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Mobilité Montréalaise

Alexis Hudon est étudiant à McGill. Bénévole au Santrovélo, un atelier-coop de vélo, ses mains sont rarement propres l’été.

 

Intro

Montréal est-elle une ville de vélo?
Selon la blogosphère, Montréal aurait « 30 d’ans d’avance » sur le reste de l’Amérique du Nord. Le célèbre index Copenhaguenize a couronné Montréal 11e métropole au monde — et première sur le continent — pour le vélo urbain. Au grand dam du maire Coderre, Montréal est récemment tombée en 20e position, laissant les lauriers nord américains à Minneapolis. L’été, les pistes cyclables sont bondées et les vélos envahissent les clôtures comme des mauvaises herbes. Tout semble aller pour le mieux!

Qu’en est-il vraiment?

Cette question n’a pas de réponse simple. Au-delà des statistiques, il faut examiner la culture municipale (et provinciale) pour appréhender correctement le phénomène du vélo urbain.

L’état des lieux: le Québec

Un constat s’impose: la culture dominante en matière de transport, au Québec comme au Canada, est celle de la voiture. On se rappellera l’horreur de touristes danois devant l’ampleur de l’espace public sacrifié à l’automobile. C’est sans surprise que l’on conçoit plutôt le vélo comme un sport que comme un moyen de tran-sport. Cela dit, comme sport, le vélo est populaire: plus de la moitié des adultes québécois le pratiquerait, deux fois plus qu’aux États-Unis. Néanmoins seul 2% de la population l’utilise comme moyen de transport. Bien que le Québec soit à la tête du peloton nord-américain, la conclusion est claire: c’est une pratique marginale.

Montréal

À Montréal, pour le transport comme pour la mode, la marginalité est la norme.

D’emblée, le système de transport en commun montréalais est loin en avant de tous les autres de la province. Bien que la Ville de Montréal compte moins du tiers des habitants de la province, la STM y effectue 70% des déplacements de transport en commun du Québec.

Néanmoins, Montréal donne beaucoup à l’automobile. L’espace que l’on consacre au stationnement et la largeur des rues sont comparables aux autres grandes villes d’Amérique du Nord. Depuis près d’un siècle, on construit pour permettre la fluidité et la rapidité des déplacements motorisés. Or, cet objectif rend les transports actifs plus dangereux: lors d’un accident entre un piéton ou un cycliste et une voiture, les chances de survie sont huit fois plus élevées si la voiture roule à 30 km/h plutôt qu’à 50 km/h. Malgré cela, la limite de 50 km/h continue de prévaloir sur les boulevards urbains.

Le vélo progresse tout de même tranquillement. Le nouveau maire, Denis Coderre, n’est pas réputé pour son amour du vélo. Malgré cela, il s’est engagé à sauver Bixi d’une fermeture imminente, à améliorer les infrastructures de vélo d’hiver et vient d’annoncer réserver une voie pour les vélos sur St-Denis à l’heure de pointe.

Ce faisant, le maire ne bouleverse rien, il suit simplement le courant. Depuis la fin des années 90, le vélo urbain progresse année après année; de 2008 à 2013 le nombre de trajets en vélo a augmenté de plus de 50%. Dans les quartiers centraux, l’utilisation du vélo est donc comparable aux pays européens.

Sécurité

On ne peut toutefois parler de vélo en ville sans parler de sécutité.

L’an dernier, nous avons tous pleuré Mathilde Blais, morte écrasée par un camion-remorque en avril. Au cours de l’été, d’autres sont morts et ont été blessés. La communauté cycliste utilise ces événements tragiques pour attirer l’attention du public sur les problèmes de réglementation et d’aménagement à l’origine de ces accidents.

Pour Mathilde, par exemple, on a invité les médias à une cérémonie sous le viaduc où elle a été happée. On a pu montrer au public la façon dont les voies rétrécissent dans ce « tunnel de la mort », augmentant les chances d’accidents. En réponse, les élus municipaux ont rapidement décrétés qu’il serait désormais permis d’utiliser les trottoirs à vélo sous ces tunnels.

Cette stratégie médiatique a cependant l’effet pervers d’être effrayante. L’été dernier, ma grand-mère m’a demandé, inquiète, si je faisais toujours du vélo à Montréal. Elle trouvait que ça avait l’air dangereux. Combien de gens ne se mettront jamais au vélo parce qu’on leur a trop dit que c’était risqué?
La couverture médiatique des accidents ne rend toutefois pas justice aux faits. Avec 110 blessés graves et 1 759 blessés légers, le bilan de 2011 reste lourd. Ces chiffres ont toutefois diminué de 15 % par rapport à 2006, malgré l’augmentation de la pratique du vélo. Bien que le bilan réel soit plus rassurant, la sécurité perçue importe davantage que la sécurité réelle dans la décision d’enfourcher un vélo en ville. La communauté cycliste doit donc “parler des deux côtés de la bouche”: dire aux décideurs que les infrastructures actuelles sont insuffisantes et dangereuses; dire au public que le vélo est une pratique sécuritaire et saine!

Réforme du Code de la Sécurité Routière (CSR)

Le décès de Mathilde Blais et le débat qui a suivi ont poussé le nouveau ministre des Transports du Québec, Robert Poëti, à mettre en place un groupe de travail sur la réforme du Code de la Sécurité routière. Ainsi, parce que le vélo s’impose comme moyen de transport dans quelques arrondissements à Montréal, on modifie une loi provinciale!

Cette réforme est bienvenue. Comme les villes américaines, le CSR a été pensé pour les automobilistes et contient plusieurs incongruités.

Même en plein jour, il est interdit de se promener sans avoir les six réflecteurs règlementaires (art 232). Malgré les dangers de l’emportiérage, on doit circuler à l’extrême droite de la chaussée (art 487). On interdit aux automobilistes de dépasser les cyclistes sans avoir un espace suffisant (art 341), mais on ne définit pas «suffisant»: cet article n’est donc jamais appliqué. Les vélos sont plus lents et légers que les voitures, donc moins dangereux, mais on les oblige quand même à s’immobiliser complètement devant les panneaux d’arrêts (art 368).

Tous les groupes présents à la table de discussion s’entendent pour modifier ces dispositions. Même le SPVM tolère généralement qu’on les enfreigne.

Un code qui favorise le partage sécuritaire de la route fournirait une fondation solide au développement du vélo dans le reste du Québec. Difficile toutefois de dire ce qui en resortira. On parle de l’ajout d’un principe de prudence au préambule. D’augmenter les amendes pour l’emportiérage et les infractions commises à vélo.

Qui vivra verra.

