. There is a responsibility for Canada, as the world's largest (per capita) consumer of energy, to take  a leadership role in encouraging the implementation of GETS and in doing so, Canada will make significant strides towards meeting our commitment to the Framework Convention on Climate Change in reducing our greenhouse gas emissions. But in these times of streamlining the public sector, we cannot expect this leadership to come from the government. Indeed, it is Canada's industries which must take a lead in demonstrating that environmental and economic development are not mutually exclusive, but go hand-in-hand.

A major lesson

One major lesson I have learned over the past three decades as an environmentalist involved in industry is that the essential ingredients of sustainable development are economics and efficiency, or eco-efficiency as it is called -efficiency in the use of materials and energy and in the prevention, disposal, and recycling of wastes. There is no sector of industry of which this is more true than e!!ergy. Energy is at the very heart of our industrial civilization. And this will not change. But what will most certainly change as we move into the 21st century is the way in which we meet our energy needs. Indeed it must change. For the current energy mix is clearly not viable in the longer term. But we are still far from defining the pathway to an energy future that will be sustainable in both economic and environmental terms. Despite progress in the more industrialized countries in recent years towards greater efficiency in the production and use of energy, the potential for even greater efficiency is immense. The Electric Power Research Institute in the U.S., hardly a radical organization, has estimated that U.S. energy needs could be met without reductions in the standard of living with 55% less electrical energy than what is now being consumed. I tried to practice what I preach on this subject during my three years at Ontario Hydro, where we made sustainable energy development and energy efficiency its primary corporate objective and set the corporation on a pathway to achieving it.

Canada cannot take its world leadership role for granted. As outlined in Connecting with the World, the Report of the International Development Research and Policy Task Force of which I was recently Chair, Canada will need to earn its place through intellectual and policy leadership and through its strategic advantage as a multi-dimensional "knowledge-broker". Within Canada, there are many centres of excellence and expertise which can act as important components of knowledge-based networks. The International Development Research Centre, the International Institute for Sustainable Development, and the North South Institute are examples of Canadian institutions which will remain at the forefront in advising Canadian efforts on knowledge-based initiatives in the years ahead. The forces that are shaping our common future are global in scale and systemic in nature. We need now to take bold new steps to promote a wider understanding of and support amongst Canadians for research and policy development that will help Canada to lead the pathway to a more secure and sustainable future for the human community.

In the final analysis, it is business, whether domestic or international, that is at the heart of the environmental dilemma. For it is largely through our businesses, large and small, that we manifest our economic behaviour and conduct our economic life. We must understand that in the challenge of achieving global sustainability, we must apply the basic principles of business, i.e., running "Earth Incorporated" with a depreciation, amortization and maintenance account. On this basis, much of what we have been regarding as wealth creation has in fact represented a running down of our natural capital. We must move from an era in which economic constraints have largely driven our response to environmental concernsto anew"eco-industrial" erainwhichenvironmentalconsiderationsand ecological realities will drive the economic agenda.

The Scenarios for the Future group is a timely and effective means of ensuring that Canada retains its competitive advantage into the next millennium. While Canadians may be preoccupied with concerns about the future of Quebec, I remind you that Canada, with or without Quebec, will not have a future unless we successfully integrate environmental and economic concerns, not only in our internal policies, but also in how we interact with the rest of the world, whether it be trade, security, development cooperation, or diplomacy.