By: Robert Roach
A new report released by the Canada West Foundation today summarizes interviews with 23 of the leading minds on how to marry resource development with environmental protection. Keeping Pace: Improving Environmental Decision-Making in Canada is based on input from former senior bureaucrats, former environment ministers, internationally renowned scientists, natural resource industry representatives and ENGO leaders. From former federal Environment Minister Jim Prentice and internationally-recognized scientist David Schindler to original founding member of Greenpeace Patrick Moore and Suncor VP Gordon Lambert, the combined experience with environmental decision-making among interview participants totals well over 400 years.
Considering the diverse background of these Canadian thought leaders there was surprising agreement, especially on three overarching themes:
First, everyone agreed that environmental decision-making in Canada needs improvement—full stop. We are not at the top of our game when it comes to environmental stewardship in the resource sector.
Second, improving environmental decision-making is not about fixing the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, the National Energy Board, the Alberta Energy Resources Conservation Board, BC Environment or some other government department or regulatory agency. Environmental decision-making has to be viewed in a broader policy context. Some changes are needed to the regulatory framework, but it is a small piece of the pie.
Unfortunately the regulatory framework is taking the brunt of the criticism right now. It shouldn’t. Other components of the decision-making process such as regional plans, monitoring and compliance, strategic plans, clear goals and objectives, political leadership, meaningful consultation/collaboration are much more important. These elements have not kept pace with the public interest.
Third, we have moved from a relatively simple world into a much more complex one. The difference was described as a shift from “environmental challenges 1.0 to 2.0.” The 2.0 label has been famously applied to the World Wide Web to highlight the shift from passive viewing of websites (Web 1.0) to active online interaction and collaboration (Web 2.0). The web has gone from emails, news groups, desktop computers and basic websites to eBay, PayPal, instant messaging, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia, 500,000+ apps, mobile Internet devices and cloud programming. Environmental challenges have gone from a relatively straightforward set of problems and solutions to situations characterized by a wide range of stakeholders, heated rhetoric, competing scientific claims, incomplete information and responses that require broad social change and/or significant economic costs. Hence, we need to upgrade our environmental decision-making mechanisms.
You can download this timely new report for free from the Canada West Foundation website by clicking here.