CONDITIONS, PRINCIPLES AND ISSUES
Science and Technology Division
TABLE OF CONTENTS
CONDITIONS AND PRINCIPLES
A. The Concept of
Sustainable Development Restated
B. Basic Conditions of
5. Responsibility and Accountability
C. General Principles of
1. Environmental and Economic
Maintenance of Biological Diversity and Conservation of Natural Resources
3. Precaution, Prevention and
4. Cooperation, Partnership and
5. Education, Training and Awareness
ISSUES AND COMMITMENTS
PARLIAMENTARIANS AND SUSTAINABLE
CONDITIONS, PRINCIPLES AND ISSUES(1)
Sustainable development has become an
inescapable reality at all levels of economic integration. The support of most governments
for the concept of sustainable development makes strong action in environmental matters
all the more necessary and legitimate. The prospect of the economic integration of the
Americas raises sizeable challenges for sustainable management of the environment and
natural resources. The implementation of sustainable development presupposes compliance
with certain conditions (democracy, autonomy, fairness, interdependence, responsibility
and accountability) and with certain fundamental principles (environmental and economic
integration; maintenance of biological diversity and conservation of natural resources;
precaution, prevention and evaluation; cooperation, partnership and participation; and
education, training and consciousness-raising). The governments of the Americas have
developed a Plan of Action for the Sustainable Development of the Americas, which is based
to a large degree on these conditions and principles. The plan contains specific
commitments in the form of detailed initiatives respecting most of the issues at the root
of environmental problems. Parliamentarians, since they stand between the public and the
decision-making powers, can play a premier role in implementing the sustainable
development of the Americas. They are among those in the best position to become the true
ambassadors of sustainable development and the principal intermediaries between local
communities and decision makers so as to facilitate the flow of information, cooperation
and mediation and to ensure first-hand that objectives in this area are achieved.
The liberalization and expansion of trade,
the globalization of markets and the economic integration of countries have not come about
without causing significant changes, both structural and cyclical, in the organization and
operation of states. The growing interdependence of these is not limited merely to trade
and investment, but also affects governments social and environmental obligations.
Today there can be no doubt that trade and the environment are closely related.
The publics concerns about the
environment, both at home and in general, together with pressure by environmental groups,
have forced countries to act together for the sound management and protection of the
environment and natural resources. The support of most governments for the concept of
sustainable development, particularly in the wake of the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in
1992 and ratification of the conventions on climatic change and biodiversity, have made
strong action in environmental matters all the more necessary and legitimate. The prospect
of economic integration, however, particularly across the Americas, will raise sizeable
challenges for cooperation in the fields of the environment and natural resources.
The main purpose of this paper is to
clarify the potential role of parliamentarians in implementing the concept of sustainable
development in their own countries in the context of the integration of the Americas.
First, certain general considerations regarding sustainable development are discussed,
particularly its underlying conditions and major principles. Then the main global and
local issues that will likely be involved with the integration of the Americas are
described, as are the commitments made in the Declaration of Santa Cruz de la Sierra,
which was a result of the Conference of the Americas in Miami in 1994. The role and
participation of parliamentarians in the coming integration of the Americas are discussed
in this context.
CONDITIONS AND PRINCIPLES
A. The Concept of Sustainable
The concept of sustainable development
implies, first, the integration of environmental issues with the imperatives of economic
development in order to meet the immediate needs of populations today without undermining
the aspirations of future generations. However, the definition of the term
"sustainable development" has been expanded to include the ideas of fairness and
interdependence, not only between generations, but between the countries and peoples of
the Earth. Social, cultural, economic and natural environments, whose harmonious
development is essential to the welfare of humanity and of nature, are also included in
Sustainable development can only be
achieved in a long-term perspective. However, this cannot be done reactively, but rather
through applying the principles of proactive and strategic planning and management. It is
therefore essential to establish clear principles at all levels of participation and
decision-making, together with clear objectives and measures that are part of a long-term
approach and take into consideration the various countries ability to act and to
B. Basic Conditions of Sustainable
Although the purpose of sustainable
development is to integrate social and environmental concerns into economic decisions, its
achievement requires adherence to general principles that must be joined to the basic
conditions for success. Those are nothing more or less than the five major principles
governing life in society and relations between governments and nations. They have a
number of underlying concepts, which are also considered essential to the attainment of
Although they need not absolutely be
linked, sustainable development can hardly be initiated or implemented in the absence of
genuine democracy. It is hard to see just how to provide fairly for present needs, and
without compromising the future of generations to come, without underlying mechanisms and
institutions in which all can participate. To paraphrase the Brundtland Commission, which
so aptly opened debate on the subject,(2) isnt
sustainable development everyones business and everyones future?
