SUNS #5182 Thursday 15 August 2002  <>

Canada and US go 'green' at world's expense, says report

New York, 13 Aug (IPS/Haider Rizvi) -- A new UN study urges the United States and Canada to take more responsibility for the damage they have done to the world's natural resources and climate in the past 30 years.

The two countries' success in improving local environments - where their people live with clean water and air and enjoy green spaces - has come at the expense of global resources and climate, says 'North America's Environment: A 30-Year State of the Environment and Policy Retrospective', released Tuesday.

The report points out that each Canadian and American consumes nine times more gasoline than any other person in the world. With only 5% of the world's population, the two countries generate more than 25% of global emissions of heat-causing carbon dioxide.

The study was carried out by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) in collaboration with the World Resources Institute (WRI), a Washington-based environmental think-tank, the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) and the Commission for Environmental Cooperation of the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation.

"While Canada and the US have had notable success in resolving a lot of environmental problems, progress has been slowed down due to increasing consumption by their growing population," says Brennan Van Dyke, one of the authors of the report and UNEP regional director.

In the past 30 years, the two countries have not only succeeded in stabilising desertification and reducing toxic wastes discharged into the Great Lakes - the world's largest freshwater system - but also made considerable efforts to protect their wetlands, the study says.

Both countries have also preserved more than 11% of their land areas as national parks and other protected areas.

Noting that in the past two decades the US reduced its sulphur dioxide emissions by more than 30%, the report says that both countries have nearly stopped using non-essential chlorofluorocarbon (CFC), which marks a significant shift towards protecting the ozone layer.

But the report notes that Canada and the US still face "serious challenges before North America is on a sustainable development path". For example, both countries continue to face soil degradation and wetland losses.

The report urges the two countries to adopt policies that promote sustainable patterns of production and consumption, a theme of the upcoming World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), which opens in Johannesburg, South Africa, later this month.

The report's authors also say that both countries must make "substantial and concrete changes" in the way they use automobiles, relying on more fuel-efficient technologies. Urban development strategies need to be revamped to stem the overgrowth of cities, they add. UNEP researchers estimate that the US transportation sector accounts for more than one-third of the energy consumed by the entire world.

Effective reforms are possible with the right policies and the political will to implement them, the authors argue. "The US is a leader in environmental policy design and can support others in improving the environment and economy," says Paul Faeth, vice president of WSI. "The US contribution to environmental problems is disproportionately large. We owe it [to] the rest of the world to be leaders, not laggards in this critical arena."



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