 

Using the Full Mandate: Strengthening the Role of Peace and Human Rights in the UN’s Approach to Global Environmental Governance

Ken Conca is professor of international relations in the School of International Service at American University. His teaching and research focus on global environmental governance, water politics and policy, and environment, conflict and peacebuilding. He is the author/editor of several books, including Governing WaterEnvironmental PeacemakingConfronting ConsumptionThe Crisis of Global Environmental GovernanceThe State and Social Power in Global Environmental Politics, and the forthcoming An Unfinished Foundation: The United Nations and Global Environmental Governance (Oxford University Press, 2015).

UNEP, Tour Mirabeau, Paris.  Attribution: Hugo, 1 Oct 2007 |

UNEP, Tour Mirabeau, Paris | Attribution: Hugo, 1 Oct 2007, Photo Courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons.

 

Effective responses to global environmental problems require a strong role for the United Nations. For all its flaws, the UN remains the only plausible forum for engaging broadly global challenges. It is the only venue in which a sufficiently wide range of voices may be heard as we seek to forge a robust consensus on difficult environmental problems. It has been the most important catalyst for negotiating international environmental agreements among nations, and the most important focal point for disseminating new ideas and practices for better environmental stewardship. Indeed, the most important environmental accomplishments of the past forty years—the rise of global environmental awareness, the birth of key ideas such as sustainability, and negotiation of several important treaties for environmental protection—all bear the UN stamp in one way or another.

Yet, accomplishments notwithstanding, the UN record on the environment contains far too many examples of failure, inaction, and disappointment. The fabric of international environmental law, though not entirely threadbare, contains too many tears and missing strands. Progress on sustainable development has been uneven, to put it charitably. The UN Environment Programme, which exists in theory to coordinate and catalyze UN activities on the issue, has the annual budget of a small liberal arts college. The UN’s “Rio+20” environmental summit of 2012 epitomized the growing drift and political stagnation, with governments unable to agree on any of the key agenda items: the pathway to a “green economy”, institutional reform of the UN’s environmental activities, the structure of a high-level body to replace the ineffectual Commission on Sustainable Development, a governing framework to protect the world’s oceans, or the content of a new set of Sustainable Development Goals. On the eve of the meeting, most of the proposed language for the summit’s outcome document remained contested. The resulting text, titled “The Future We Want,” was a jumbled amalgam of past commitments and vague ambitions. Gro Brundtland, who three decades earlier had chaired the World Commission on Environment and Development and its path-breaking report, Our Common Future, found the product wanting: “We can no longer assume that our collective actions will not trigger tipping points, as environmental thresholds are breached, risking irreversible damage to both ecosystems and human communities. These are the facts – but they have been lost in the final document.”[ii] A prominent activist, Kumi Naidoo of Greenpeace International, put it more succinctly, tweeting “longest suicide note in history.”[iii]

The causes for this state of affairs are many: low funding levels, poor administrative coordination, lack of political will from important member-states, powerful resistance from actors who benefit from environmental degradation, global financial instability, and the sheer scope of the planet’s challenges. A less noticed but no less important problem, however, is paradigmatic: the UN has institutionalized a highly selective approach to environmental challenges—one that defines the task too narrowly, fails to connect it to key parts of the organization’s mission, and leaves unused some of the UN’s most important tools.

The UN Charter sets out powerful aspirations for the world’s nations and peoples. The charter mandates the global organization to pursue a four-part mission of international peace and security (“to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war”), human rights (“the dignity and worth of the human person”), international law (“respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law”) and development (“social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom”). When it comes to the environment, however, the UN approach engages only some of those aspirations. Virtually all of the efforts, programs and initiatives reside in two of the aforementioned mandate domains: international law, in the form of treaties codifying issue-specific environmental regimes; and development, following the Brundtland Commission’s famous definition of sustainable development that “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”[iv] The UN’s grand strategy for global environmental governance is, essentially, to seek better law between nations and better development within them.

But the Charter of the United Nations stands on four legs, not two. The UN approach has, for the most part, failed to see environmental problems as matters of peace and international security or as a core component of human rights. Thus, while the Economic and Social Council is deeply immersed in environmental matters, the Security Council almost never addresses environmental issues—and when it does, much of the discussion is spent questioning why a “development” and “legal” matter has been brought before the Council in the first place. Environmental treaties occupy significant time and attention from member-states—while the other great body of international law for which the UN is chiefly responsible, the law of human rights, has had almost nothing to say about the environment. Rio+20 was silent on whether there exists a human right to a safe and healthy environment, or on the links between human rights and sustainability, or on what a rights-based approach to building a green economy would look like. This silence came despite a terse letter from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to member-states shortly before the meeting, warning of rights-related flaws in the negotiating text and pleading that the conferees “fully integrate key human rights considerations.”[v] As with rights, so with peace: the assembled governments had nothing to say about violent conflict over natural resources, the environmental toll of war, or how to tap the peacebuilding opportunities inherent in cooperative governance of natural resources.

This failure to see our planetary challenges as matters of peace and human rights, or to use the tools of those mandate domains, has profound consequences. It prevents the UN from making progress on several of today’s thorniest environmental problems—including climate change, the loss of the world’s forests, water resources management, and the control of toxic pollution. Worse, it simultaneously undercuts efforts to achieve peace and strengthen human rights. Environmental degradation and natural resource plunder are part and parcel of a wide swath of conflict episodes and human rights abuses. Failure to see and address these problems in those terms undermines the entirety of the UN’s four-part mission.

Why pay greater attention to the peace-and-rights dimensions of environmental problems? One reason is to break the cycle of vulnerability. For far too many of the world’s peoples, environmental degradation, conflict, and economic marginalization interact to create downward spirals that repeatedly undermine human security and defeat efforts for human development. Peace is critical to breaking out of this downward spiral, because conflict undercuts efforts for sustainable development and increases the risks associated with disasters and extreme events. Conflict also undercuts a nation’s capacity to comply with its international environmental commitments and responsibilities, causing local consequences to reverberate globally. Natural resources can be a key element in sustained or recurrent episodes of violent conflict; thus, conflict-sensitive resource management is crucial to breaking the cycle.

Human rights, too, are crucial to breaking the cycle. Rights-based approaches make it possible to secure access to livelihood resources, while protecting those resources from ill-conceived schemes for economic development. A large body of evidence shows that environmental protection works best when citizens’ procedural rights have real meaning in the corridors of environmental policy, municipal planning, and economic development.[vi] Rights are also crucial to fending off dubious approaches to environmental protection, which too often seek to accomplish abstract global aims at great local expense—yielding neither effective environmental protection nor social justice. Global recognition of human rights to breathable air and drinkable water can also empower “naming and shaming” campaigns to hold governments accountable for rhetorical commitments they make in international forums.

