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North America

Climate change
Forest fires

Environmental issues and developments in North America included climate change, forest fires and biodiversity

Reporting on the environment using indicators was also prominent, with the release of indicator reports which describe and trace trends in various aspects of the environment and sustainability in Canada and the United States (Box 1).

Box 1: Sustainability reporting gains momentum

Environment and sustainability reporting is gaining momentum in North America, and 2003 witnessed the launch of two landmark products: the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Draft report on the environment and the Canadian National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy (NRTEE), Environment and sustainable development indicators for Canada report. Both are part of
long-term reporting initiatives aimed at strengthening the information base for environment and sustainable development policy-making. In the US, the draft report, billed as the EPA’s ‘first-ever national picture of the US environment’, was the long-awaited first product of a federal-level Environmental Indicators Initiative. It drew considerable attention both because of the void it filled and due to the omission of climate issues. Related work (the high profile 2002 State of the Nation’s Ecosystems project) by The Heinz Center preceded this EPA effort and contributed to raising awareness about the ‘environmental information gap’.

Environment and sustainable development indicators for Canada is the final report of the Canadian NRTEE’s Environment and Sustainable Development Indicators Initiative. This was a three-year ‘multistakeholder program aimed at developing a small set of credible and understandable indicators to track whether Canada’s current economic activities threaten the way of life for future generations’. One of the recommendations of the report is that the System of National Accounts be expanded to
include measures of natural, human and social capital.

Sources: Heinz Center 2002, NRTEE 2002, US EPA 2003a

Key Facts
  • The consumption of chlorofluourocarbons (CFCs), which deplete the ozone layer, has been reduced to nearly zero in North America.
  • Emissions that cause acid rain have been reduced with trides made in controlling point source emissions of principal pollutants.
  • Wetland loss in North America is slowing down and the land set aside for protected areas has increased by about 3.5 per cent since 1990.

Both Canada and the United States:

  • place a high priority on deepening the understanding of the linkages between human health and environmental issues, whether it be air quality, the sound management of chemicals or contamination of fresh water supplies;
  • are at the forefront of research to address climate change. Canada has ratified the Kyoto Protocol and has launched several programmes to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The US announced a new climate change strategy in 2003, which sets out a voluntary programme to reduce greenhouse gas intensity;
  • with Mexico, have agreed to a North American strategy for biodiversity conservation, under the auspices of the Commission for Environmental Cooperation; and
  • consider scientific research a high priority and a foundation for policy, and are actively seeking to improve environmental indicators. Both promote pollutant release inventories, and the provision of environmental information to the public.
Sources: CEC 2003, Environment Canada 2003a, Heinz Center 2002, Natural Resources Canada 2003, UNEP-WCMC 2003

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