In the 1980’s, the World Commission on the Environment and Development, now called the Brundtland Commission, coined the term “sustainable development” to illustrate the links among economic, social and environmental objectives. Since then, science has added support for the vision expressed by the Commission; holes in the ozone layer and emerging evidence about man-made contributions to climate change have made the environment part of the equation for policies promoting economic growth.
While the debate in the 1980s was originally framed in win-lose terms, in recent years policymakers have come to realize that economic growth and environmental protection do not have to amount to a zero-sum game if tied to social progress. Unfortunately, the Great Recession of 2008 produced a political dynamic in our democracies and societies in which we are once again returning to a win-lose proposition when it comes to discussing how to stimulate growth.
At a time when the Supreme Court has already ruled on the power and jurisdiction of the Environmental Protection Agency, current battles in the U.S. House of Representatives over these issues hark back to an earlier period. Even in a country like Canada, where the environmental community has made sustained progress in the last two decades, some are once again sounding the alarm about a pushback. This has led to an increase in combative dialogue with government policymakers. I remain an optimist that science and the younger generations will bring us back to a steadier course of sustainable development for economic growth. An illustration in point can be found in my home province of Québec, which will soon launch an ambitious project called “Plan Nord” (Plan for Northern Development). The ambitious project involves a long-term road map to develop the province’s northern regions in the sectors of energy, mining, forestry, tourism and transportation, while protecting wildlife and the environment and conserving biodiversity.
Plan Nord involves the extensive development of the territory north of the 49th parallel—a territory almost twice the size of Texas and which represents 72 percent of Quebec’s overall land mass. The project cannot become a reality without the buy-in of local communities. Over
120,000 people make up 63 communities composed of 31 aboriginal (Innu, Cree, Inuit, and Naskapi) and 32 non-aboriginal communities. Negotiations with the native groups have already begun, building on a base of respect and mutual interest to ensure that the economic objectives of developing hydro energy, mining resources, promoting tourism, and protecting the environment can be met while remaining in sync with social and ecological goals.
The project will span over 25 years, with more than $50 billion expected to be invested by the public and private sectors. Fifty percent of the territory will be preserved to address environmental and biodiversity concerns. Early reactions by some environmental groups have been encouraging.
The success of such a vision and project will go a long way to showing the world that wealth can be shared, value created, communities led to thrive, and economic growth achieved through sustainable development.
*John Parisella is a guest blogger to AQ Online. He is Québec’s Delegate General in New York, the province’s top ranking position in the United States.