by Frank Kuin
Some of the most valuable policies for environmental protection in North
America are initiated by the continents smaller jurisdictions, says
Peter Stoett, an assistant professor in Concordias Department of
While the national governments in Washington and Ottawa have dropped the
environment on their lists of priorities in favour of issues such as security,
states and provinces tend to be more proactive in adopting measures towards
conservation and green energy.
The U.S. administration has been rather reluctant to take seriously
any sort of international sustainable development agenda, said Stoett,
an expert on international environmental issues and co-organizer of a
conference on environmental relations between Canada and the United States,
held in Montreal in mid-November.
The action is taking place at the state level and even the municipal
level, he said. You do have various states adopting green
energy programs, and local communities are moving towards improved recycling,
water quality issues and things like that.
The conference, titled Canada-United States Environmental Relations: From
Bilateral Conflicts to Global Alliance? was held in collaboration with
the Université du Québec à Montréal.
It addressed issues of conflict and co-operation between the two countries
in the areas of natural resources, power generation and climate change.
In addition to energy and climate change, the conference covered a wide
variety of issue-areas, such as acid rain, migratory birds, the Great
Lakes, and the Arctic Council.
But while the smaller jurisdictions may be leading the charge to protect
the environment, one of the conferences participants pointed out
that regional policy differences to promote sustainability might be vulnerable
to challenges under NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Ian Rowlands, of the University of Waterloo, argued that a states
hypothetical guideline that five per cent of its energy be generated by
green means could conceivably be contested under the non-discrimination
clauses of the accord.
Under NAFTA, companies can sue governments over policies they feel benefit
their competitors unfairly. This could become an issue between companies
that generate different types of energy when one of them gets state support,
Some would say that the neutrons coming out of your wall are identical,
regardless of the way they are generated, he said. If jurisdiction
A says its wants to reserve five per cent of generation for solar or wind
power, a trade partner could challenge this because the products are alike,
and so one cannot be discriminated against.
Stoett concurred that supranational institutions, though they can provide
clarity by harmonizing policies, are sometimes seen as detrimental to
local initiatives. If I was an economist, I would probably favour
harmonized policies, he said.
But as an environmentalist, Im less fond of them, because
I like the idea of local control and responsibility.
For that reason, Stoett called for vigilance if countries in the Western
Hemisphere go ahead with the FTAA, the Free Trade Area of the Americas.
If we lock ourselves even further into a trade agreement, the public
should have a better sense of what the environmental impact would be,
On the whole, Stoett and his colleague Philippe Le Prestre, of UQÀM,
welcomed the opportunity to draw attention to such environmental issues
in the post-Sept. 11 world.
With some high-profile exceptions such as the debate over the Kyoto Protocol
in Canada, the environment gets sort of shoved to the back, especially
in light of issues such as terrorism, Stoett said.
We think its important that we dont forget about how
central the environment and natural resources are to the relationship
between Canada and the United States.
The conference was supported on Concordias part by the Vice-Rectors,
Services, Institutional Relations & SG, the Dean of Arts and Science,
and the Department of Political Science.