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Round Table Contents

From Hamilton to Halifax

Mel Cappe

There are a series of questions which can be posed in order to challenge the NRTEE as it undertakes its work on sustainable development and the 1995 G7 Summit, and to stimulate discussion on possible agenda items for the Summit regarding the role of the environment.

The first question is: should sustainable development be integrated into the agenda of the G7, or should it be a separate agenda item? Success in getting sustainable development on the agenda might be indicated if it were not, in fact, a separate agenda item. Indeed, it might be considered ideal if leaders were to deal with the agenda items through an integrated approach that inherently reflects the values of sustainable development. The issue of whether or not sustainable development should be integrated into the agendas of leaders or ministers is intriguing and there is not necessarily one right course of action in this regard. Sustainable development is still treated as a separate item on the agenda and this would seem to imply that the broad understanding of the nature of these issues has not advanced. However, it is probably true that leaders and others have not yet arrived at the stage where environment and sustainable development need no longer appear as separate agenda items. The challenge for the NRTEE is to find a way to proselytize without scaring the philistines; to sensitize in ways that are nonthreatening.

The NRTEE must consider who the audience is. The public, and the Prime Minister of Canada are two different audiences. In the latter case, in order to be effective, the NRTEE's contribution must be focused on practical initiatives for the Prime Minister, and doctrinaire positions should be tempered by an air of reality. For example, what are the objectives of the G7? How is success measured?

In order to frame advice to the Prime Minister, the NRTEE should focus on three categories of outputs. The first is a set of concrete actions. Will something explicit and specific come out of the G7 meeting, that can be actively put into play? The second category is process. If leaders commence a process which does not lead to immediate results, but which starts moving towards results in the coming years, that in itself would be very valuable. The third category of outputs are statements of principle. Statements of principle and direction can be very helpful to bureaucrats and politicians alike. Therefore, the G7 communiqué should articulate some principles to guide future work.

In terms of the nature of the problem of sustainable development, the Canadian government is trying to cast this problem differently and to change its thinking about the nature of the sustainable development challenges. Among these challenges is the issue of whether to parcel issues out, or to try to keep sustainable development issues integrated. Part of the lack of focus in the way governments treat sustainable development comes from the fact that there has been an attempt at too great a degree of integration. Part of governments' failure also comes from the fact that there is too much of an effort to parcel sustainable development out into its component elements such as global security elements, environmental elements, economic elements, and trade elements. In parcelling out the elements of sustainable development, the capacity to deal with it in an integrated fashion is lost.

So, neither polar alternative is perfect. Clearly the answer must lie somewhere in between. It seems that as the geopolitical landscape changes, as it has changed in the last five years, the challenge is to find a way of dealing with a monopole. As the bipolar power struggle is lost, dealing with sustainable development requires a different conceptual basis. And if the balance of power is changed, then maybe sustainable development should be framed in terms of global security. Indeed, one way to capture the attention of the public and of leaders might be to deal with sustainable development and environmental degradation as issues which will pose challenges in a global security context.

There is a lot made of the Canadian public's view of the environment and whether the public cares any longer. In 1988, the public viewed the environment as a top of mind issue. Thirteen to seventeen percent of people when asked in 1988, what the most important issue was to them, responded the environment. Now, only one to three percent of the Canadian public offer the same response to that question. Is that a measure of success or a measure of failure? Many people are waiting for the next Exxon Valdez because such a disaster would reestablish the environment as a primary concern in the public consciousness. Surely that is not a measure of success.

There are a number of different ways to sensitize the public to environmental issues. One way is to change the thinking about how to mobilize public action and to challenge the public to think about these issues on a regular basis, and not simply to respond to disasters. The world is changing, and "that change ain't what it used to be." The nature of the public's perception of the way the world is changing is different than it used to be. The public knows that the world is changing dramatically, but may not understand how it is changing, and governments have not necessarily figured that out yet either.

In terms of measuring success, we have to do what can be done. My objective, based on observing my predecessor, is to green the budget. How can this be done? The process must begin, not by immediately attempting to green the budget, but by proselytizing without threat. Step by step, one can start to green government operations.

