United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
Environment Outlook-1 - The Web version

Chapter 3: Policy Responses and Directions

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North America

New Approaches to Sectoral Environmental Policies

[ Land Consernvation | Forest Management | Biodiversity | Toxic Contaminants, Pollution Control, and Waste ]

In both Canada and the United States, sectoral environmental policies that address land, forest, water, biodiversity, and waste are being developed and applied. For the most part, these initiatives build on previously enacted legislation, pollution standards, and monitoring programmes. An exception is the Canada Oceans Act, now before Parliament, billed as the world's first example of a national law and policy aimed at all aspects of oceans governance. The act will be largely founded on collaborative planning and management, avoiding the confrontational approach of earlier legislation, and solidly based on the principle of integrated resource management and sustainable development, tempered by the precautionary approach.

Land Conservation

The Canadian Federal Department of Agriculture, known as Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC), is expected to release its sustainable development strategy by December 1996. With its primary focus on land-management issues, the strategy promises to show the improved ability of AAFC to measure the impacts of agriculture on the environment. This ability results from environmental assessments carried out on three of its major programmes: the Gross Revenue Insurance Program, the Net Income Stabilization Account, and Crop Insurance. The new sustainable development strategy addresses a shortcoming found in the previous programmes- their ineffectiveness in mitigating negative impacts on environmental resources.

The number of Canadian agricultural policies, such as the Wheat Board quota system, government-subsidized wetland drainage, and land pricing and taxation systems, have been criticized for placing special production pressures on all farms regardless of site-specific environmental factors. Subsequently, in the early 1990s, under the auspices of Canada's Green Plan, resources to encourage site-specific resource assessments were put into place. How effective these will be in reversing the negative impact of main agricultural policies is yet to be assessed.

In the United States, to promote sustainable agricultural practices, the Government is encouraging actions consistent with integrated farming systems at the Federal and State levels. Some of the key elements include strengthened conservation requirements, protection of prime farmland from conversion to non-agricultural use, environmentally friendly pest management techniques, minimization of water pollution from animal wastes, and reduced consumption of non-renewable energy sources (PCSD, 1996). The U.S. Conservation Reserve Program has been credited with reducing soil erosion on croplands by more than a billion tons a year from 1982 to 1992 (USDA, 1996).

Forest Management

Important steps have been taken in North America to chart an effective course towards sustainable forestry management. Under Canada's 1991 Model Forest Programme, suggested approaches and actions are being tested in 10 sites across the nation. The following year, Canada released a National Forest Strategy that identified 96 actions for sustainable forestry management. Initiatives have been taken to develop criteria and indicators of sustainable forest development that will let Canada assess the health of its forests (Government of Canada, 1995). The Strategy was endorsed by all stakeholders, with Aboriginal organizations playing a leading role (Canadian Dept. of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, 1996).

The commitment of the United States to achieve sustainable management of all U.S. forests by the year 2000 is important but complex since it extends to forestlands beyond the Federal Government's direct control. A positive aspect is that surveys are finding non-industrial private forest landowners care about the environment and indicate they want to do the "right thing." This category of owners cares for 59 per cent of U.S. timberland and was responsible for 41 per cent of the trees planted in the United States in 1993 (Comanor, 1994).


Public awareness and participation are playing a key role in the protection of biodiversity. Semi-natural areas situated between densely populated urban land and protected wildlands are especially important to preserve. Voluntary partnerships with private owners of such lands are being tried as a complement to the existing system of laws to safeguard the environment on both public and private lands. Conservation areas and preserves are an important basis for biodiversity protection across the region (PCSD, 1996).

The U.S. National Biological Service was created in 1993 to provide scientific knowledge to balance the compatible goals of ecosystem protection and economic progress. Research needed to meet short-term, technical, and long-term strategic needs is conducted at 16 Science Centers and 81 Field Stations, as well as at 44 Cooperative Research Units in 40 states (NBS, 1996).

A recent Canadian development is the establishment of a comprehensive national network of protected marine areas. These will incorporate existing national marine parks and wildlife reserves, and may eventually also embrace existing marine conservation programmes operated by the provinces (Can. Dept. of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, 1996). Further, Canada-all levels of Government and stakeholders-has finalized a Canadian National Biodiversity Strategy. The Federal and provincial environment and wildlife ministers agreed on a national framework for protection of endangered species. Soon Federal endangered species legislation will be introduced in the Canadian Parliament. Both the national framework and the legislation are the product of widespread consultation with Aboriginal groups, non-governmental organizations, industry leaders, and private citizens. It is hoped that through this new framework there will be increased scope for more successful recovery programs, like the return to Southern Canada of the peregrine falcon, which had disappeared from this area but is now increasing in numbers due to a Federal-provincial recovery project.

