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Chapter Three: Policy Responses - North America

Voluntary action

Voluntary policies and private sector initiatives, often in combination with civil society, are gaining in importance as policy tools. In Canada alone there are some 90 voluntary initiatives involving industry, including the Accelerated Reduction/Elimination of Toxics, the National Packaging Protocol, the North American Waterfowl Management Plan, the Major Industrial Accidents Council of Canada and Responsible Care to ensure responsible management of chemical products and others (Industry Canada 1998).

This section deals first with reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, where voluntary initiatives have met with little success, and secondly with reductions of other forms of chemical pollution, where voluntary and non-regulatory actions have been successful.

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions

Until now, the primary policy approach to meeting the UNFCCC commitments in Canada and the United States to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions around 1990 levels by the year 2000 has been to rely on voluntary efforts to increase energy efficiency or otherwise reduce emissions, although there have been no significant changes to the incentive system. In both countries, emissions have continued to increase and in the year 2000 will significantly exceed 1990 levels. For example, Canada's Energy Outlook 1996-2020 estimated that GHG emissions in 2000 would be 8.2 per cent higher than in 1990 (Natural Resources Canada 1996). The efficiency improvements that have been achieved have been overwhelmed by economic growth and increased travel, both of which have increased demand for energy and consequently greenhouse gas emissions.

Upon ratification, both Canada and the United States will have negotiated new, more stringent provisions under the Kyoto Protocol which would require more direct measures. Although the United States will not meet its 2000 commitment, it did have a strategy called the Climate Change Action Plan (CCAP) to initiate responses. CCAP included more than 50 federally-supported programmes, including incentives for voluntary measures. A range of new initiatives has been proposed since Kyoto. The new federal proposals consist of three main stages: immediate action to stimulate the development and use of technologies that can minimize the cost of meeting national emission reduction targets; options created through ongoing technology development, leading to detailed plans for establishing a domestic emission trading system; and implementation of the emission trading system. The plan, known as the Climate Change Technology Initiative, comes with a proposed budget of US$6 300 million to be spent on research and development and on tax credits for energy efficiency improvement. The research and development component is to fund research on buildings, industry, transportation and electricity. The tax credit programme will be used by the federal government to support the purchase of energy-efficient products such as vehicles, solar electricity and hot-water systems, energy-efficient new homes, and an extension of the wind and biomass tax credit (US EPA 1998a).

The emphasis in the United States is thus on making the transition as free from economic disruption as possible through emission trading and technology development. In addition scientific research is being supported to reduce uncertainties in climate scenarios. The barriers to success are significant if North Americans continue to lead high-consumption, high-mobility lifestyles and the energy sector continues its attempts to maintain the status quo. As in other developed countries, much depends on what states, municipalities and civil society will do. There are many state and local initiatives that will contribute substantially to overall national performance (US EPA 1998b).

At Kyoto, Canada negotiated to reduce its GHG emissions to 6 per cent below 1990 levels by 2008-2012. Since emissions are actually growing rapidly, this translates into a reduction of 21-25 per cent (IISD 1998). Canada's strategy for meeting the Kyoto commitments builds on the lessons of the 1995 National Action Program on Climate Change (NAPCC) which focused on mitigation, science and adaptation (Environment Canada 1995). Stakeholder participation involving federal and provincial government, industry and municipalities has been identified as a key to implementation. At the federal level, responsibility for climate change policy is now shared mainly by Natural Resources Canada (for domestic implementation) and Environment Canada (for international commitments, outreach and education). A Federal Climate Change Secretariat has been established by the Cabinet to facilitate overall coordination. In April 1998, federal, provincial and territorial ministers of energy and environment agreed to move ahead on a process for developing a national implementation strategy on climate change, establishing credit for early action to reduce GHG emissions and strengthening voluntary action (Natural Resources Canada 1998). In June 1998, Canada launched the Greenhouse Gas Emission Trading Pilot (GERT) in British Columbia, its first project for GHG emission trading. The detailed strategy should be available by the year 2000.

