Canada and Agenda 21

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CHAPTER 28

Local Authorities' Initiatives in Support of Agenda 21

-- Gordon Clifford --

Gordon Clifford is a consultant with Consulting and Audit Canada. The views expressed in this chapter are those of the author who received comments from a number of stakeholders and do not represent the views of Consulting and Audit Canada or the Projet de Société.

THE NATURE OF THE PROBLEM

Many of the problems and solutions addressed in Agenda 21 are rooted in local activities. Consequently, the participation of local authorities will be a determining factor in achieving the objectives of Agenda 21. Local authorities, such as municipal governments, are responsible for implementing national as well as local policies and providing infrastructure. They are responsible for building and maintaining such structures as drinking-water systems and roads; overseeing the planning of housing and industrial development; setting local environmental policies; and helping to implement national environmental policies. The chapter draws attention to the important role of local authorities in development, which has often been ignored in the past by planners. The role of local authorities is significant in most of the Agenda 21 chapters. From the perspective of developing countries, one of the greatest difficulties is the lack of power, resources and democracy at the local level.

PROGRAM AREAS AND OBJECTIVES

The majority of the objectives and activities proposed in this chapter relate to the areas of networking, information collection or capacity-building within local authorities. Objectives and activities place an emphasis on the need for networking among, strengthening of, and technical assistance to, local authorities.

The objectives of the chapter include:

(1)by 1996, most local authorities in each country should have undertaken a consultative process with their populations and achieved a consensus on "a local Agenda 21";

(2)by 1993, the international community should have initiated a consultative process aimed at increasing cooperation between local authorities;

(3)by 1994 representatives of associations of cities and other local authorities should have increased cooperation and coordination with the goal of enhancing the exchange of information and experience among local authorities; and

(4)all local authorities in each country should be encouraged to implement and monitor programs which aim at ensuring that women and youth are represented in decision-making, planning and implementation.

CANADIAN POSITIONS AT RIO

1.Official Canadian Position

The official Canadian position was comprised of three primary objectives:

(1)to strengthen partnerships through increased coordination among UN agencies, international organizations and international and national representatives of local authorities in the implementation of the recommendations of Section C, Chapter 5 of Agenda 21;

(2)to avoid solely the designation of UN agencies as the prime agencies responsible for program initiatives related to local authorities; and

(3)to secure a formal role for international and national representatives of local authorities in the development and implementation of programs and activities at the local level as they relate to Agenda 21.

2.Non-Governmental Organizations

Under United Nations terminology, the definition of NGO has meant any non-governmental group including profit, non-profit, indigenous, labour and other groups. Canadian NGOs strongly advocated for the need to recognize and address different types of NGOs. As such, NGOs supported the need to address the role of local authorities as a separate major group. However, NGOs did not develop positions directly related to Chapter 28.

3.Business and Industry

The position of business and industry groups in Canada was consistent with the Federal Government position.

4.Indigenous

Indigenous Peoples identified the need for the development of protocols which requires the involvement of Indigenous Peoples at all levels of discussion and decision making since international activities always affect Indigenous Peoples. Under Agenda 21, Indigenous Peoples were to be informed, consulted and allowed to participate at the national level for decision making. This includes all geographic locales of Indigenous Peoples (i.e. urban, rural, remote and isolated areas).

COMMITMENTS MADE BY CANADIANS

1.Legally-binding Documents

None.

2. Political Pronouncements

None.

3. Alternative NGO Treaties and Kari-Oca

NGO Treaties

At the same time as UNCED, two major international events were also held at Rio. One was the International Non-Governmental Organization Forum (Global Forum). At the Global Forum, 3,100 NGOs discussed a number of matters related to environment and development and produced a parallel set of documents: an NGO Earth Charter and 38 Alternative NGO Treaties. Canadian NGOs played a significant role in developing the Treaties and took a lead in coordinating their dissemination. None of these treaties specifically addressed the issue of local authorities, though many of them called for a greater role for communities and NGOs in all levels of decision making.

Kari-Oca

The second alternative forum at Rio was the International Conference on Territory, Environment and Development (the Kari-Oca Conference). The Kari-Oca Conference was held immediately prior to UNCED by and for the world's indigenous peoples. More than 650 indigenous representatives participated in meetings and cultural events during the conference. They developed and adopted a 109-point Indigenous Peoples Earth Charter. Local authorities were not directly addressed in the Indigenous Peoples Earth Charter.

DEFICIENCIES, GAPS AND CONSTRAINTS WITHIN CHAPTER 28

In reviewing this chapter, a number of weaknesses and constraints to the achievement of its objectives are evident.

In most countries national and local governments have different powers and responsibilities. It may be difficult for some national governments to ensure that local authorities implement the actions agreed to in this chapter. In effect, therefore, the chapter does not address the technical and institutional requirements of effective local sustainable development planning. Local governments could claim compliance by re-working old plans and making new pronouncements which will have little impact upon day-to-day practice.

Although national governments recognize in Chapter 28 the need to strengthen local authorities' ability to implement Agenda 21 activities, the relative strength and independence of local governments is often a politically sensitive issue. National (and regional) governments may be unwilling to devolve the necessary powers to local authorities to collect and manage the finances necessary to meet responsibilities. This could happen even where national governments have affirmed policies of decentralization of authority to local governments.