One thing that is definitely within the control of every government and not under the purview of multiple constituencies, is their own activity. The greening of government operations has to contribute to the first step of greening government policy. One thing that the ministers will be looking at very seriously in the lead up to the Hamilton environment ministers' meeting is the greening of government. Governments cannot duck this one. They can round the edges perhaps, but the greening of government in its operations, not in its policy, is something that should not be threatening and something that can be done. Action can be shown and results can be measured.

The issue of integration versus separation appears as well with regard to broader questions of institutional reform. For example, is it advantageous to have the ministers of environment meet separately, or does that unburden the leaders from having to take sustainable development into account in their deliberations? There must be a way to ensure that there is an appropriate linkage between prospective institutionalized ministerials and the leaders' meeting. An appropriate linkage does not mean that the G7 environment ministers, for example, feed in directly to the G7 leaders meeting, but it does mean that it informs the G7 leaders meeting. Careful thought must go into the relationship between G7 environment ministers and the G7 leaders. It is necessary to caution against simply institutionalizing ministerials with no clear link, for fear that leaders will then assume that issues are being dealt with in another forum.

On the issue of a global environmental organization, the challenge of separation versus integration arises again. At present, when an environmental issue is raised, it is taken to UNEP, not to the UN. Similarly, development issues are looked at by UNDP. Clearly there must be ways of integrating these themes and the way that UNEP and UNDP deal with them. If a global environmental organization could integrate those issues, only then would it be successful. Institutions should be created that encourage action.

Turning around the maxim of think globally and act locally, what about thinking locally? In order to satisfy local objectives, institutions need to be created to allow global action, and this has not been done to date. There do exist extremely effective institutions, but they have not been able to meet this challenge.

The G7 may be an anachronistic organization, but it is still an international institution which includes the largest power in the world at the moment, indeed, the only large power, and it can be very effective. It should be made more effective by building a consensus among the industrialized countries and the G7 countries to create new institutions. The G7 and the OECD are inadequate because they are not going to represent the industrialized world of the year 2050. Therefore, a consensus must be built on how to create an institution for the next century that involves the rest of the world to deal with sustainable development.

Again under the theme of separation versus integration, the idea of setting up a trusteeship, as referred to by the Commission on Global Governance, where governments seed responsibility and obligation to a third party, and give that body the job of overseeing the management of the global commons, as opposed to finding a forum in which there can be joint action, is a bad idea. And there is a tension between a global institution that can act, and a convocation of leaders that can collectively take action. That distinction should be kept in mind.

There are two objectives for the Hamilton meeting of G7 environment ministers. The first is to take action on common priorities. This includes on the agenda the integration of economic and environmental issues. Within that context, progress is hoped for on the greening of government operations, and eventually on government policy. But first our own house must be put in order. The second category of issues is institutional responsiveness. The environment ministers will be encouraged to reach a consensus on how existing institutions can be used more effectively to deal with sustainable development, as well as to identify the gaps in the institutional architecture that have to be filled. Third, there is a grabbag of key issues: followup to the climate change meeting in Berlin, biodiversity, and one of particular importance to Canada, toxics. Persistent organic pollutants are being dealt with in a number of different forums in which Canada participates, including UNEP and the UNCSD. The G7 environment ministers should be thinking about this issue as well.

The second objective of the Hamilton ministerial is to prepare a Chairman's Summary which would inform the leaders' meeting in Halifax, through the Canadian sherpa.

In summary, the following questions must all be considered by the NRTEE. Who is the audience? How should one measure success? Does success only come with real action on the 18th of June? Is sustainable development best served by separation or integration? Separation of institutions? Separation of issues? How can flexibility be built into the institutions to deal with sustainable development? Should there be a focus on trusteeship or joint action? How can the G7 be used effectively by Canada in the next twenty years as an institution of, perhaps, declining power? And finally, the three measures of good advice are: action, further work, and a commitment to principle

Mel Cappe is Canada's Deputy Minister of the Environment.

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