Ocean Mist

Issues and trends shaping our environment, health and economy

12 Oct 2015

Innovating for a healthy green economy

Posted by Michael Keating

Our world is in a period of widespread change. On the economic front, markets and employment are unstable as one country after another becomes a global competitor. We have to evolve our industrial strategies to cope with the effects of globalization and competition from lower wage countries. Health care costs keep rising as the population ages and scientists discover new and more expensive ways of keeping us alive.

Environmental challenges, especially climate change, are forcing us to move the world’s energy system from fossil fuels to renewable energy. Excessive and improper fertilizer use is causing huge pollution problems in lakes, rivers and parts of oceans. Overharvesting and habitat losses are threatening many fisheries and species on land.

Thirty years ago, we were in the midst of another difficult period as governments and industries struggled with how to reduce pollution and still make money. Then, the big problems were acid rain, the weakening ozone layer and toxic chemicals in food and water.

It was at this time that the World Commission on Environment and Development, the Brundtland Commission, was travelling the world listening to people and evolving its message that development was needed, but it must be economically, environmentally and socially sustainable. A number of Canadians, inspired by that work, created the National Task Force on Environment and Economy, a group of environment ministers, and leaders from business, the environment movement and academe. Their recommendations led to the creation of round tables on environment and economy across Canada. They did a lot to raise awareness of the need to integrate economic, environmental and social factors in decision making. They were less successful in keeping high-level decision makers at the table to come to agreement on how to make development more sustainable.

What Canada did very well in that period was to develop the multistakeholder process, which brought major sectors together to try to tackle the new concept of sustainable development. What might be useful now is to revive that process, but with a clearer focus on how to achieve sustainability.

We know a lot about the changes that our needed. We know we need innovation to achieve many of these changes. Why not convene meetings in different parts of the country to hear what people think needs to be done and what they want to do? There should be a strong focus on young leaders and innovators from different parts of society and with different expertise. It’s not just about technologies, but changes in how we think about the future of our society. We would need people with ideas about the sustainable use of the environment, clean, healthy and interesting economic development, and how we can evolve our society in a way that makes it more equitable and improves our health.

Who should lead? I remember a meeting in the latter days of the National Task Force on Environment and Economy in 1988. The president of a major chemical company said that the federal government should convene leaders from different sectors to come to consensus on what each should do to be more sustainable, and how they would support each other’s efforts.

In a few days, Canada will have a new government. Whoever wins, they have to tackle these challenges. This could be a way for them to find a way forward and seek widespread agreement rather than pushing ideas that result in conflict.

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