Thus, all human beings, no matter what
their country of origin, may legitimately aspire to clean air and water, sufficient food,
comfortable housing and satisfying work, in an atmosphere of peace and respect for
differences and diversity. At the same time, they must be able to ensure the protection
and survival of their natural and cultural heritage. In short, all human beings enjoy a
fundamental right to an environment that is of high quality and is healthful. By
democracy, we must understand respect not only for individual rights, but also for
collective rights and in particular the right of women and first peoples to participate
actively and fully in the march toward sustainable development.
While sustainable development must be
achieved in a democratic context, the autonomy of governments, peoples and ethnic groups
in making their development choices must also be respected. This does not mean that
governments must operate in isolation; on the contrary, they must adopt a global view of
development and development planning by taking an active part in international forums and
processes for determining major common objectives for sustainable development.
Nor does this exclude the establishment of
common international environmental standards, although each government is free to adopt
national standards consistent with these. It is important that governments adhere to the
principle that, while protection of the environment is a joint responsibility, the
development and implementation of environmental standards by less developed countries will
take into account the limits and ability of those countries to act and pay the associated
costs, as well as their responsibilities with respect to a particular environmental
At the same time, it must be acknowledged
that these countries have certain potential skills and practical knowledge that often
remain underexploited in the absence of appropriate support structures. Thus a greater
need for mutual assistance, cooperation and the transfer of knowledge and "clean
technologies" arises directly from the interdependence of countries in the
implementation of sustainable development.
The concept of fairness is central to the
entire issue of sustainable development, being based on recognition of the global and
common nature of our environment and on the need for the planets resources to be
shared in a sustainable way. Achieving fairness in sustainable development must be
addressed at three levels: (1) within populations or states, (2) between
populations or states and (3) between generations.
Fairness within a single population or
government essentially requires meeting the needs of all and improving the quality of life
through a better distribution of wealth. Despite what is often thought, this objective
does not apply solely to the poorest countries, but also to Western societies, where
disparities between people have tended to increase over the last decade.
At the next level, the harmful effects of
underdevelopment and the obvious disparities between developed and less developed
countries show that sustainable development cannot be achieved without reducing
discrepancies between the rich and poor countries, that is, without a relentless struggle
against poverty. It is for this reason that sustainable development cannot be viewed
solely from an environmental standpoint, particularly in the countries of the South, where
it must be achieved by accelerating development.
Lastly, one of the major challenges of
sustainable development is beyond a doubt the objective of fairness between generations.
As mentioned in A Strategy for Sustainable Living:
Each generation should leave to the future
a world that is at least as diverse and productive as the one it inherited. Development of
one society or generation should not limit the opportunities of other societies or
Once again, at this level, making certain
development choices will, in many instances, require new approaches and attitudes and
Interdependence, which derives from the
notion of fairness, is another basic condition for sustainable development: the common
interest can only be served through international cooperation. With industrialization,
improved technological capabilities and the globalization of trade and commerce, has come
increased interdependence, even at the local level. It brings with it its own set of
problems, such as the loss of traditional rights to certain resources and increased
commercial and industrial production, with an attendant reduction in the decision-making
power of local communities and individuals. Interdependence extends beyond a local and
regional framework, however; it is now global, particularly with respect to the
environmental problems affecting the biosphere.
This interdependence of individuals and
communities requires first that we acknowledge our common interest in the environment so
that each decision is made and each action taken in full knowledge of the repercussions
for the environment and the welfare of others. More than anything else, interdependence is
based on the capability for mutual assistance and cooperation at all levels of action,
from the local to the international. Although international cooperation in environmental
matters has increased over the past decade, a number of aspects must still be reviewed and
reoriented, taking sustainable development into account.
5. Responsibility and Accountability
Since it is in everyones interest to
preserve the environment and to use it in a sustainable way, all countries have a
responsibility from the outset to preserve and restore the environment and to achieve
development, without harming their own environment or that of others. Consequently, all
countries must take an active part and show solidarity in this cause. Furthermore, the
concept of fairness, as it applies to countries and nations or to generations and
individuals, implies that the responsibilities of all involved may be different but
complementary, depending on the needs of each, and may vary in proportion to the extent of
damage to the environment and the abilities of each party to rectify this. Furthermore, in
the context of globalized trade and environmental problems, it is vital for the economic
benefits of a given business activity to be linked with its environmental repercussions,
so that the responsibilities of each stakeholder are recognized; that is to say, so that
all players are accountable for their own actions.
