Environment Forum

Fold sustainability into economies, G20 urged

June 25, 2010

G20/CANADA-PROTESTS

Consensus among sustainability experts at a Toronto conference this week was that world leaders in the Group of  20 nations face a fecund opportunity to make gains integrating environmental concerns with all other levels of economic development.

“Finance ministers are the real environment ministers. Environment ministers have weak, minor voices at the table at which economic decisions are made,” said chair Maurice Strong, President of the Council of the United Nations University for Peace, former Secretary-General of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, and former president of Power Corporation, head of Petro Canada and Ontario Hydro.

“Environmentalists cannot run the economy,” Strong said.

Economist Sylvia Ostry, former Chief Statistician at Statistics Canada and a member of the influential Washington-based financial advisory body the Group of Thirty says the best contribution the G20 could make to sustainable development is to strike a new institution with experts from a variety of backgrounds.

“The WTO has a number of ways of dealing with this integration,” she said, pointing to the Integrated Framework which is comprised of the WTO and the World Bank and other institutions. “So it’s perfectly possible in my view for the G8 and the G20 to … establish an eminent persons group of experts in this. Let them be invited, it would be easy, to the WTO and begin to do the basic research on this and then begin a policy debate.”

She says full integration is vital.

“This is much more than the environment. This is a whole range of economic and social policy issues and the only institution that I know of that covers it is the WTO. The IMF doesn’t, the World Bank yes, and the WTO and the NGOs, I think you need civil society. You’d have to set up the thing and have the experts and then produce the stuff for debate.”

Ostry, Strong and about 20 other panelists spoke to a Toronto conference on sustainable development hosted by Corporate Knights Magazine for Responsible Business and the International Institute for Sustainable Development.

John Kirton, Director of G8 Research Group and Co-director of G20 Reseach Group with University of Toronto’s School of Global Affairs, says he wants to see G20 leaders living up to commitments made by all 20 nations at the September 2009 summit in Pittsburgh to eliminate “inefficient” fossil fuel subsidies worth $500 billion in taxpayers’ money.

“If they can do that, take the next step here at Toronto, they will save their taxpayers the debt burden and the deficit burden of half a trillion dollars at the same time help control carbon emissions into the atmosphere and create a level playing field so the green businesses of the future trying to develop, pioneer, sell the new clean green technologies can have an equal shot at the marketplace.”

Kirton wants President Barack Obama to take back a message to Congress. “Look, every country in the world agrees we need to do this, both to help the environment but also to help reduce the United States’ unsustainable deficit and fiscal burden and at the same time give business a chance to actually innovate and sell what member of the Congress would be opposed to that?” he added.

It can’t be a one-time discussion either, argues Maria Ivanova, director of the Global Enviornmental Governance Project at the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy

“What I would like to urge leaders of the world to do is have the meetings of those groups regularly address environmental issues, that the environment is the fundamental upon which the economy, upon which our life is built and without serious consideration at every single G8 and G20 meeting it would be difficult to then resolve these issues outside of these forums,” she said.

“The leaders of the world would pay significant attention to these issues while the citizens are also organizing and rallying around these issues I think then we will have that convergence between leadership from the top and leadership from activism at the bottom that I think is absolutely critical.”

The G20 summit takes place in Toronto on Saturday and Sunday. The group of global leaders includes the world’s biggest economies and covers two-thirds of the world’s population.

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Photo shows Oxfam activists pose as G8 leaders during a photo opportunity ahead of the G8/G20 summits in Huntsville, Ontario June 24, 2010.  REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

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