Amid the exhibit booths crowding the floor and mezzanine of the B.C. Place domed stadium in Vancouver last week, members of the Nisga’a tribe from northwestern British Columbia stood out among the three-piece suits and designer fashions. Dressed in their traditional robes and leggings, the Nisga’a had a booth alongside others displaying everything from cloth diapers to oil skimmers to designs for waste-treatment plants. Like the 4,000 delegates and speakers from 62 countries _
and about 600 companies and government agencies, the Nisga’a had gone to the $6-million, weeklong Globe '90 conference and trade fair to discuss the concept of “sustainable development” and how money can be made in the boom business of the 1990s—the environment. And the Nisga’a shared a common concern with the majority attending the first of a planned biennial series of Globe conferences. Said Alvin McKay, president of the Nisga’a Tribal Council: “We need jobs, but we are only interested in development that protects the environment.”
Globe ’90 provided a forum for wilderness preservationists, forestry executives, oil-spill experts, Third World politicians and dozens of others to debate and discuss the environmental
implications of economic growth and development. The conference also produced two significant Canadian initiatives. The country’s federal and provincial environment ministers announced plans for dramatic reductions in the use of all types of packaging. As well, federal minister Lucien Bouchard unveiled plans to establish an institute in Winnipeg to promote environmentally sustainable development in Canada and abroad, although he made no mention of his hotly anticipated five-year plan on
the environment. But, despite the conference’s general tone of optimism, former Norwegian prime minister Gro Harlem Brundtland, chairman of the commission that produced the landmark 1987 study on world environmental problems, Our Common Future, summed up the magnitude of the crisis facing developed and developing nations. In her opening address, Brundtland said, “Through overexploitation of our natural resources, we have brought life on earth ever closer to the brink of extinction.”
Canada’s 11 environment ministers used the conference as an opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to a cleaner country. They declared that Canadians produce more pounds of garbage per capita than in any other country on earth, partly because of extravagant and disposable packaging. As a result, the ministers said that they intend to introduce legislation aimed at a 50-per-cent reduction in the amount of packaging produced and used in Canada by the year 1998. They estimated that such a
_ move will save $50 million a year in
waste collection and disposal costs. Said Bouchard: “At least 50 per cent of packaging is not necessary, it is useless. And we must reduce it.”
The first target is a 20-per-cent reduction by weight from 1988 levels by 1992, and that will initially depend on voluntary co-operation from Canada’s $ 12-billion packaging industry. Bouchard made it clear, however, that drafting of legislation to enforce the target will “begin immediately. It will be enacted as soon as it is ready.” The ministers announced plans to develop national standards to regulate discharges from pulp-and-paper plants. They said that they intend to co-ordinate provincial monitoring of the industry and enforcement of the regulations. The ministers also turned their attention to the problem of used tires, following a 17-day fire at an enormous storage site near Hagersville, Ont., in February. Environmental and fire-prevention experts plan to produce a report on used-tire storage and disposal across Canada, as well as recycling alternatives.
For many participants at the conference, the most contentious debates centred on what obligations the forestry industry has to sustain the world’s forests. And there were sharp differences of opinion among delegates from different parts of the world. North Americans and Europeans expressed concern about the depletion of forests and the toxins produced by pulp-and-paper mills, while delegates from developing countries maintained the more fundamental position that forests simply ensure firewood and survival. Michael Lyons, managing editor of Asia Pacific Forest Industries Magazine in Kuala Lumpur, told a conference seminar, “The 100 million or so people who work in the forestry industry in 36 countries in the Asia Pacific region do not think of it as a potential environmental problem; it’s a livelihood.”
Canada’s forestry industry came under particularly severe criticism from Mostafa Tolba, executive director of the United Nations environment program. Tolba charged that Canada is contributing to the problem of global warming, known as the “greenhouse effect,” through inadequate reforestation programs. Said Tolba: “Forestry and paper industries employ one in every 10 Canadians. Yet for every four trees felled, only one is replanted— hardly a sustainable policy.” But B.C. Environment Minister John Reynolds disputed that allegation, saying that, in his province, three seedlings are planted for every tree cut, and that their survival rate is 85 per cent.
Some delegates from poorer countries stressed that they simply cannot afford to spend money on a cleaner environment. Qu Geping, administrator of the Chinese State Environmental Protection Agency, said that China depends on the burning of coal for the production of electrical power and, in rural areas, for residential heating. He conceded that his country is a major contributor to global pollution. Said Qu: “China is not in a position to spare money for global environmental protection.” Like Qu, delegates from the Third World nations made eloquent pleas to the developed nations for assistance in implementing environmentally safer technologies.
Indeed, their pleas echoed those of Brundtland, who told the delegates, "We clearly must assist the poorest nations to avoid repeating our mistakes.” It was perhaps the most important message of the conference. But Adam Zimmerman, chairman of Toronto-based Noranda Forests Inc., pointed out that the pollution problems of the developed nations are rooted in lifestyles and levels of consumption. Said Zimmerman: “What we should all really do now is agree that we have seen the enemy, it is us, and we’re prepared to change our way of life.” As Globe ’90 made clear, that will be a tall order.
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