A second reason to bring peace and human rights on board in environmental efforts is the important regulatory and accountability functions they can play. The ability of citizens to press rights-based claims is a critical tool to thwart destructive agendas that undercut the common good. This fact is well recognized in local terms, but in a globalized world economy it must also be applied to the global chains of production that snake across national borders, beyond the regulatory reach of individual nation-states. Too often, harmful activities hide in the unregulated space between national laws and global agreements, beyond the reach of either. Despite early optimism that market-based forces such as green product certification could fill the gap, it is increasingly clear that socially responsible shopping is no substitute for strong protections at the source of the problem. Without global recognition of those protections as human rights, there will always be another neighborhood—and another country—onto which the harmful effects can be externalized, exported, and dumped. Conflict is also a central element in this equation, because the lawlessness and impunity surrounding the production of “conflict resources” for global markets is an extreme, and all too common, example of the larger problem.

A third reason why environmental efforts must become more peace-centered and rights-centered is the opportunity for positive synergies. Environmental protection is well recognized as a public good, but we tend to view the nature of that good narrowly in terms of welfare gains. Designed properly, environmental cooperation can also have strong confidence-building and trust-enhancing benefits. Such initiatives, often referred to as environmental peacebuilding, afford governments with an opportunity to transcend the zero-sum mentality of scarcity around shared resources and realize powerful shared gains through more effective cooperation.[vii] More broadly, designing environmental initiatives to be more conflict-sensitive, peace-enhancing and rights-affirming can be a powerful tool in replacing the destructive downward spirals flagged earlier with upward-trending positive synergies.

A final reason to engage the full force of the UN’s four-part mandate in environmental efforts is the often-invoked concept of a “system-wide” UN response. In UN parlance, the term means mobilizing all parts of the UN system to achieve an overarching goal. The importance of doing so is widely noted in UN circles, and has become a central theme in the debate about how to overcome fragmentation and promote effective reforms.[viii] Currently, the absence of the peace-and-rights parts of the UN system from the conversation means that “system-wide” environmental efforts are limited to tepid initiatives such as the “Greening the Blue” campaign to improve the UN’s environmental footprint. Worse, the current state of affairs creates opportunities for governments to play a cynical game of venue-shifting and self-contradiction. Thus, the United States can fail to acknowledge its substantial responsibility for climate change and shed commitments it made under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)—but then laud the very same UNFCCC as the proper venue when trying to keep environmental human rights off the radar of the UN Human Rights Council. Or, China can warn the Security Council not to butt into the sensitive negotiations of the UNFCCC process, only to prove quite ready to abandon that process for a side deal with the US at the 2009 Copenhagen climate talks. Until the environment resonates across the full scope of the UN mandate, a truly system-wide response remains impossible—and this sort of ducking, dodging and venue-shifting will remain the norm across the fragmented institutional landscape.

How can the UN’s environmental efforts be transformed along the lines suggested by this argument? Doing so means making those efforts rights-based, accountability-oriented, conflict-sensitive, and peace-enhancing. There are pockets within the UN where connections between the environmental agenda, human rights, and peace and security are already being made: in the highlighting of climate change as a human rights issue by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights; in the work of the Human Rights Council’s special expert on environmental human rights; in the way small-island developing states have challenged the Security Council to see climate change as a threat to their survival; in the work UN-Women has done on the links between natural resource management and the circumstances of women in war-torn societies; and in the “environmental peacebuilding” initiatives of the UN Environment Programme and other organs. To fully tap the synergies, however, a more ambitious reform agenda is required:

  • Find an explicit human right to a safe and healthy environment. It is time for the Human Rights Council to act on this issue, which has been slowly grinding its way through the UN’s human-rights machinery since the early 1990s.
  • Acknowledge an environmental “responsibility to protect”. The UN has acknowledged that the international system has duties when a state is unable or unwilling to protect its citizens from war crimes, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing, and genocide. Environmental challenges are quite different—yet, as climate change drives rising sea levels and increases the risks from extreme weather, pressures will only intensify on the UN system to resolve the ambiguity of the legal and moral questions surrounding how to protect people from these consequences.
  • Find a legitimate–and limited–environmental role for the UN Security Council. The Council will never be (and should not be) the primary venue for environmental matters in the UN system. But the Council is woefully under-equipped to understand how climate change, water scarcity, and natural-resource conflicts are affecting its peacekeeping and other operations. And it can play an important agenda-setting function at a time when global environmental diplomacy has faltered, reminding the world that strengthened environmental cooperation is urgently needed for there to be international peace and security.
  • Exploit opportunities for environmental peacebuilding. Cooperation around shared resources and ecosystems can, if properly managed, heal wounds, build trust, create shared benefits, and perhaps even begin to forge elements of shared identity. Such initiatives are an important alternative to “securitization” of the environmental issue, which risks bringing the wrong actors to the table and reinforcing a zero-sum mentality rather than a cooperative ethos. The UN’s post-conflict recovery activities are a natural setting for such efforts, but it is crucial that they also be extended upstream to include preventive efforts—for example, strengthening the transparent, equitable, and sustainable governance of natural resources as a way to head off conflict risks.
  • Infuse the law-and-development approach with stronger peace-and-rights practice. International recognition of procedural rights to environmental information, participation in decision forums, and redress of grievances must be strengthened. Ongoing efforts to craft international environmental law, including the climate talks and various sets of negotiations around shared river basins, need a strong infusion of rights-based provisions, as well as stronger and more legitimate conflict-resolution mechanisms. The same is true of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Fostering better law between nations and better development within them is surely part of the task of global environmental governance. But using the tools of human rights and peacebuilding—thus bringing to bear the full scope of the UN mandate—is just as important.

New York - United Nations "No Guns," | Attribution: David Paul Ohmer 28 Oct 2008, Photo Courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons.

New York – United Nations “No Guns,” | Attribution: David Paul Ohmer 28 Oct 2008, Photo Courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons.


[i] This essay is excerpted from the forthcoming book An Unfinished Foundation; The United Nations and Global Environmental Governance (Oxford University Press, 2015).

[ii] Thalif Deen, “RIO+20: Promised Green Economy Was a Fake, Say Activists.” Inter Press Service News Agency, June 22, 2012. Available at http://www.ipsnews.net/2012/06/rio20-promised-green-economy-was-a-fake-say-activists/, viewed 1 December 2014.

[iii] Kumi Naidoo via @kuminaidoo, 9:06 AM, 19 Jun 2012. Available at https://twitter.com/kuminaidoo/status/215113320632561664, viewed 1 December 2014.

[iv] World Commission on Environment and Development, Our Common Future (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987).

[v] Open letter of Navanethem Pillay, High Commissioner for Human Rights, to UN member-states, 30 March 2012.

[vi] World Resources Institute, Closing the Gap: Information, Participation, and Justice in Decision-making for the Environment (Washington, DC: WRI, 2002).

[vii] Ken Conca and Geoffrey D. Dabelko, eds., Environmental Peacemaking (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press and Washington: Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 2002).

[viii] See United Nations, Delivering as One: Report of the Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on UN System-wide Coherence in the Areas of Development, Humanitarian Assistance, and the Environment, 9 November 2006.

