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

Chapter 3: Policy Responses and Directions

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North America

Focusing Research, Technology, and Education

The ability to achieve sustainable development depends on scientific knowledge of the earth's natural systems and the ways in which human activities affect these systems. Accurate information built on basic scientific research establishes the foundation of knowledge needed for sound decision-making by individuals, businesses, governments, and society as a whole (PCSD, 1996).

North America attaches great importance to research, technology, information, and education. Technology, the so-called engine of economic growth, is considered responsible for as much as two thirds of the increase in U.S. productivity since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Technological advances depend on continuing research and development (R&D) (NSTC, 1996). The U.S. gross domestic expenditure on R&D in 1995 was approximately US$167 billion, amounting to 2.81 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP). Canadian expenditure on R&D for the same year was about US$8 billion, 1.51 per cent of GDP (OECD, 1995).

Private funds have become increasingly important in this area as Federal programmes in both Canada and the United States feel the effects of budget constraints. Overall, industry funds nearly 60 per cent of U.S. and 41 per cent of Canadian outlays for R&D. (The average for members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in 1995 was slightly more than 50 per cent.) Nonetheless, Government commitments to basic science and energy research remain firm where long-term potential for great scientific discovery compensates for a lack of immediate commercial interest (EC, 1996c; NSTC, 1996).

In recent years, the environmental sector has become a growth industry: world-wide sales in 1992 amounted to US$300 billion and are expected to reach US$425 billion by 1997. The United States has the largest segment of the industry, with total estimated domestic and international sales of US$1340 billion (SBA, 1996). The market for prevention tech-nologies rose by almost 15 per cent in 1992 and 1993. Other high-growth areas include technologies for resource recovery and energy conservation. More generally, this sector is dominated by service providers, which account for 74 per cent of total revenues. Most of these services focus on the cleanup of past environmental problems (NSTC, 1996).

The environmental sector in Canada is also one of its fastest-growing industries. With nearly 4,500 mostly small- and medium-sized firms employing more than 150,000 workers and annual sales of about US $8 billion a year, this sector has become a significant contributor to the Canadian economy (Marchi, 1996; CEI, 1996). These companies offer the technologies, products, and services that permit innovative solutions for the treatment and prevention of pollution and state-of-the-art environmental management services. The Technology Partnerships Canada Program of Industry Canada, announced in the 1996 budget, is expected to encourage the development of Canada's increasingly important environmental technology industry. Beyond the US$443 million over three years allocated from the Canadian budget, this programme is designed to leverage more than US$738 million in private-sector investment for new and innovative technologies (Marchi, 1996).

Science and technology (S&T) related activities account for most of Environment Canada's expenditures. About one fifth of S&T is devoted to research and development. Overall, S&T is delivered through three programme activities (Atmospheric Environment, Environmental Protection, and Environmental Conservation) that are conducted through mutually reinforcing strategic business lines: reducing risks to human health and the environment; providing weather forecasts and warnings and emergency preparedness services; and giving Canadians the tools to build a greener society (EC, 1996b; Canadian Dept. of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, personal communication, 1996).

One Canadian S&T initiative is the development of a series of long-term, multidisciplinary research and monitoring sites-the Ecological Monitoring and Assessment Network (EMAN). The aim of EMAN is to understand what changes are occurring in the ecosystem and the specific or multiple causes of those changes. The Network is building on existing sites that have been in operation for years as well as establishing new ones as issues emerge (Can. Dept. of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, 1996b). Across the Federal Government in Canada, there is also progress in working together and collaborating on sustainable development S&T. In 1995, the four natural-resource-based departments (Environment Canada, Natural Resources Canada, Fisheries and Oceans, and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada) signed a Memorandum of Understanding on S&T for Sustainable Development. Through this spirit of interdepartmental co-operation, great efficiencies have been found, and progress is being made on such issues as climate change.

Both countries have initiated educational programmes for schoolchildren about environmental issues. The Government of Canada continues to support Learning for a Sustainable Future, a non-governmental, not-for-profit organization whose long-term goal is to integrate the principles of sustainable development in all aspects of curriculum in the formal education sector. In addition, through its Action 21 Programme, Environment Canada provides financial support to communities to implement local action programmes. Both these initiatives have grown out of the work Environment Canada did in the early 1990s under the banner of its "environmental citizenship" initiative. The U.S. Government has launched the Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE) programme, a concept that has expanded to more than 60 countries. This international environmental, science, and education initiative creates a partnership between students, teachers, and the scientific research community that actively involves the students in data collection and observation.

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