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Keeping Sustainable Development Commitments:
The Recent G7 Record

Ella Kokotsis

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The above discussion has focused on the extent to which commitments made at the recent summits about environment and sustainable development issues have actually been complied with. Based on available evidence, the analysis indicates that overall, environment commitments seem to have been fulfilled to a larger degree than development commitments; the Munich summit was the most successful of the three summits assessed with respect to compliance in these two issue areas; and similar to the conclusions by Von Furstenberg and Daniels, Canada has ranked high among its G7 partners in fulfilling its summit commitments. This final section attempts to assess why the summit has been more successful in securing compliance in some environment and sustainable development areas rather than others.

Theories of compliance to international agreements have often linked the size of the country - measured by relative size of GNP -to a particular country's performance, suggesting that larger powers are less subject to international institutional constraints and exercise the option of non-compliance more often. If we use relative size of GDP as a measure of a country's performance, this would rank the United States first among the G7 countries - followed by Japan, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Italy and Canada. In the case of the Biodiversity Convention, although the United States signed the Tokyo communique - which pledged all G7 leaders to both sign and ratify the convention - President Bush refused to sign the treaty, claiming that it threatened important American interests. Two years following the signing of the convention by the other G7 countries, President Clinton finally signed the treaty in September 1994, and is currently pushing for its ratification. In contrast, Canada, ranked seventh among the industrial countries with respect to relative size of GDP, took the lead on the Biodiversity Convention, and became the first of the G7 to ratify the convention in December 1992. In this area at least, overall (economic) size does not seem to matter.

If we consider the environment and development commitments made in the most recent communiques, several conclusions can be drawn with respect to why some areas are complied with more than with others. First, it appears that commitments that specify the use of government policy instruments are more likely to be fulfilled than commitments "that are more dependent on economic processing and macroeconomic interaction with the private sector". (Ibid., 295) Simply stated, the G7 are more likely to comply with commitments involving direct policy measures than with commitments requiring national government monetary disbursements. The summit members appeared more likely to readily fulfil commitments involving direct policy measures such as the signing of the Rio Conventions, the establishment of the Commission on Sustainable Development, the launch of the Brazil Pilot Project and the publication of national action plans. Issues involving economic processing, however, such as the replenishment of the GEF, increased financial support to less developed countries through ODA, and debt rescheduling appear to be fulfilled to a lesser degree. This is not to suggest, however, that these commitments were disregarded completely; rather, it suggests that the G7 have displayed reluctance to fulfil these commitments in their entirety. The case of ODA illustrates this point. Although the G7 continue to contribute to the replenishment of IDA, all seven countries have been unable to meet the UN target of 0.7% of GNP. Moreover, pledges in the last three communiques to increase financial and technical support to less developed countries have not been fulfilled. In 1994 alone, total foreign aid spending fell in the industrialized world to US$54.8 billion from US$60.8 billion the year before. (Globe and Mail, Oct. 6, 1994)

More generally, compliance with summit commitments in the environment and sustainable development fields may also be affected by domestic politics. A government may be more likely to take into consideration the concerns and interests of pressure groups and NGOs, immediately prior to election time. For example, although President Bush showed clear signs of being less "environmentally friendly" than other G7 members, he nonetheless signed the Munich communique, recognizing that he could potentially mobilize more voters for the November election by turning a shade greener.

Canada has traditionally demonstrated constructive leadership on international environmental policy, and in recent years, has become more widely recognized in the international community as a proponent of sustainable development. According to an Environment Canada official, Canada's interest in the environment is two-fold. First, Canada is endowed with a wealth of natural resources. As a country with an abundance of natural wildlife, forests and the world's longest coastline, Canadians have traditionally felt that they share a very special relationship with the environment. Along with the United States, Canada has the largest reserves of biodiversity among the G7 members. Thus, issues such as the loss of biodiversity and deforestation seem to strike a particularly powerful chord with Canadians.