Green Real Estate: Market Innovation Outpaces Legal Facilitation

Deborah Curran is the Hakai Professor in Environmental Law and Sustainability at the University of Victoria Faculty of Law. 

This post is adapted from a forthcoming book chapter Deborah Curran, “Green Developments: New Entanglements of Property, Planning and the Public Interest” in Anneke Smit and Marcia Valiente (eds.) Public Interest, Private Property: Law and Planning Policy in Canada (Vancouver: UBC Press, forthcoming 2015).

Macallen Building, Boston, Leed Gold Certification |  Attribution: Trevor Patt, Wikimedia Commons.

Macallen Building, Boston, Leed Gold Certification |
Attribution: Trevor Patt, Wikimedia Commons.

Buildings have long been recognized as a key sustainability issue given their prevalence, resource intensity and, in recent years, disposable nature. In the past decade the operation of buildings has come under scrutiny as a significant greenhouse gas (GHG) emitter, responsible for more than 40 percent of global energy use and emitting 33 percent of GHGs irrespective of their location in the Global North or South. In Canada, buildings account for 12 percent of emissions even though owner/managers have undertaken energy retrofits on over 40 percent of floor space since 2005, and in many cities generate more than 50 percent of total GHG emissions.

Given this ecological footprint and the already well-regulated public safety aspect of buildings in many countries, creating building standards that decrease the environmental impact of building construction, operation and demolition would appear to be a simple legal fix. However, although there have been significant improvements in building codes at the provincial and U.S. state levels, innovation in greening buildings is flowing primarily from the private sector, professional organizations and local governments. Building regulators are often lagging behind what the industry is capable of achieving for water and energy efficiency, GHG-neutral buildings, and even living buildings that have a net positive effect on resource generation.

Compared with buildings constructed to the standards established by most building codes a “green” building uses less energy and water to operate, and is built with materials that have less ecological impact or better health outcomes for occupants. Hallmarks of green buildings are superior insulation, low flow water fixtures, and energy efficient systems, appliances and fixtures that result in upwards of fifty percent reductions in water and energy use. They can also increase productivity in the workplace, and, except when meeting the highest green standard, are comparable in cost to conventional construction. Applied at a neighbourhood scale, green development can contribute to municipal-wide goals for smart growth, creating compact complete communities where access to multi-modal transportation networks and affordable housing respond to residents’ needs in all stages of life. Attached units in buildings located in a compact urban form that include shops and services located near transit are more energy efficient than single detached housing, reduce the need for single occupancy vehicles and significantly decrease GHG emissions.

Even through the downturn in the construction industry after the subprime mortgage collapse in the U.S. in 2008, the awareness of green buildings has proliferated. The most compelling evidence of the strength of this interest is the number of industry-lead registrations and certifications of green buildings. For example, the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) high performance building rating system, created by the United States Green Building Council, is used in 140 countries around the world. Since 2004, in the United States there are over 93,000 bedrooms in LEED certified buildings, with Brazil having 871, China 1961, and India 1928 registered and certified projects. In India alone there are 833 million square feet of LEED certified floor space. The 1633 LEED certified projects in Canada have reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 512,672 tonnes and saved 5.6 billion litres of water.

Following industry-lead green building innovation are programs of private organizations intended to stimulate changes in professional or building management practices. For example, Architecture 2030 is a challenge to the global architecture and building communities to embrace energy, fossil fuel and greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets of 60 percent below regional or country averages. At a building-specific level the Real Property Association of Canada is promoting a “20 by ‘15” energy target for office buildings. The goal is to reduce energy use per square foot of rentable space to 20 equivalent kilowatt hours per year by 2015. Even law schools are jumping into the action at the behest of university sustainability policies with Cornell and the University of British Columbia producing the two most recent new high performance buildings for law schools.

Finally, municipalities are solid supporters of green building as they are the direct beneficiaries of taking a demand management approach to building deconstruction and the use of municipal services such as water. Several large cities have created their own green building programs and standards, such as Toronto’s Green Standard, specific to different building types, that must be met in applications for planning approval. The City of Vancouver will be requiring all new one and two-family homes to be carbon neutral by 2030.

With this critical mass of activity and innovation in the public interest from those who generate buildings – the building industry – and those that implement building standards – local governments – one would expect comparable activity in the development of green building regulations. However, most green building achievements have been voluntary and undertaken without regulatory backup. In many areas building codes still lag behind basic green building requirements, and senior government law reform typically has not kept pace with standard green building practice. While some municipalities, as the implementing authority for building codes, would like to require all buildings to adhere to a green building standard that exceeds the current building code, state and provincial governments retain control over minimum building regulations to maintain an even playing field across all local jurisdictions. Most municipalities, except for some, like the City of Vancouver, that have augmented building jurisdiction, are prohibited from exceeding the standards established by senior government.

Take British Columbia as an example. Section 692 of the Local Government Act, RSBC 1996 c 323 provides authority for the provincial government to establish a building code with standards governing the construction, alteration, repair or demolition of buildings, and this building code applies to all regional districts and municipalities. The British Columbia Building Code Regulations BC Reg Nos 216/2006 and 264/2012 establish these standards. In addition, under sections 693.1(2) of the Local Government Act and 9 the Community Charter, S.B.C. 2003, c 26, local governments may seek additional authority to regulate buildings by bylaw if the bylaw is approved by the Minister, enacted under a regulation, or enabled by agreement between a local government and a provincial Ministry. This additional authority is contemplated in the Buildings and Other Structures Bylaws Regulation BC Reg No 86/2004, which, however, states that bylaws may not establish standards that are additional to or different from those set out in the Building Code. Therefore, except with express permission of the Minister or by agreement, local governments must adhere strictly to the provincial regulations.

In this context, the platinum rating under the LEED certification for the world-renowned Dockside Green, located in the City of Victoria, and that set a world record for high performance building, was not required by regulation. The additional effort to produce all of the heat energy needed on the site, treat all the wastewater, and remediate the soil contamination, resulting in buildings that use 65 percent less water than in a conventional building, is outside of the regulatory standards for buildings and infrastructure.

The good news is that green building innovation is largely possible under existing building code regulation. The challenge is to accelerate law reform to make green buildings the new norm for the industry that has clearly proven that high performance buildings are achievable. With all stakeholders onside, retooling state and provincial building codes to more effectively reduce the GHG emissions from resource use within buildings should be a relatively easy sustainability fix.

Wayne L. Morse United States Courthouse, Leed Gold Certification.  | Attribution: Derek Severson, Wikimedia Commons.

Wayne L. Morse United States Courthouse, Leed Gold Certification. | Attribution: Derek Severson, Wikimedia Commons.

L’anticipation constante d’un futur meilleur, syndrome d’une modernité perdue dans l’obscurité?