A differentiation which was not made, but which would have been helpful is that local authorities are not, as may be assumed from the chapter, homogenous. Specifically, the chapter does not provide an operational definition of "local authorities". Differences in size and relative power among authorities will prevail and, as such, local authorities are unlikely to be equal and politically neutral partners as the chapter seems to imply. In the implementation of Chapter 28, it must not be assumed that all local authorities will behave uniformly or will speak with one voice in interchanges with other levels of government or with other sectors of society. In some countries this interchange is facilitated by organizations like Canada's Federation of Canadian Municipalities. Not all countries, however, have similar vehicles through which local authorities can be collectively represented.

The chapter ignores issues of central-local government relations which, from the point of view of federations such as Canada, are extremely important in any intergovernmental power sharing negotiation.

Absent too, is any discussion of the means through which to enable public participation and consultation in policy making (e.g. a multistakeholder process) at the local level. Yet it is noteworthy that one of the underlying themes of the entire Agenda 21 document is the importance of empowering people at the grassroots level. This empowerment is necessary in order to enable citizens to foster and implement change leading to sustainable development. While recognizing that Agenda 21 does not seek to be a "how to" document, Chapter 28 would have been stronger with some discussion as to how local authorities can best "enter into a dialogue with its citizens".

This chapter does not address the matter of local government financing, which is a key to the planning and implementation of the activities in the chapter and to sustainable economic, social and environmental planning and program implementation at the local level.

This chapter recognises the need for "capacity building" in local governments, but does not provide details on what kind of "capacity building" is intended. This lack of specificity diminishes the importance of the main message of the chapter, which is that local authorities must play a critical role in promoting sustainable development.

There is an implicit assumption in this chapter that local authorities act in the best interest of their citizens, that they are politically neutral and that there are no security risks to citizens in the implementation of the chapter's recommended activities. This assumption may be rather spurious to the extent that local governments may be unwilling to allow participation or they may have interests other than meeting the needs of the public. Moreover, it may be politically unacceptable in some countries to allow the kind of democratisation that citizen participation, as called for in this chapter, would require.

COMPARISON BETWEEN CURRENT CANADIAN GOVERNMENT POLICY AND COMMITMENTS MADE

As noted above, national and local governments often have different and mutually exclusive powers and responsibilities. This situation certainly applies to Canada. As a result, Canadian government policy must be scrutinized in terms of policies emanating from all levels of Canadian governments. In so doing, the commitments inherent in this chapter can be compared to what is being done under the umbrellas of the various levels of government. Many of the activities currently underway in Canada are consistent with Chapter 28's commitments.

However, Canada exhibits certain shortcomings, particularly in the lack of local programs consistent with the fourth objective of this chapter, that all countries should be encouraging local authorities to implement and monitor programs that ensure women and youth are represented in decision-making and planning. This weakness may in part be attributed to jurisdictional uncertainties. Local authorities may for example, feel inclined to let federal or provincial policy dictate how youth and women are represented in decision making, as federal policy already exists in this area (e.g. Affirmative Action). Since municipalities are essentially creatures of the provinces, they may do less to fulfil this objective than if responsibility in these matters were entirely in the local domain.

With regard to the third objective on cooperation, there is hope that Canada's Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) will contribute to more activity over the coming years on increasing the levels of cooperation, coordination and information sharing among local authorities in Canada.

CANADIAN ACTIVITIES EVOLVING THROUGH THE SUSTAINABILITY PROCESS

The lead agency representing local Canadian interests is the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM), while provincial interests are handled through the ICURR (Intergovernmental Committee on Urban and Regional Research) or through individual provincial ministries. For Example, the ICURR has produced a Resource Guide to Sustainable Development in Ontario. At the municipal level, city governments are involved in myriad programs which involve varying types of local consultation and participation. The Ottawa-Carleton Greenprint process is but one example of a strategy to incorporate the views of citizens in the shaping of local environmental policy.

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM), with support from the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and State of the Environment Reporting, has launched the Canadian Urban Research on the Environment (CURE) Project. This project is Canada's contribution to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development's (OECD) Ecological Cities Project. CURE's objective is to gather and disseminate information about Canadian municipal initiatives to improve the environment and promote long-term urban sustainability in Canada and abroad. The intent is to assist Canadian municipalities to learn from the experiences of other local governments to efficiently improve and enhance their environmental policies, programs and initiatives. FCM will be gathering information from Canadian municipalities in the Fall of 1993. The information gathered from the surveys and interviews will be stored in the CURE database and the results, including lists of municipal initiatives, indicators and contacts will be made available to FCM members and other organizations in published form and on computer diskette in the Spring of 1994.

Under the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives an international local Agenda 21 project has been established to be implemented in 21 cities worldwide. Canada's contribution, which is funded by CMHC and Environment Canada, is administered by FCM. Hamilton-Wentworth has been chosen as Canada's model city for this project.

Along with the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME), FCM is developing a primer for municipalities, describing Agenda 21 and how local governments should be involved in its implementation.