Some have argued that the question of
accountability, and thus of every stakeholders assumption of responsibility, may
lead to a redistribution of profits so that compensation can be established, for example,
for the use of natural resources or for environmental impacts. This proposal might be one
way in which the richest countries can make a greater contribution to the sustainable
development of poor countries and take an active part in solving environmental problems.
Collective and individual responsibility
for managing the environment and natural resources in a sustainable manner must take into
account both present and future generations. Making stakeholders responsible for their
actions is at the same time encouraging the principle of stewardship, whereby a
representative of both present and future generations acts as the "custodian" of
natural resources and the environment.
C. General Principles of
In addition to the five basic conditions
necessary for ensuring sustainable development, five major principles underlie its
implementation. These principles, to an even greater extent than the aforementioned
conditions, are vital to the definition of sustainable development.
1. Environmental and Economic
The environment and the economy are
obviously very closely related. This link is more than a mere principle; it is a necessity
for sustainable development. Various economic tools and policies may promote sustainable
development, or at least lead to a more environmentally conscious use of resources. These
tools or policies, such as the polluter-payer or consumer-payer approach, may be applied
equally to producers, consumers and taxpayers and to enable the market to determine the
correct overall cost of using resources. In many instances, however, for the actual value
of natural resources to be taken into account, producers and economic agents need to
change their attitudes. As a result, tax incentives or other economic tools may be
necessary to promote this coming together of the environment and the economy.
The integration of the environment and the
economy is as advantageous for poorer countries as for rich ones because, if production
models adhere to economic and environmental rules, there may be a better balance of
comparative production advantages. The result could be a softening of world trade rules
whereby poorer countries would be enabled to lay claim to greater economic development.
Certain traditional economic indicators
may also assist in assessing the degree to which the economy and the environment are
integrated. Particular examples are the gross domestic product and per capita income;
global indicators that reflect social aspects (such as the Human Development Index, which
includes longevity, education and income); and strictly environmental indicators, such as
water quality and land use.
Maintenance of Biological Diversity and Conservation of Natural Resources
Achieving sustainable development
presupposes that we can preserve biological diversity, maintain ecological processes and
life support systems and use the worlds species and ecosystems in a sustainable
manner. Development based on the preservation of natural resources calls for energetic
measures that will make it possible to protect the structure, functions and diversity of
the natural systems on which life depends.
These measures must focus on species and
ecosystems as well as on their genetic heritage. Consequently, the limits, on and the
capacity for renewal of, natural resources such as soil, wild and domesticated species,
forests, pasture and farm land, fresh water and marine ecosystems, must not be
compromised. As well, the life of non-renewable resources should be extended by developing
and using more effective and cleaner technologies and by encouraging re-use and recycling.
First of all must come changes in the
behaviour of individuals and communities and in their attitude to the environment, along
with the provision of genuine means for managing it better. New approaches at the state
level must then integrate development and conservation of resources on the basis of
sufficient information and knowledge and through appropriate legal and institutional
instruments. Effort at the international level must be on promotion of the development,
and adoption and implementation of conventions and protocols on the environment and
3. Precaution, Prevention and Evaluation
Precaution, prevention and evaluation are
the starting points for genuine sustainable development; they must form an integral part
of the planning and implementation of every development project. Planners and
decision-makers must make it a routine to foresee and provide for the environmental
consequences of their projects.
Current environmental protection measures
are precautionary; however, in many cases, they are merely a band-aid solution that is not
always compatible with the concept of sustainable development, particularly from a
long-term perspective. However, the concepts of precaution, prevention and evaluation are
difficult to instill because they are often removed from the day-to-day reality and have
benefits that will be felt only in the more or less distant future. Forewarned is
forearmed, foresight is knowledge and evaluation enables planning: it is imperative that
countries and societies adopt these three watchwords so that present development can be
transformed into sustainable development.
4. Cooperation, Partnership and
Achieving sustainable development has
become a collective responsibility that must be fulfilled through action at all levels of
human activity. Consultation and cooperation in all decision-making are essential to the
sustainable management of terrestrial, aquatic and marine ecosystems. It is incumbent upon
all states and all nations to cooperate in good faith and in a spirit of partnership in
implementing effective strategies to protect, preserve and restore the environment. All
must take an active part and do their fair share in accordance with their capabilities and
the means at their disposal.