Pollution reduction

Reduction in the production and release of a group of pollutants does not necessarily mean immediate declines in risk of exposure, and the effectiveness of these measures needs to be assessed in the context of contaminants in the environment and food, and impacts on humans and biota. Cross-border transport through the atmosphere, rivers and seas, and the persistence of some pollutants, can cause large lag times in achieving improvements, particularly in 'sink regions' such as Canada's Arctic (Environment Canada 1998a). Regardless of such complexities, voluntary action is becoming one of the essential tools in the environmental policy toolbox.

The US 33/50 Program is a US EPA voluntary pollution reduction initiative that targets 17 high-priority chemicals listed in the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI). The US EPA proposed to reduce releases and transfers of these chemicals by 33 per cent below the 1988 baseline by 1992 and 50 per cent by 1995. The effort has been remarkably successful, enlisting the support of more than 6 000 facilities. Both goals were achieved a year ahead of time. By 1995, releases and transfers were 55.6 per cent below and by 1996 60 per cent below the baseline (US EPA 1998c). The reductions were achieved through process/equipment change, waste recovery and recycling, chemical substitutions, modernization/ equipment upgrade and waste treatment (US EPA 1998d).

 Emission reductions through ARET

(Click image to enlarge)

Source: ARET 1999

The voluntary Canadian Accelerated Reduction/ Elimination of Toxics (ARET) programme has substantially reduced emissions of toxic substances

In Canada, the Accelerated Reduction/Elimination of Toxics (ARET) programme grew out of a proposal to the federal government by a coalition of leading business organizations and environmental groups to identify and then reduce or eliminate the use and emission of toxic substances. The goal of ARET is to reduce the emission of persistent, bio-accumulative and toxic substances by 90 per cent, and the emission of all other toxic substances by 50 per cent (compared to the base year of 1988) by the year 2000 (see figure). ARET is based on a collaboration of stakeholders from industry, government and civil society that identifies and lists toxic substances, challenges the main producers to commit themselves publicly to their reduction or elimination and then turn commitments into action plans. ARET participants also agree to track and report progress in meeting emission targets.

Chemical companies are increasingly realizing that pollution prevention can have 'win-win' outcomes, with the potential to reduce both pollution and costs. In some cases, pollution prevention is also built into legal settlements between regulators and companies. As part of a legal settlement with the US EPA, a DuPont facility in New Jersey agreed to implement pollution prevention programmes for 15 manufacturing processes. DuPont expects that waste from all 15 processes will be cut roughly in half. The total up-front investment is expected to be about US$6 million but the company anticipates annual savings of about US$15 million.

 Principles for the use of voluntary or non-regulatory initiatives

Credible and effective voluntary and non-regulatory initiatives should:

*  be developed and implemented in a participatory manner that enables the interested and affected parties to contribute equitably;
*  be transparent in their design and operation;
*  be performance-based with specified goals, measurable objectives and milestones;
*  clearly specify the rewards for good performance and the consequences of not meeting performance objectives;
*  encourage flexibility and innovation in meeting specified goals and objectives;
*  have prescribed monitoring and reporting requirements, including timetables;
*  include mechanisms for verifying the performance of all participants;
*  encourage continual improvement of both participants and the programmes themselves.

Source: New Directions Group 1997


Increased emphasis on voluntary initiatives means more flexibility in setting and meeting pollution reduction targets, and increased responsibility for the private sector in meeting overall environmental quality objectives. Given that most voluntary measures would in effect allow corporations to self-regulate, there is a need for a code of practice to ensure that emerging self-regulatory or voluntary mechanisms are able to deliver the expected results. In recognition of this challenge, the New Direction Group (NDG), a coalition of major Canadian corporations and environmental NGOs, published Criteria and principles for the use of voluntary or non-regulatory initiatives to achieve environmental policy objectives. The objective is to ensure the quality, effectiveness and credibility of voluntary or non-regulatory initiatives, realizing that public trust is essential for their acceptance and success (see box). They are intended to apply to voluntary or non-regulatory initiatives that are employed instead of, or to complement, regulation. These could include government-industry negotiated agreements, industry-community and industry-NGO agreements, challenge programmes and regulatory exemption programmes (New Directions Group 1997).

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