Bernard Bratu est un étudiant de première année à la Faculté de Droit de McGill.

À la fin de l’année 2013, suite à un échec à la conférence de Varsovie, il a été annoncé que le monde aurait à anticiper la conférence de Paris, en 2015, où un nouvel accord « universel » sur le climat serait conclu, où concrètement, le monde ferait enfin quelque chose face au réchauffement climatique et au bouleversement de vie que cela risque d’entraîner.

Quels bouleversements? On parle dans les médias de disparition du poisson dans les océans en 2050, d’une perte de 52% de la biodiversité depuis 1970, d’une augmentation du prix des aliments pouvant aller jusqu’à 84%, et d’évènements météorologiques extrêmes plus intenses et prévalents, entre autres.

Populations inquiètes, les yeux sont tournés vers cette conférence de Paris de 2015, qui se tiendra, et j’attire ici l’attention sur les dates, du 30 novembre au 11 décembre. On attend et on espère que ce sera le moment décisif où le monde pourra enfin se soulager et poursuivre tranquillement leurs activités. On veut « promouvoir une vision partagée par tous les pays » et « donner une occasion pour les peuples du monde de reprendre leurs destins en main ».

Ce qu’on entretient ici comme image est un rêve, et il faut se réveiller à la réalité.

Les dirigeants de ce monde ne le changeront pas dans les douze jours de cette conférence. Ils ne l’ont pas fait à ce jour, et ils ne le feront jamais. L’expression utilisée par les politiciens le prouve. On veut que les peuples « reprennent » leurs destins en main; c’est joli, car au moins c’est l’admission qu’ils n’ont en effet aucun contrôle et aucun pouvoir.

Pendant le règne récent du Parti Québécois, on s’est montrés très gentils avec TransCanada et toutes les autres compagnies pétrolières. Pardon, je fais là un euphémisme. Je veux dire que le gouvernement québécois s’est mis à plat ventre devant tous les intérêts de l’industrie pétrolière. On rapporte que les péquistes étaient même de meilleurs partenaires que leurs prédécesseurs libéraux. Bien sûr, maintenant qu’ils ne sont plus au pouvoir, ils sont revenus à leur position initiale de la protection de l’environnement.

Cela nous montre qu’il faut autant que possible se méfier des promesses et des projets politiques de nos dirigeants. Ces bien-pensants que nous appelons politiciens ne sont que des toupies qui font volte-face aussitôt que le vent les pointe dans une autre direction. Leurs engagements ne valent rien.

Regardez le protocole de Kyoto. L’objectif était de réduire de 5% les émissions de gaz à effet de serre par rapport à 1990. Quoiqu’on en dise sur la réussite des pays signataires, la réalité est que ces émissions ont crû plus rapidement entre 2000 et 2010 qu’au cours de chacune des trois décennies précédentes.

L’évolution des émissions de GES des pays signataires du protocole de Kyoto (1990-2009) | Source : Enescot, Wikimedia Commons.

L’évolution des émissions de GES des pays signataires du protocole de Kyoto (1990-2009) | Source : Enescot, Wikimedia Commons.

Pourquoi? Eh bien, tous les pays qui ont réduit leurs émissions sont des pays où il n’y a pas un grand intérêt pétrolier. Qu’est-ce qui se passe avec les endroits où il y a vraiment un intérêt, comme aux États-Unis, en Chine, et au Canada? Le Congrès américain n’a jamais ratifié Kyoto, le Canada s’est retiré et la Chine n’en fait même pas partie, mais elle veut mettre un cap sur la croissance de ses émissions en 2030; bonne nouvelle donc, les ouvriers chinois (femmes et enfants inclus) ne s’étoufferont de plus en plus que jusqu’en 2030.

Alors, revenons-en à cette conférence de Paris. Il est peu probable qu’un accord substantiel sera accepté par tous. Même si les représentants de différents pays seront d’accord, il faudra que cet accord soit ratifié, et cela démontre la perfidie de ce spectacle qu’on nous donne plein la vue. Prenez ce fameux Congrès américain : pensez-vous que celui-ci acceptera quelque chose de la sorte quand le président vient de poser son véto sur le projet de loi Keystone qui lui a été envoyé, pipeline qui ne créerait que 50 emplois? Prenez même cette France qui veut se donner en exemple. Récemment, la maire socialiste de Paris a instauré, après un épisode particulièrement sévère de pollution, la circulation alternée partout à Paris et dans ses banlieues. La ministre, toujours socialiste, du Développement Durable a écrasé l’initiative après seulement une journée.

Cet évènement archiattendu n’est qu’une façade, un simulacre d’action pour calmer l’inquiétude des citoyens. Ce n’est pas à la classe politique déjà présente qu’il faut déléguer le pouvoir de former le droit et les lois qui pourront sauvegarder ce monde qui nous sert de crèche et de tombe. Faire cette erreur consisterait à accepter de se faire conduire au précipice par des routes semées de fleurs. Pour rappeler les paroles de Jaurès, c’est aux citoyens de se chercher et de s’affirmer, c’est de leur bouche que doit sortir le souffle de plainte et d’espérance, ce souffle immortel d’humanité qui est l’âme même de ce qu’on appelle le droit.

Le préambule de la constitution des États-Unis. | Source : Wikimedia Commons.

Le préambule de la constitution des États-Unis | Source : Wikimedia Commons.

Sport and Sustainable Development: What’s Gender Got to Do With It?

Elissa McCarron is a second-year student at the McGill Faculty of Law, and an associate editor with the JSDLP. She completed her BSc (Hons) at Mount Allison University, where she studied psychology and children’s literacy development. Her interest in the connection between sport, gender equality, and sustainable development stems from her lifelong love of playing soccer, her status as a woman, and her dependence on the world’s resources for survival.

During the year immediately following my undergraduate degree, I was lucky enough to find myself living and working in France. My job involved circulating among elementary schools in a medium-sized town just south of Bordeaux, facilitating English language activities for children aged five to twelve. Each new school I visited required that I introduce myself to the class, talk a little bit about where I was from (Canada), and what it was like to live there (cold). Naturally, I also asked the kids a lot of questions about themselves: what their names were, which colours and foods were their favourites, which sports and activities they might like. Soon enough, a marked trend emerged across these informal polls: most of the boys played rugby, while most of the girls trained in dance.

This simple and arguably benign divergence—providing wholly anecdotal evidence of how involvement in different types of sport tends to be streamed along gender lines—represents a more general and pressing issue: across the globe, women and girls face unequal opportunity to participate in sport and physical activity when compared to their male counterparts. According to this recent report by the World Health Organization, most girls do not meet minimum targets for childhood physical activity, which require at least one hour of moderate-intensity exercise most days of the week. In Canada, teenage boys are twice as likely as teenage girls to meet these international guidelines. Interestingly, an Icelandic study found that gender differences in physical activity could be fully accounted for by girls’ lower enrolment in organised sport. Researching the relationship between women’s access to sport and gender equality, broadly speaking, has also been the focus of organizations such as the Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women and Sport and Physical Activity (CAAWS).