All governments must accept their
responsibilities by introducing economic growth policies and programs compatible with the
protection of their own environment and that of others. They must ensure the protection of
ecosystems of particular importance for agriculture and the way of life of the populations
that depend on it. Furthermore, they must facilitate the participation of non-governmental
organizations and decentralized or local communities to ensure they can play a greater
role in all development- and environment-related activities.
In addition, states must join forces to
strengthen international law by adhering to existing environmental conservation and
management conventions and protocols and by passing the necessary statutes for their
implementation. They must also promote and develop new agreements and instruments
considered necessary to achieving sustainable development.
Cooperation and partnership also
presuppose that the richest countries introduce financial and technical assistance
measures that will enable the poorer countries to integrate environmental issues more
easily into their development programs. The creation of specific environmental protection
and restoration funds is certainly worth considering.
The preservation of biological diversity
clearly illustrates how interdependent are the "North and South blocs" in the
necessary establishment of new partnerships. The main "centres or sources of
biological diversity" are situated more particularly in the countries of the South,
whereas the major "technological or biotechnological centres" are mainly in the
countries of the North. In other words, the countries of the South as well as those of the
North must be party to all discussions, solutions and conventions necessary to the
achievement of sustainable development. They must all ensure that the measures chosen are
suited to the situation of each. The more developed countries will no doubt have to make
the necessary efforts to bring about a higher degree of development in the poorer
countries and, in particular, the latters improved access to the most suitable
5. Education, Training and Awareness
Safeguarding the environment and achieving
sustainable development depend not only on technical and economic matters, but also on
changes in ideas, attitudes and behaviour. The direct participation of individuals and
communities is essential. All must become fully aware of their environment, know its
demands and limits and alter their habits and behaviour accordingly.
To this end, countries must develop
strategies to better educate, inform and sensitize their populations on environmental
matters and sustainable development. For example, ecological and environmental concerns
can be integrated into school programs; the awareness of the general public can be raised
through extensive information campaigns, particularly through the media; "green"
projects can be encouraged in local communities, and training programs can be developed to
promote more informed resource management and the use of clean technologies.
ISSUES AND COMMITMENTS
All the evaluations, reports,
discussions, conferences and conventions have not yet managed to make the global
environmental situation with respect to air, water and soil quality much more encouraging.
Numerous environmental problems still exist world wide: the sustainability of tropical,
boreal and coastal forests, the future of plantation forests, the maintenance and
long-term availability of fresh water, the emissions responsible for climatic change and
the thinning of the ozone layer, and the poor management of resources in general,
particularly fishery and agricultural resources.
The environmental situation also continues
to be a concern in Canada. For example, Canadians use twice as much water as Europeans.
Over the next 10 years, it is expected that tens of billions of dollars will be spent
across the country to improve water supply and sewer systems. However, an effort to reduce
water consumption by 50%, which would bring Canada down to European levels, would not only
make it possible to save this colossal amount of money, but also to reduce effluent
Furthermore, Canadians are among the
worlds greatest, if not the greatest, producers of waste on a per capita basis. One
of the main reasons why they produce such a large quantity of garbage is that there is
little incentive to reduce it. Reduction of waste at source and recovery must be prime
factors in preventing pollution, a fundamental aspect of sound environmental management.
Transportation issues raise serious
environmental challenges. Cities and towns in Canada are built and developed essentially
to accommodate automobiles and the transportation of goods by truck. This is true to such
an extent that it is at times impossible to consider any other possibilities.
It is estimated that Canadians consume 30%
more energy than necessary, in particular because the cost of the various forms of energy
is relatively low in Canada and in North America in general. Prices charged to customers
do not reflect actual production costs, and, since energy costs are not really separated
from business overheads as a whole, it remains difficult to take action in this regard.
In many instances, the environmental
problems facing Canada may be transposed to the scale of the Americas as a whole; they
represent one of the major issues that cannot be confined to geopolitical boundaries.
Though the problems associated with climatic change and the preservation of biodiversity
are the subject of international agreements and commitments, their consequences and the
capacity of the states to overcome them are still major concerns. To them must be added
transborder pollution, the treatment and transportation of domestic and hazardous wastes,
large-scale deforestation and the decline in food resources and natural resources.
In addition, the integration of the
Americas highlights the North-South duality that characterizes all development on the
planet. Fundamentally, a number of major environmental problems result mainly from the
intense industrial activity that has taken place in the North in this century. However,
the countries of the South are directly concerned by the scope of these problems. They,
like all other countries, and in some instances even more, depending on their geographical
situation, will suffer the environmental and socio-economic consequences of major problems
such as possible global warming and declining biodiversity.
