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Environmental Issues, Sustainable Development

World Commission, Common Future, Sandspit, environmental activists, wildlife reserves

Increasingly, federal and provincial governments have adopted the concept of sustainable development as a standard. Sustainable development has been defined by the World Commission on Resources and Development to mean development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the needs of future generations. The World Commission, an organization of 21 countries, including Canada, was sponsored by the United Nations. In 1987 it produced an influential report, Our Common Future, on environment and economic development. Two of the reportís recommendations in particular were taken up by Canada: establishing roundtables (policy groups of people with diverse backgrounds) and increasing the amount of protected land. The federal government and most provincial governments established roundtables on the economy and the environment. In 1990 the federal government established the Green Plan, which emphasized more monitoring of the environment, tighter environmental regulations, and the restoration of damaged areas, and set a goal of protecting 12 percent of the countryís land by placing it in parks, special resource management zones, ecological reserves, and other designations. Most ministries dealing with land and resources are continuing to emphasize sustainable development. The provinces, which control most of Canadaís public land, are protecting more of it. Many provinces have made a commitment to increase their allocation of land for parks, wildlife reserves, and other ecosystem protection zones. In British Columbia, for instance, the proportion of protected public land doubled, from 6 percent to the goal of 12 percent, between 1987 and 1997. Decisions to protect more land have frequently pitted urban-based environmental activists against rural communities whose residents rely on the resources that will be protected.

As people have become more concerned about protecting the environment, policy makers have begun to make decisions about resource management by considering both the needs of human activities and those of ecosystems. In Ontario, remedial action plans have been established to clean up many of the hazards of industrial pollution in the Great Lakes.

Decisions on management of resources have often led to political conflict and lawsuits. Recently, alternative methods of resolving these conflicts outside the courts have been promoted. One method has been mediation, in which an intermediary helps the opposing sides resolve a problem. Mediation was used in 1994 to resolve environmental and socioeconomic issues raised by a small-craft harbor that was proposed for Sandspit, British Columbia. In Ontario, a joint agency was set up to make recommendations to the provincial government on land allocation and resource management in the Temagami region, north of Toronto. The agency included representatives of government, indigenous peoples, and the general public.

In several provinces the process for making decisions about resources has been broadened to include different groups of people. In part, this is the result of indigenous peoplesí demands for more input into the process, but it also reflects demands by the public in general to be included in decisions that directly affect them. The trend is particularly strong in fisheries, forestry, and wildlife management. For example, local communities are becoming more involved in forest management through programs such as the Community Forests Initiative in Ontario and Forest Renewal BC in British Columbia. In addition, several provinces have begun forestry education programs for indigenous peoples and have sought ways, including shared management of public lands, to increase indigenous involvement in forest and land management.

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