So how does gender equality and sport relate to sustainable development? The answer, I would suggest, is two-fold.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Creative Commons | Attribution: Bernard Gagnon.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Creative Commons | Attribution: Bernard Gagnon.

First, it is necessary to make the connection between equal opportunity to participate in sport, and women’s empowerment in society more generally. Sport provides opportunities for women and girls to develop leadership skills they can transfer to other domains, such as civic engagement or professional life. It also teaches girls that their bodies do not exist simply to be seen, either as a sexual object or a manifestation of objective beauty, but as something that can do things, whether it be running, jumping, cycling, or – as a particularly distinct example – boxing, like 17-year-old Sadaf Rahimi, Afghanistan’s first female boxer to qualify for the Olympic Games.

Second, it is important to recognize the link between women’s empowerment and promoting sustainable development law and policy. According to this flagship 2014 UN World Survey on gender equality and sustainable development, “power imbalances in gender relations […] persist as a significant obstacle to women’s full and equal contribution to and opportunity to benefit from sustainable development.” Considering that in many countries, women play a central role in managing home economics and propelling the agricultural labour force, their empowerment is central to capitalizing on a unique body of knowledge, agency and capacity for collective action in areas touching on sustainable development. Women’s full participation in communal decision-making around resource productivity, ecosystem conservation, and sustainable production of food, energy, water and health systems, is critical to such collective action. Indeed, sport is just one way of empowering women and girls to overcome gender barriers, permitting their communities to better implement and fully benefit from sustainable policies and practices.

We must continue to think about the diversity of people encouraged to participate and compete in sport, and the potential impacts of this participation on the well-being, health, and sustainability of our communities. The example we set for inclusion can start at home where, for example, McGill students started a campaign to schedule a small block of women-only gym hours per week in order to encourage women who aren’t as likely to use the gym facilities to go to the fitness center and be active. Regrettably, negotiations on this initiative have been terminated by the University’s administration, but similar proposals have been received and successfully implemented elsewhere.

Ensuring equal access to sport and physical activity is a critical ingredient not only to supporting fundamental notions of human rights and equality, but is also part and parcel of what makes our society able to—forgive the sports analogy—“play the long game” of sustainable development.

Photo courtesy of Google Images Creative Commons. | Attribution: Getty Images

Photo courtesy of Google Images Creative Commons | Attribution: Getty Images.

The United Nations of Me, Myself, and I.

Nour Saadi est en 2e année de son parcours en droit à McGill. Elle occupe les postes de rédactrice associée et de rédactrice administrative adjointe au sein de la Revue. Elle a donc eu le plaisir de lire et de publier les articles écrits par nos rédacteurs et rédactrices sur le blogue de la Revue.

 

Les mesures juridiques et législatives mises en place par l’Organisation des Nations Unies croupissent sous l’intérêt superficiel des Nations pour la préservation de la paix et l’édification d’une solidarité internationale.

 

ONU, cour arrière des membres permanents du Conseil de Sécurité.

Ils sont au nombre de cinq, et ont permis l’avènement de l’Organisation des Nations Unies en 1945. Ils identifient comme principe premier de l’ONU que celle-ci soit « fondée sur l’égalité souveraine de tous ses Membres » (Charte des Nations Unies, Article 2). Or, c’est tout naturellement qu’un droit de véto soit uniquement accordé aux États-Unis, à la France, à la Russie, à la Chine et au Royaume-Uni. Ceux-ci ont donc le pouvoir exclusif de bloquer toute résolution ou décision, peu importe l’opinion de la majorité. En juin 2014, une résolution apportée par la France pour la saisine de la Cour Pénale Internationale sur les crimes commis en Syrie a été bloquée par la Russie, soutenue par la Chine. Cette résolution faisait appel au Chapitre VII de la Charte des Nations Unies portant sur les actions en cas de menaces contre la paix, de rupture de la paix, et d’actes d’agressions. Depuis le début du conflit syrien en 2011, plus de 150 000 personnes sont mortes. Il n’est pas le temps de faire des « recommandations » (article 39) ou « d’inviter les parties intéressées à se conformer aux mesures provisoires qu’il juge nécessaires ou souhaitables » (article 40). La préservation de la paix nécessite la rédaction, l’interprétation et l’application plus rigoureuse de mesures de redressements juridiques; à moins que celle-ci ne soit pas l’intérêt véritable de l’union des Nations. Il serait dans ce cas plus simple de l’affirmer ouvertement.

Avertissement de l'ONU | Source: Arend Van Dam

Avertissement de l’ONU | Source: Arend Van Dam

 

ONU, la main qui agresse.  

Plusieurs rapports indiquent qu’une hausse rapide de prostitution infantile eut lieu dans les zones où les Casques bleus sont déployés. Plusieurs officiers des Nations Unies et organisations locales et internationales qui suivent ces problématiques témoignent de ces crimes dans presque toutes les missions des Nations Unies, incluant celles en Côte d’Ivoire, en Libye, en Sierra Leone, en Haiti, au Congo ou encore au Kosovo. Selon Sarah Martin, experte ayant investigué sur la conduite des Casques bleus en Haïti et en Libye, “[i]f you don’t have a strict code of discipline, accountability and transparency in the process, then you’re going to continue to have a problem” (Sarah Martin, Refugees International). Cela fait maintenant 10 ans depuis le rapport des Nations Unies sur une «Stratégie globale visant à éliminer l’exploitation et les abus sexuels dans les opérations de maintien de la paix des Nations Unies ».

Le droit international cesserait-il d'être une simple prose pour devenir enfin une réalité ? | Soure: globecartoon.com

Le droit international cesserait-il d’être une simple prose pour devenir enfin une réalité ? | Soure: globecartoon.com

Encore aujourd’hui, les Nations Unies ne réprimandent ces crimes que par des sanctions administratives : de futiles amendes à payer ou des mises à pied. Pour ce qui est des agresseurs provenant des pays contributeurs de troupes, ceux-ci sont sauvés par l’apathie de leur État face à la situation. À titre d’exemple, Mahinda Rajapaksa, président du Sri Lanka, déclare après le rapatriement de 114 troupes sri lankaises en 2011 pour exploitation sexuelle infantile en Haïti: “I respect them profoundly and consider them as the most disciplined Forces in the world. They have not killed or raped anybody”. Rajoutons à cela que nombreuses allégations d’agressions sexuelles restent non reportées. À ce jour, aucun Casque bleu n’a été sanctionné, et aucune victime compensée.

Ces enfants ne sont pas les seuls agressés par la main qui se dit vouloir la protéger. Toute la communauté internationale l’est.

