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Sustainable Development and Canada at the G7 Summit

Pierre Marc Johnson and John Kirton

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Environmental Achievements and Canada

Since its 1975 start, the Summit has dealt with important environmental issues through its recurrent attention to international energy and raw materials issues in the wake of the 1973 oil shock. The Summit's initial concern was with promoting energy conservation, alternatives to oil imports and use, and longterm consumerproducer cooperation. In 1978, it added a commitment to energy efficiency, research and development, and greater use of renewable energy. It further recognized that "in energy development, the environment and human safety of the population must be safeguarded with greatest care."[4] This phase culminated in 1979 when the Tokyo Summit adopted a far reaching and highly successful program to reduce oil consumption within the seven major industrialized countries. This program endorsed full cost pricing for oil, disciplines on energy subsidies, a recognition of the environmental damage caused by the use of coal, and an acknowledgement of how alternative sources of energy could "prevent further pollution, particularly increases of carbon dioxide and sulphur oxides in the atmosphere."[5]

The 1980 Venice Summit added a concern for population, approved "the introduction of increasingly fuel efficient vehicles," and endorsed accelerated progress by "arrangements or standards for improved automobile fuel efficiency, by gasoline pricing and taxation decisions, by research and development, and by making public transport more attractive."[6] The leaders further promised: "We will do everything in our power to ensure that increased use of fossil fuels, especially coal, does not damage the environment."[7]

The 1981 Ottawa Summit offered a more extensive endorsement of the value of renewable energy sources and the first direct statement of the core principle of sustainable development. It declared: "In shaping our longterm economic policies, care should be taken to preserve the environment and the resource base of our planet."[8]

Versailles in 1982, which began the second sevenyear cycle of summitry, saw a diminution in energy and a complete disappearance of the environment as subjects of G7 concern. The 1983 Williamsburg Summit did generate an agreement to "strengthen cooperation in protection of the environment, in better use of natural resources, and in health research."[9] But only in 1984 at British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's London Summit did environmental attention return in a substantial way. Here the leaders recognized the international dimension of environmental problems and the role of environmental factors in economic development. They invited their ministers responsible for environmental policies and a Summit working group to identify areas for cooperation, research and industrial projects. Moreover, they welcomed an "invitation from the Government of the Federal Republic of Germany to certain Summit countries to an international conference on the environment in Munich on 2427 June 1984."[10]

Bonn 1985 marked a major breakthrough. It declared the G7's primary responsibility to be "the future of the world economy and the preservation of natural resources." It accepted the basic logic of sustainable development with the words: "Economic progress and the preservation of the natural environment are necessary and mutually supportive goals. Effective environmental protection is a central element in our national and international policies."[11] The Bonn Summit produced a communiqué with the firstever separate section on "Environmental Policies." Here it covered the modern agenda of acid rain, motor vehicle pollution, climate change, the ozone layer, toxic chemicals, hazardous waste, soils, fresh water and seas. It noted the role of the market, science and technology, improved environmental measurement, the OECD, and cooperation with developing countries to avoid environmental damage and disasters worldwide.

The second Tokyo Summit in 1986 saw another major retreat. Environmental subjects were reduced from a full section to a single paragraph, one which contained no new issues or concepts. However, Venice in 1987 represented a rapid return. The "Environment" was again accorded a separate section. The leaders promised to pass a healthy environment on to future generations. They directed UNEP, the ISO and ICSU to create a forum for information exchange and consultation. They added endangered species, tropical forests, and environmental standards as issues. Moreover, Venice introduced the tradeenvironment link by calling for the "promotion of international trade in lowpollution products, lowpolluting industrial plants and other environmental protection technologies."[12]

It was at the 1988 Toronto Summit, hosted by Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, that environmental issues first made their fullscale, sustained appearance on the G7 agenda.[13] Led by Canada, Germany and Italy, the G7 endorsed the report of the Brundtland Commission and its concept of sustainable development, and welcomed the Montreal Protocol on ozone protection, the Toronto Conference on the Changing Atmosphere, and measures to combat acid rain. At Toronto, the French declared that environmental issues would provide the overall theme for the Summit they were to host the next year.

Their choice allowed Canada to continue its environmental activism at Paris in 1989. Over onethird of the Paris Summit communiqué dealt with environmental issues. Canada, as a recognized Summit leader in this field, was responsible for drafting much of the language. It was Prime Minister Mulroney who, at the Summit itself, proposed and secured agreement to begin and direct the work on environmental indicators at the OECD.

At Houston in 1990, the leaders endorsed and elaborated upon the principle of sustainable development, accepted the precautionary principle, and injected environmental considerations into several of the economic subjects they took up (notably assistance to Central and Eastern Europe development lending, and the Enterprise for the Americas program).[14] Moreover, priority was given to the issues of climate change, ozone depletion, deforestation, marine pollution and loss of biological diversity. The Summit secured agreement from the US to contribute to a Third World CFC substitution fund, and to accept as sound science the report of the International Panel on Climate Change. Canada was particularly successful, securing recognition of its problems with "unregulated fishing practices" and the announcement of a longawaited bilateral agreement with the US to combat acid rain.

Even though the environment took only about onefifth of the Houston communiqué, it remained the largest single subject among the Summit's communiquéencoded results. With the first arrival of Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev at the 1991 London Summit, however, and the appearance of Russian President Yeltsin at subsequent gatherings, attention was diverted to the problems of postcommunist societies. The focus on both environmental and development issues thus declined. London did declare the forthcoming UNCED conference to be a "landmark event", for which the G7 would "aim to achieve" an effective convention on climate change, a set of forestry principles, and, if possible, a biodiversity convention. Canada obtained recognition, notably from the four European powers and European Community that signed the Declaration, that "overfishing" and other harmful practices "threatened" living marine resources.

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