It is encouraging to note, however, that
the states of the Americas have demonstrated their conviction of the urgent need to move
toward sustainable development by clearly undertaking to put forward a series of
initiatives and actions to this end. This Plan of Action for the Sustainable Development
of the Americas, based on the Declaration of Santa Cruz de la Sierra, is all the more
interesting as it largely includes many of the fundamental conditions and principles
described above. The plan contains specific commitments by the governments of the Americas
in the form of detailed initiatives addressing most of the problematic environmental
- health and education,
- sustainable agriculture and forests,
- sustainable cities and communities,
- water resources and coastal areas,
- energy and minerals.
These commitments are accompanied by
provisions for their implementation, mainly through institutions, financing, scientific
and technology transfers and public participation.
PARLIAMENTARIANS AND SUSTAINABLE
The parliamentarians of all the regions of
the Americas often have similar concerns and common interests. Although they generally do
not have decision-making powers, they are on the periphery and are in a position to
exercise a certain influence. Even more important, they are in close contact with the
day-to-day reality of their electors. They therefore have a more realistic, more
microeconomic vision of development, which gives them a definite grasp of its limits
because they see people rather than structures. It is mainly their close link with
constituents and the particular place they occupy between the public and the executive
power that enables the parliamentaries of the Americas to play a premier role in
implementing sustainable development.
The parliamentarians of the Americas can
be said to perform three separate functions:
- being a driving force, as it were, or an intermediary
between the public and decision-makers;
- acting as an agent of information, cooperation and
mediation in sustainable development; and
- monitoring and controlling the attainment of sustainable
They perform these three functions in
their role as representatives at various levels as well as in executing their legislative
responsibilities and participating in various interparliamentary forums.
First of all, parliamentarians are in a
position to play a major role as intermediaries between the public and decision-makers,
particularly by participating in policy matters. Being aware of their constituents
needs and expectations, they can influence, and even guide, the decisions and initiatives
their governments develop or implement. They are often in the best position to judge the
relevance, appropriateness and feasibility of a specific initiative. In this sense, it is
definitely to their advantage, and to that of their government, to exploit the potential
of this concrete role with respect to the public and decision-making authorities.
Second, the fact that parliamentarians
occupy the middle ground can make them excellent agents of information, cooperation and
mediation, in short genuine ambassadors of sustainable development. As a result, if they
can exercise a certain degree of influence on decision-makers by expressing the
publics needs and expectations; in return, they can also take direct public action.
They can inform people about their contribution to the attainment of sustainable
development and increase their awareness on this point, before encouraging them to take an
active part in concrete community initiatives. More specifically, parliamentarians should
place the emphasis on the education and training of future generations, which are the
generations that will actually benefit from the sustainable development now being
undertaken by the countries of the Americas.
Lastly, parliamentarians may also
intervene by assuming some control of the implementation of sustainable development. This
may be done in a constructive manner; for example, through active participation in the
various legislative and interparliamentary forums available to them. Here again, the
proximity of parliamentarians to both executive power and the public allows them to
encourage sustainable development initiatives and relay any feedback in order to
facilitate any needed adjustments. In all initiatives, parliamentarians must be receptive
to information on the attainment of sustainable development. As a result, they will be in
a better position to interact with their constituents and with decision-makers from the
inception of these initiatives through to their implementation.
Sustainable development is, in a way, a
question that balances the needs of present generations with those of generations to come.
The need for this balance becomes clear in the context of economic integration on a scale
as vast as that of the Americas.
Parliamentarians are undeniably in a
position to make a significant contribution to the attainment of sustainable development
and to the selection of common orientations enabling the countries of the Americas to act
in solidarity with respect to their common property, the environment. More particularly,
they are in the best position to become genuine ambassadors for sustainable development
and the principal intermediaries between the public and decision-makers in facilitating
information flow, cooperation and mediation, thereby ensuring at first-hand that
objectives in this area are achieved.
It is incumbent upon the states, parliamentarians and
local populations to work together, by cooperating and forming partnerships, to establish
the basis for sustainable development. They are all key players and the only ones able to
ensure that the economic integration of the Americas is achieved in a manner consistent
with the mutual needs and common interests of all concerned.
(1) This paper was originally prepared for the Delegation
from the Parliament of Canada to the Parliamentary Conference of the Americas, September
1997, Quebec City.
(2) World Commission on Environment and Development, Our Common
Future, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1987, 400 p.
World Conservation Union, United Nations Environment Programme, World Wide Fund for
Nature, Caring for the Earth A Strategy for Sustainable Living, Gland, Switzerland,
1991, p. 14.