Bienvenue aux Nations Unies. C’est votre monde. Malgré tout, c’est ainsi que l’ONU se présente à nous. Pourquoi alors, ONU, ne reconnais-tu que 193 États membres, dont certains sont permis de parler plus forts que d’autres? Pourquoi alors, ONU, tes Casques bleus sont-ils des agresseurs sexuels? Pourquoi alors, ONU, parles-tu encore des droits de l’ « homme », alors que les vocables «droits humains » ou « droits de la personne » te sont tout aussi accessibles? Pourquoi, pourquoi, pourquoi.

Non, ONU, tu n’es pas « mon monde ».

Ces problèmes ne naissent pas d’hier. Ils ne cesseront pas la semaine prochaine.

ONU, je prendrais un peu de ton fardeau si je pouvais. Mais je ne me maquillerais pas pour toi. Si vraiment tu veux prétendre  être « mon monde »,

 

Chère ONU,

Arrête de recommander. Oblige.

Arrête de condamner. Punit.

 

Chère ONU,

Arrête de pointer du doigt. Frappe du poing.

Devolution and Sustainable Development in Canada’s Arctic

Kelsey Franks is a first-year law student at McGill University’s Faculty of Law, and an associate editor and manager for the McGill International Journal of Sustainable Development Law and Policy.

According to Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, “sustainable development means considering how decisions impact the social, economic and environmental long-term well-being of Aboriginal and Northern communities.”

Arguably, there is no better authority equipped to consider how decisions impact Aboriginal and Northern communities than the communities themselves. Devolution would enable these communities to exercise greater autonomy when charting their economic, social, and environmental futures.

Devolution is a process through which territories are gradually transferred control over provincial areas of jurisdiction, such as health, education, social services, housing, airports and language – and perhaps most importantly, natural resources.

Devolution has been a reality in Yukon since 2003. The Northwest Territories signed its own devolution agreement with the federal government in April 2014, gaining responsibility for managing “the land, water and natural resources of the Northwest Territories for the benefit of current and future generations.” Nunavut remains the only territory without a devolution agreement in place.

The devolution process in Nunavut was initiated through the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement (NLCA) over 20 years ago, but has since been placed on the backburner by successive federal governments –who have been reluctant to transfer responsibility for land and resource management to the territory.

However, in October 2014, Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Bernard Valcourt breathed new life into the Nunavut devolution process, stating, “We wish this [agreement] to be concluded as fast as possible.”

Evidence suggests that local governance of natural resources can produce higher sustained yields with greater accountability than if managed by distant administrators. According to this logic, the best way to limit damage caused by oil and gas resources is to place control of these resources in the hands of those who are most adversely affected by its extraction and consumption.

Disappearing sea ice near Bayot Island, Nunavut  | Photo courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons.

Disappearing sea ice near Bayot Island, Nunavut | Photo courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons.

The Inuit rely on the Arctic environment both economically and spiritually. Climate change and increased atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases are increasingly threatening their traditional way of life: Temperature are rising, weather patterns are changing, the amount of snow and extent of sea ice is decreasing, and hunting animal populations are in decline.

A successful devolution agreement would shift control over Nunavut’s vast oil and gas reserves to the territorial government, allowing the Inuit to “better control the pace of development… and maintain environmental stewardship,” in a manner that the Canadian government, given its distance from the immediate consequences of climate change, simply cannot.

The benefits of a devolution agreement for Nunavut and the Inuit are evident. As the primary manager of natural resources, the government would benefit economically from the estimated $2 trillion in oil and gas reserves and ensure that development proceeds in a sustainable manner consistent with the Inuit’s traditional way of life. This development would also encourage the federal government to invest in improving infrastructure in the region, such as road networks and a long promised deep-water port, thus creating economic opportunities for residents.

While perhaps less obvious, the Canadian government also serves to benefit from a devolution agreement with Nunavut. As others have argued, transferring control over land and marine based resources to the territorial government would demonstrate the Canadian government’s “exclusive authority over the waters of the Arctic Archipelago” – reinforcing its sovereignty claim over the disputed Northwest Passage.

Extending devolution to Nunavut will enable those most adversely affected by climate change to develop resources in an environmentally conscious manner. It will further the sustainability goals of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada while strengthening the Canadian government’s position in the North. In short, it’s an agreement from which all stakeholders can benefit.

View of Iqaluit, the capital of Nunavut, from Joamie Hill | Photo courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons.

View of Iqaluit, the capital of Nunavut, from Joamie Hill | Photo courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons.

 

Innovating Sustainability in Canada’s North

Sean is an associate editor with the JSDLP. Prior to studying law at McGill, he completed the Parliamentary Internship Programme in Ottawa, working with Members of Parliament from both government and opposition. He has a BA and MA in political science from Queen’s University.

Iqaluit | Photo courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons.

Iqaluit | Photo courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons.

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to spend a week in Iqaluit, Nunavut, through an internship program I was doing. Among the most striking things were the simple innovations Northern residents had developed to cope with survival in what must surely be among Canada’s harshest environments. These innovations could prove to be a fruitful research area for academics and practitioners alike looking for new ways to tailor laws and policies promoting sustainable development to the unique needs of different communities.

Working with organizations like FOTENN, Iqaluit has built new subdivisions according to sustainable development principles to maximize heating efficiency and reduce energy consumption. Roofs have to be painted a certain colour, and large windows have to face a certain direction. This serves to maximize the sun’s warming effects, reducing the cost of artificial heating. City streets are built in certain directions, based on prevailing wind patterns, to help prevent the cold wind from absorbing the heat from residents’ homes. More research may help elucidate how effective these innovations are, and how easily they could be adopted in other parts of the world.

But preventing overuse of artificial heating isn’t only an environmental issue for northerners. Many northern communities only receive shipments of supplies like heating oil a few times a year, when the shipping routes are navigable in the summer. Through the winter, they often have a fixed supply of resources like heating oil, and overuse becomes a question of surviving the winter.

But it isn’t just governments or regulatory agencies that are innovating sustainable practices. Nunavut’s residents, too, have been remarkably creative in combining modern technology with traditional practices to make them more sustainable.

That shipping lanes are frozen for most of the year doesn’t only affect heating oil; it also means that food sold in Iqaluit must be flown in – at a much higher cost than surface shipping. As a result, food prices are often prohibitively expensive.

Many have turned to social media to get around these challenges. The Nunavut Land Claims Agreement permits Inuit to sell or share food harvested from the land, locally known as “country food.” A number of Facebook groups have emerged in recent years that are dedicated to selling, buying and sharing country food. Similarly, activist Leesee Papatsie’s Facebook-based initiative, Feeding My Family, has been used not only to raise awareness about food security challenges in the north, but also to share knowledge and best practices for hunting and food preparation.