The relationship among municipalities, NGOs and community-based organizations should be noted. In particular, Canada has a strong tradition of interaction between community associations and municipalities in the development of local public policy.

Several of the provincial Round Tables on Environment and Economy have supported and published material which supports the development of local Round Tables. These Round Tables, in turn may prove instrumental in helping implement sustainable development initiatives consistent with Agenda 21 objectives at the local level.

In early 1992, CMHC, CIDA, IDRC, and the UNCHS completed a worldwide state-of-the-art study on the relationship between sustainable development and human settlements in each region of the world. CIDA is on the Steering Committee, acting as a facilitator and providing financial support to the following programs: Open China Cities Project and Africa 2000 (both managed by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities); the creation of two urban-oriented Centres of Excellence at Canadian Universities; Management Development Program (Sub-Saharan Africa); and the SACDEL program (the Regional Training System for Local Urban Development and Improvement of Municipal Administration in Latin America).

CMHC has also been involved in a strategy that approaches sustainable development through the integration of social, economic, and environmental dimensions. Sustainable Development: The Urban Dimension is a CMHC strategy paper that examines the urban issues relating to sustainable development. In addition, CMHC has been developing indicators for the quality of life in municipalities.

In June of 1993, Canada announced that Vancouver would become home to Canada's first International Centre for Sustainable Cities, which will bring together Canadian specialists to contribute their expertise to help manage the rapid growth of cities worldwide. The federal government intends to provide $3.5 million in Green Plan funding for the Centre from 1993 to 1995. Teams of Canadian experts in the areas of urban management, planning, transportation, sewage and water treatment will be assembled by the Centre to work under contract to such organizations as the World Bank, the Canadian International Development Agency, the UN Development Program and the UN Centre for Human Settlements in their various programs related to urbanization.

Canada is party to all of the international organizations listed in the following section and, as such, Canada is already closely involved in meeting the requirements of the second objective of this chapter.

OTHER RELEVANT INTERNATIONAL SUSTAINABILITY-RELATED FORA

International institutional representation by Canada occurs through the following programs and agencies:

OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) Group on Urban Affairs and Development Assistance Committee

United Nations Commission for Human Settlements (Habitat)

Urban Management Program (UNDP, UNCHS, World Bank)

United Nations Development Program - LIFE (Local Initiatives for the Environment) Program

International Union of Local Authorities

International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives

International New Towns Association

Canadian International Development Agency (Management for Change, bilateral programs)

International Centre for Sustainable Cities

SUGGESTED READINGS AND INFORMATION SOURCES

British Columbia Round Table on the Environment and Economy. Guide to Establishing a Local Round Table, (Victoria, B.C.: BCRTEE, 1993).

Federation of PEI Municipalities. An Environmental Handbook for Municipal Officials of Prince Edward Island, (Charlottetown: 1988).

Garcia-Zamor (ed.). Public Participation in Development Planning and Management, (London: Westview Press, 1985).

Government of Canada. Canada's Green Plan, (Ottawa: Environment Canada, 1990).

. Canada's Green Plan and the Earth Summit, (Ottawa: Environment Canada, 1992).

. Canada's National Report: United Nations Conference on Environment and Development Brazil, June 1992, (Ottawa: Environment Canada, 1991).

International Development Research Centre. Agenda 21: Abstracts, Reviews, and Commentaries, (Theodora Carroll-Foster, ed), (Ottawa:IDRC, 1993).

. Agenda 21: Green Paths to the Future, (D. Spurgeon), (Ottawa: 1993).

. A Guide to Agenda 21: Issues, Debates, and Canadian Initiatives, (Theodora Carroll- Foster, ed), (Ottawa: IDRC, 1993).

International NGO Forum. Alternative Treaty-Making: A Process in Support of Sustainable Societies and Global Responsibility. October 1992.

Keating, Michael. Agenda for Change: A Plain Language Version of Agenda 21 and the Other Rio Agreements, (Geneva: Centre for Our Common Future, 1993).

National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy (NRTEE). Sustainable Development and the Municipality, (Ottawa: NRTEE, 1991)

Potter, Robert. Urbanization and Planning the 3rd World, (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1985).

Report on the Meeting of International Associations of Cities and Local Authorities. Rio de Janeiro, January 1992.

Roseland, Mark. Towards Sustainable Communities, (Ottawa: National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy (NRTEE), 1992).

World Commission on Environment and Development. Our Common Future, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987).

Information Sources:

Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), 1565 Carling Avenue, Suite 300, Ottawa, Ontario, K1Y 4G1, tel (613) 728-6884, fax (613) 748-5130.

Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM), 24 Clarence Street, Ottawa, Ontario, K1N 5P3, tel (613) 237-5221, fax (613) 237-2965.

International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives, Toronto City Hall, East Tower, 8th Floor, Toronto, Ontario, M5H 2N2, tel (416) 392-1462, fax (416) 392-1478.


Cite as: Projet de société: Canada and Agenda 21.Winnipeg: IISD, 1995. Online. Internet. http://iisd.ca/worldsd/canada/projet/c28.htm.

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