Second, Canada has long demonstrated a sense of benevolence in environmental issues, beginning with the 1972 Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment, its later support for the development of the United Nations Environment Program, and its endorsement of the 1987 Brundtland Commission. As a co-sponsor of the original resolution calling for UNCED, Canada "played a prominent part in the preparation of Agenda 21 and in negotiations for conventions on biodiversity and climate change and a statement of forest principles" (Buxton, 1992; 776; Interview, Environment Canada, Jan. 13, 1994)

Canada's approach to international environmental policy over the past decade has demonstrated the government's "orientation towards seeking a consensus rather than acting unilaterally". (Cooper and Fritz, 1992; 804) The government has been willing to sign on and implement environment and sustainable development initiatives within the multilateral arena in an effort to forge a consensus among the potential signatories. This was demonstrated by the Prime Minister's lead in signing the Convention on Biodiversity and in joining other G7 countries in pushing for the convention's ratification.

More recently, however, higher expectations on issues dealing with the environment and development have led to a general lack of satisfaction with respect to the government's performance. Budgetary reductions over the last few years have undoubtedly affected the degree to which the government has been able to reliably implement its environmental commitments. Canada, along with its G7 partners, has made significant budgetary cutbacks in all governmental departments, including the environment and development assistance. Moreover, environment and development issues appear to have become subordinated to concerns over jobs and economic growth as a public and government priority. The recent Naples summit serves to confirm this point. Compared to other summits - i.e. Munich, 1992 - the final communique made few substantive commitments to issues concerning the environment and development assistance. Although these issues were certainly mentioned in the communique, jobs, growth and trade took precedence and received more tangible commitments. Indeed, the Canadian Background Report to the Naples Summit - which traditionally dedicates an entire section to the environment - mentioned it only briefly within its introductory paragraph.

Apart from economic constraints which seem to impair the ability all G7 members to fulfil their environment and development commitments, other factors affect compliance with summit declarations. In Canada's case, for example, Ottawa cannot act unilaterally on environmental issues; it also needs the cooperation and support of the provinces, which are largely responsible for environmental matters. At the recent energy and environmental ministers meeting in Bathurst, N.B., the provinces and territories considered more than 80 options to reduce carbon dioxide emissions that cause global warming. Although Alberta signed the agreement to consider cutting greenhouse-gas emissions, "it made it clear it will not impose tough regulations on industry or the public". Although Alberta produces 26% of Canada's carbon emissions, Alberta's economic reliance on fossil fuels means that the province may less willing to implement national policies aimed at decreasing greenhouse gas emissions. (Canadian News Facts, Nov. 1-15, 1994) Provinces that are less economically dependent on such fuels, however, may be more willing to implement regulatory policies aimed at curbing the effects of global warming.

With respect to the summit communiques, "compliance" may be a hard-edged word for what are often soft and diffuse obligations. The fact that commitments made in the communiques are often unexplicitly stated and impose imprecise obligations, lead some to conclude that summit communiques should not be read as instruments imposing binding obligations. However, as the only regular global gathering of the leaders of the seven most industrial countries in the world, the commitments made in the final declarations "are compelling because they are so final. There is no higher collective authority to whom a decision at the summit can be appealed - until the summit itself convenes again in another year's time". Moreover, "the collection of topics that the summit addresses each year is a uniquely comprehensive, precise and meaningful synthesis of the preoccupations, priorities and emerging problems in the global system". (Kirton, 1989; xxxvii)

In practice, the G7 has demonstrated a substantial level of compliance with environment and sustainable development initiatives from 1992-1994. This level is particularly true for commitments that require the use of policy initiatives rather than commitments depending on economic processing. In addition, factors such as domestic pressures, the role of the media, heightened public awareness and the role of non-governmental actors also affect the degree to which summit commitments are reliably implemented.

The Naples communique made significantly fewer and less tangible commitments to environment and sustainable development matters than the two previous summits. Global recessionary trends forced G7 leaders to divert attention from sustainable development to economic growth, jobs and trade. In the six months following the Naples summit, definitive conclusions cannot be drawn with regards to the degree to which the commitments made in Naples have been implemented. Environment Minister Sheila Copps has called a G7 Environment Ministers' meeting to be held in Hamilton, Ontario in April, 1995. At that point, the ministers could review their progress in meeting their promises made at Naples, assess their record in some detail, and issue a public report on progress to date, the action which remains, and the immediate steps needed to move forward. Such an analysis, perhaps prepared with the assistance of relevant government and societal stakeholders, would provide a collective, political level, expert judgement for the Halifax heads to determine where, in an era of diminishing, discriminatory fiscal resources, to best move to fully meet their commitments of the past three years, and set directions for the fourth cycle of summitry to come.

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