Canada's Long Legacy of Multilateral Sustainable Development

Andrew Grant on Canada's past contribution to provide global public goods.
By: /
June 27, 2014
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Associate Professor in the Department of Political Studies at Queen’s University

Following intense debate over Canada’s use of its own natural resources and the conduct of its mining companies abroad, the Canadian International Council is curating a project on natural resources over the next five weeks to examine Canada’s future policy environment for domestic resource extraction, energy security, and international regulatory standard-setting. The project will glean its insights from a variety of stakeholders from government, the private sector, and nongovernmental organizations in order to present a number of perspectives to better explain the challenges that we face moving forward and to delve into some of the controversial aspects of international, national, and provincial politics.

Below is the sixth response from Professor Andrew Grant of Queens University discussing Canada’s role in UNFCCC process and its impact for our local natural resource strategy.

Canada has a long legacy of seeking to promote economic develop goals around the globe via bilateral and multilateral aid programs as well as active participation in and financial contributions to intergovernmental organizations. When ‘sustainable development’ began to enter the lexicon of development agencies as a result of greater concern for the environment in the 1980s, Canada was a global leader. For instance, the 1987 Montreal Protocol sought to reduce (and later eliminate) chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) in the atmosphere. Building on the momentum of the Montreal Protocol, Canada was one of the first countries to ratify the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in December 1992. Throughout the 1990s and well into the 2000s, Canada was able to continue to exert its influence as a ‘middle power’ on the world stage in order to help provide a variety of global public goods ranging from protecting the environment to prohibiting the use of landmines to preventing the trade of conflict diamonds. While the term ‘middle power’ may not have achieved official adoption in government circles, it was an accurate description of Canada’s active role in global discussions to provide global public goods that in turn promoted human development.

In 2006, Canadian foreign policy began to exhibit a change of priorities. On the one hand, Canada’s support for the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) continued, with particular emphasis on reducing child mortality and improving maternal health (number four and five on the list, respectively). One of the key outputs promulgated during the June 2010 Group of Eight (G-8) summit meetings in Muskoka, Ontario, Canada, was the ‘Muskoka Initiative’, which generated a total commitment of $7.3 billion towards improving the overall health of women and children. On the other hand, Canada has either tempered its support for or withdrawn from other global governance initiatives (i.e., the Kyoto Protocol in December 2011). Despite its early leadership in helping to establish UNFCCC more than two decades ago, Canada’s withdrawal from the attendant Kyoto Protocol sends a clear signal that the government lacks confidence in the efficacy of the UNFCCC process. On balance, we can expect Canada to build on the good will and political capital gained from its pivotal leadership roles on conflict diamonds (e.g., via the Kimberley Process) and improving the health of women and children (e.g., via the Muskoka Initiative) to continue to lead global discussions that seek to provide global public goods that are related to development. However, as regards sustainable development and environmental issues within the UNFCCC process more specifically, it is highly unlikely that Canada will take a leadership role—at least in the near future.