Toxic Contaminants, Pollution Control, and Waste

Innovative measures to tackle the problem of toxic contaminants and waste in the environment and their effects on human health are being implemented. (See Box 3.18.) Risk assessment and risk management along with the provision of complete and accurate information to the public are considered key to dealing with harmful effects of toxic substances on human health and the environment. Both Governments have taken significant steps to reduce human exposure to certain pollutants, particularly lead, mercury, and pesticides.

In Canada, efforts are currently under way to update and improve the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA). The assessment of health risks posed by substances or chemicals with toxic potential and the subsequent control of these substances are the essential concerns of CEPA. Through the renewal of CEPA, the Government plans to shift legislative emphasis from reacting to the toxics and pollution at the end of the pipe to preventing the pollution in the first place. The renewed CEPA will also emphasize a partnership between governments and citizens by allowing citizens to start action in Canadian courts to clean up the environment.

Box 3.18.

United States EPA Initiatives in Partnership Programmes Related to Pollution Prevention and Greening Industrial Activities

The Common Sense Initiative

The Common Sense Initiative (CSI) involves EPA, industry, environmental and community groups, labour, and other Federal, State, and local Government agencies in a study of environmental policies facing six industrial sectors in order to recommend changes that will encourage cleaner, cheaper, smarter approaches to environmental management. CSI is focused initially on automobile assembly, computers and electronics, iron and steel, metal finishing, petroleum refining, and printing. These industries account for more than 11 per cent of U.S. gross national product and a slightly higher share of toxic releases (EPA, 1994).

The Star Program

Most U.S. manufacturers of computers, monitors, and printers have joined EPA's Star Program, which promotes equipment that uses 50 per cent less energy, with a potential electricity cost saving of US$70 a year per computer and printer. Nearly 90 per cent of printers and 40 per cent of computers sold in the United States now conform with Energy Star.

The Green Lights Program

The Green Lights Program has attracted 1,612 organizations to focus on more energy-efficient lighting. The participants achieved an average rate of return of 25 per cent on investments and reduced electricity bills by 40 per cent or more.

Project XL

Project XL is an example of how EPA may now grant regulatory flexibility in exchange for an enforceable commitment by a regulated entity to achieve better environmental results. As an example, 3M Corporation's Project XL proposes to obtain "beyond compliance" permits that allow for performance-based permits, establish emission caps below existing regulatory limits, develop a single, simplified multimedia permit, and implement a simplified reporting system and an Environmental Management System (EMS) verification process. Three facilities of 3M would be covered; preliminary stakeholder meetings have been held to gain support on this initiative and obtain input on the format and content of emissions reporting information.

The Government hopes that this legislation will focus on preventing pollution at its source. Also with regard to toxics, Canada has developed a National Pollutants Release Inventory. This is now available on the "Green Lane" Internet site. Information is provided on releases and transfers of pollutants by more than 1,000 industries. Annual reports identify the most significant substances released to the land, air, and water for Canada as a whole and for each province (Canadian Dept. of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, 1996). The Accelerated Reduction/Elimination of Toxics (ARET) initiative is an example of an effort to address quickly the adverse effects of toxic substances, especially persistent organic pollutants, on human health and the environment.

A good example of non-regulatory policies in action is the use of market incentives in the field of air pollution control. Title IV of the U.S. Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 calls for a 9-million-metric-ton reduction in annual emissions through the Acid Rain Program. The centrepiece of this programme is market-based allowance trading, which lets utilities adopt the most cost-effective strategy to reduce sulphur dioxide (SO2) emissions. Affected utilities are required to install systems that continuously monitor emissions of SO2, nitrogen oxides (NOx), and other related pollutants in order to track progress, ensure compliance, and provide credibility to the trading component of the programme.

In Canada, under the Acid Rain Control Programme, the trading of SO2 emissions occurs between power plants of a particular utility in Ontario, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia. The programme was formalized in 1985 through Federal-provincial agreements with the seven provinces east of Saskatchewan. Participants agreed to reduce their combined SO2 emissions to 1.8 million metric tons per year by 1994, but actual reductions went beyond the target to about 1.5 million metric tons. Consequently, total SO2 emissions in eastern Canada have been reduced by 56 per cent since 1980 (Canadian Dept. of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, personal communication, 1996). Trading of consumption allowances is also being used to manage the phaseout of some ozone-depleting substances (Draper, 1996).

Both countries have set waste-reduction targets and introduced aggressive recycling programmes. A growing realization in the region is that considerable money can be made by finding ways to "mine" wastes. For example, in Canada, gas produced from landfill sites is captured and sold to installations that turn it into electricity. The volume of greenhouse gases diverted from the atmosphere as a result of this is equivalent to removing 500,000 cars from the road every year (Marchi, 1996). There are also some 50 non-profit and for-profit companies in Canada taking advantage of emerging demands to stop dumping used building materials in landfills. They sell and recycle building materials such as doors, windows, plumbing fixtures, wood and asphalt, concrete, and gypsum (Government of Canada, 1996).

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