Regional Government & Environmental Policy

Dr Dimitrios Konstadakopulos

Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for European Studies University of the West of England

17 January 2005

The presentation was based upon recent fieldwork by the speaker in Nova Scotia (NS) & New Brunswick (NB) provinces of Canada. He researched the institutional framework and principal policies for the promotion of sustainable development in those provinces.

On both sides of the North Atlantic maritime regimes are being seriously undermined by global warming, loss of biodiversity and pollution problems arising from industrial-isation and deforestation. Particular concerns are the melting of Arctic ice and collapse of fisheries. Although Canadian and UK governments differ over environmental issues, they have agreed to ‘strengthen regional co-operation and co-ordination between regional organisations and programmes’. In the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation (2002) and in other international agreements, achieving environmental targets depends upon monitoring and implementation at regional and local levels.

In Canada the Federal Government needs to co-operate with ten provinces and three territories, each with a degree of autonomy, so that some overlaps of jurisdiction become inevitable. Provincial elected assemblies have institutional links and powers, however, which foster good practice with respect to environmental issues. In England, although regions have developed some agencies (including those of Central Government) there are only non-elected regional assemblies at present. A concept of ‘Ecological Modernisation’ (EM), which originated in Germany, now underlies policies in Europe and in America (to some extent).

Six principles are involved:

Both economic and environmental objectives can be simultaneously achieved, to yield a positive sum outcome.
Both economic development and ecological protection are desirable objectives for the promotion of public welfare.
Polluters should pay for damages they cause.
Environmental problems require ‘holistic’ rather than individual solutions.
Market arrangements need to be accompanied by government intervention.
Nations need to adopt ecologically sustainable policies in order to attain effective competition.
The speaker outlined EM classifications, which allocate ‘weak’ or ‘strong’ ratings to the various features of resultant policies. Up to the late 1980s technological innovations were emphasised, then relationships between states and markets were of concern, but from the mid-1990s policy theorists have been concerned with consumption patterns and global processes, but in particular with EM activities in the USA and Canada. EM in the two Canadian provinces studied depends:

On control over technology and the extent and nature of local expertise;
Product and service distribution (pollution control of local resources and food industries, high-technology products and international consultancy);
Federal and provincial government pressure for changes in industrial and citizen behaviour;
Policies to change provincial economies from basic economic practice to knowledge-based strategies.
While the Federal Government is responsible for framework policy on standards, research and formal relationships, the provincial governments implement those policies and administer regulations on, for example, ownership of natural resources, management of Crown lands, civil rights and municipal government. Overall, the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment co-ordinates the activities, whereas different levels of government operate on particular environmental problems, subject to the mandate set by the Constitution Act.

Important local environmental problems include contam-ination of former steel plant and coke oven sites in NS and air pollution from the US Mid-West, New England, Southern Ontario and Quebec, which affect both health and the economy of the Canadian region. Since 1989 the Federal Government has supported Canada’s nascent environmental industry through various programmes, so that in 1993 three Environmental Technology Advancement Centres were created. In NS there are now over 350 firms, employing around 6,000 people, which generate over 300 million Canadian $ per annum; in NB 250 firms employ 2500 and generate 250 million $. The NS Department of the Environ-ment is responsible for the Environmental Industries and Technology Division, which fosters technical and business expertise, whereas in NB responsibility lies with its economic ministry (Business New Brunswick)- which could conflict with its Department of Environment and Local Government. Nevertheless, the NB Government has actively supported discussions on climate change.

In 2001 seven environment firms, two non-government organisations and all three levels of government collectively pioneered ‘ClimAdapt’ in order to promote adaptations. An ‘Eco-Efficiency Centre’ was set up in 1998 through a partnership between Nova Scotia Power Inc. (the NS electricity supplier) and Dalhousie University, while in NB a large industrial company using forestry products – JD Irving Ltd - adopted reverse-osmosis technology in its paper-mill plant, in response to the Fisheries Act of 1992. The diversion of waste from landfills in NS leads the rates of all OECD countries. Its thriving recycling and compost industry and similar industry in NB have caused many officials from around the world to visit the two provinces in order to study their waste management systems.

Nevertheless, although the speaker’s interviewees often praised the contributions of the Provincial Assemblies, some thought that their select committees were rather more concerned with resource exploitation than with the environment. Moreover, although some energy companies (such as NS Power) support EM, others use highly polluting bunker oil or less polluting gas oil solely on grounds of cost.

Thus, analysis of Canadian practice shows that where institutions and powers at regional and local levels generate legislative instruments and activities, EM can be successfully developed. In England the failure to develop elected Regional Assemblies inhibits the development of effective regional environment policies. English regions need greater fiscal autonomy and clearer Central Government mandates, particularly with respect to energy and waste management policies. The speaker suggested that the NS solid waste management plan should serve as a best-practice model for the South West of England. What is needed is a ‘power balance between economic interests and the wider community’, although Canadian experience suggests that ‘collaborative models’ (as in intergovernmental relationships) which require ‘consensus’ can be costly and lead to ‘lowest common denominator’ policies. The English regions should aim to develop ‘co-operation and conflict’ strategies, argues one commentator, which would gain activist support and weaken economic interests (e.g. in energy, transport and agro-business enterprises).

In conclusion, the speaker argued that scientific work on climate change, the abatement of trans-continental pollution and the management of ocean resources, etc. should be institutionalised by both governments and sub-national partnerships of research institutions and environmental groups, so that a transatlantic climate policy proposed by German academics could be adopted.

The ensuing discussion focussed on the shortcomings of the present regional and local government situations in England at present and the impact of EU policies. Whatever ‘best-practice’ models may be presented, the current controls placed on local bodies by central government appear to inhibit any rapid developments along the lines indicated, however worthy they might be.

Geoffrey Catchpole