Top Environmental Stories of December 2005

 

While most of us were busy finishing our holiday shopping, three major environmental stories broke in December. Unfortunately, between the upcoming federal election and the pre-Christmas rush, they have largely gone unnoticed. These stories are important because they reflect a clear shift in governing policy ~ some dramatic, some less so. Nevertheless, they are each the result of years of research and negotiation, to say nothing about courage and determination, and therefore are worth repeating.

 

#1 – The United Nations Conference on Climate Change

 

Despite the concerted efforts of U.S. President George W. Bush to derail the Kyoto Protocol, the UN Conference on Climate Change made substantial progress when in closed in Montreal on December 10th. Of note, the adoption of more than forty decisions that will strengthen efforts to fight climate change.

 

The official word on the success of the Conference came from to Conference President, Canadian Environment Minister Stéphane Dion who said: “Key decisions have been made in several areas. The Kyoto Protocol has been switched on, a dialogue about the future action has begun, parties have moved forward work on adaptation and advanced the implementation of the regular work

programme of the Convention and of the Protocol.”

 

Elisabeth May, Executive Director of the Sierra Club of Canada, was even more enthusiastic with her assessment.  "The goal of the Bush Administration was to kill Kyoto," May wrote in her blog documenting the Conference's progress. "Instead, we have launched Kyoto Phase Two. This is huge! It means climate negotiators will be working between now and the next COP (Conference of the Parties to the Climate Change Convention) to make real progress."

 

May cautions that this progress will only be meaningful if Canada lives up to its initial commitment to reduce our greenhouse gas emission to 6 percent below 1990 levels by 2012 and if the second phase reduction targets are meaningful. Now that it has been clearly demonstrated that the process can move forward without the participation of the US, the world's single largest producer of greenhouse gases, May emphasized the importance of getting the next US administration on board.

 

#2 – Canada's Supreme Court backs Toronto's pesticide ban

 

On December 17th the Supreme Court of Canada refused to hear an appeal made by the pesticide industry to challenge Toronto's bylaw restricting the cosmetic use of pesticides. The industry's previous challenge to both the Ontario Superior Court of Justice and the Ontario Court of Appeal had been unsuccessful.

 

The Supreme Court decision means that the pesticide industry, which is represented by the Urban Pest Management Council and CropLife Canada, has finally exhausted all legal avenues.

 

Toronto's bylaw, which was passed in 2003, came a dozen years after the town of Hudson, Quebec (in 1991), passed Canada's first municipal ban. An exhaustive ten-year battle ensued, culminating in a 2001 Supreme Court decision that upheld the right of Hudson to ban the use of pesticides. Since Hudson's David and Goliath victory, 70 communities across Canada have passed bylaws restricting the use of pesticides, many of which have faced opposition from the pesticide industry. Now that Canada's largest municipality has defeated the pesticide industry, it's likely that even more municipalities will follow.

 

# 3 - The Great Lakes~St. Lawrence River Basin Sustainable Water Resources Agreement.

 

On December 13th, Ontario, Quebec, and the eight US states bordering on the Great Lakes signed an agreement to protect the world's largest source of freshwater. The agreement marks a significant departure from the original Annex Agreements drafted by the group, which were designed to give access to areas outside the immediate Great Lakes watershed, but within the state and provincial boundaries of border jurisdictions. In doing so, the original Agreements would have commodified the otherwise protected watershed, and removed any protection against unrestricted water removals under the terms of the WTO.

 

The new agreement isn't without its critics, however. The Council of Canadians argues that the protection of the Great Lakes should remain a bi-national responsibility regulated by the International Joint Commission (IJC), in which Canada and the U.S. are equally represented.

 

Related Websites

 

United Nations Framework Convetion on Climate Change

 

The Sierra Club of Canada

 

The Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment

 

The Council of Canadians