Inuit sharing country food |  Photo credits: nunatsiaq online.ca

Inuit sharing country food | Photo credits: nunatsiaq online.ca

By drawing on networks of social capital through social media outlets like Facebook, many of Nunavut’s residents have found ways to make traditional country food more accessible. This may allow traditional hunting practices, combined with new media tools, to become part of a sustainable solution to the food security issues facing many Northerners.

This does, however, present its own set of challenges. Some have criticized the practice of selling country food online as derogating from traditional Inuit values and practices, which place greater emphasis on sharing extra country food. Food safety regulations don’t apply to those selling country food on social media. Consequently, people who rely on these sites for their alimentary needs may not have the same legal guarantees that they would from formal food retailers. Future research may provide legal solutions for how individual hunters can use social media to sell or share food harvested from the land while simultaneously affording buyers the same safety protections and legal guarantees as food bought from more regulated vendor.

It is clear, though, that the unique challenges that must be overcome to survive in the North have spurred interesting innovations. Municipal governments are now designing new subdivisions according to principles of sustainable development, and local hunters have found ways to use social media to help make country food a more sustainable food source. Academics and practitioners researching ways to design laws and policies promoting sustainable development may find that the lessons we can learn from the innovations of Nunavut’s residents may have fruitful applications far beyond Canada’s northern territories.

“Sustainable Development” Camouflage: The Forced Resettlement of the San in Botswana

Dana Vanthof, currently a first year student at McGill’s Faculty of Law, is an associate editor with the JSDLP. She holds a M.A. in International Affairs from the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs (Carleton University) and a Bachelor of Environmental Studies from the University of Waterloo, where she majored in International Development Studies. In 2011/2012, Dana completed an 8-month internship in Botswana working with indigenous San communities on natural resource management projects. 

Botswana has become well known across the globe for its post-colonial success unknown to many African countries. The country has celebrated monumental achievements such as economic prosperity, absence of conflict, and free and fair elections; successes that have led some commentators to label the now upper-middle income nation as “an African Miracle.” However, Botswana’s impressive track record in these areas stands in stark contrast to the dismal record of social and cultural rights in the country, especially those of Botswana’s indigenous San people.

In Botswana the San, an indigenous minority and marginalized group, face extreme social, economic, and political exclusion due to widespread discrimination. Traditionally, the San have existed as nomadic hunter-gatherers but have in recent times faced incredible barriers to maintaining their traditional culture and lifestyle. Historically in Botswana, the majority of the San people have lived on their ancestral lands in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR). The CKGR was founded in 1961 as a means to protect the traditional lifestyles of the nomadic San people and to provide a refuge for approximately 5000 San in their natural environment.

Unfortunately, three major Government-imposed clearances in 1997, 2002, and 2005, have forces almost all the San out of the reserve. The forced relocation of the San to remote settlements across the country, and the inhumane means employed by the Government to ensure their removal, has resulted in a number of Court actions. Despite a landmark ruling in 2006 by Botswana’s High Court in which the San won the right to return to their ancestral lands and another successful Court of Appeal ruling in 2011 affording the San the right to access water on the Reserve, the Botswana government has continued to restrict access to the reserve. A particularly alarming aspect of the treatment of the San is that their displacement has been justified by the Government using rhetoric of nature conservation and development.

Monong, one of many San settlements located across Botswana | Photo Credits: Dana Vanthof.

Monong, one of many San settlements located across Botswana | Photo Credits: Dana Vanthof.

One central justification for removing the San from the CKGR is in the name of nature conservation. The Government has labeled the San’s hunting practices as “poaching,” viewing their way of life as “incompatible with wildlife conservation.” However, various groups have questioned this reasoning revealing centuries of sustainable coexistence between the San and the natural environment of the CKGR. Critics believe that the true motives for the relocations lie in Government sponsored diamond exploration. Despite the Government’s adamant assurance in 2003 that “there is neither any actual mining or any plan for future mining in the reserve,” in September 2014, a 4.9 billion dollar, 25-year diamond mining project was officially launched in the CKGR. After a visit to Botswana in November 2014, the UN Special Rapporteur on Cultural Rights highlighted this hypocrisy, stating the Government’s attempts to relocate the San outside the CKGR for “wildlife conservation purposes” is at complete odds with allowing mining and tourism activities within the grounds.

A second posited justification for the San’s relocation was that resettlement would better allow the Government to provide health and education services to San populations, ultimately improving their way of life. Former press secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Clifford Maribe commented that the relocations were an encouragement for the San “to move out to give themselves and their children the benefits of development.” However, the reality of resettlement has proven anything but beneficial. The majority of the San in the settlements live in extreme poverty and face extremely high levels of illiteracy, HIV/AIDS, depression and alcoholism. Without the ability to continue their traditional hunting and gathering lifestyles, the San have become almost entirely dependent on government handouts and other social welfare programs. One San man explained “The development the government offers us does not include what we are proud of.” Consequently, they have almost all but lost their traditional culture.

San women in Metismantle, creating traditional craft products as an attempted means of preserving their culture | Dana Vanthof

San women in Metismantle, creating traditional craft products as an attempted means of preserving their culture | Photo Credits: Dana Vanthof

The story of the San in Botswana highlights the complexity of the intersection of traditional cultures and values with the pressures of modern economic development. Botswana is an example of the use of “sustainable development” rhetoric as camouflage for ulterior economic and political ends. Unfortunately, the case of Botswana is not unique. Many other indigenous minorities around the world face similar challenges to cultural survival in the wake of continued economic development efforts. At the end of the day what must be weighed are the costs that accompany the many successes of modernization. For the San of Botswana and many other communities like them, the costs are unfortunately too high.

Using Wetlands for Disaster Risk Reduction

Conrad Flaczyk is a first-year student at McGill University’s Faculty of Law. 

In spite of national and international conservation agreements, wetlands all over the world have been lost or threatened. This trend has caught the attention of the international community because wetlands perform several hydrological functions critical for ecosystem preservation and human sustenance. For instance, wetlands help to maintain stream flow during dry seasons in semi-arid regions. This offers drought protection since wetlands replenish and sustain groundwater resources.

Wetlands also provide extensive flood protection. For coastal communities, strong wetland ecosystems can help to control flood risk by acting as natural barriers, buffers, and by reducing coastal erosion. Wetlands function as natural ‘sponges’, which trap surface water, rainwater and flood water, and slowly channel these waters into underlying aquifers. Wetlands typically contain surface vegetation, which works to absorb water to below the earth’s surface through its root system. For this reason, healthy wetland ecosystems can help to reduce the negative impacts of storm surge by redirecting surface water into underlying aquifers. Wetlands can also serve to distance human populations can also serve to distance human populations and development from the coastline. New Orleans provides a particularly cogent example of the potential of using wetlands as a natural buffer.

Area map of New Orleans illustrating the city’s high vulnerability to flooding         disasters |

Area map of New Orleans illustrating the city’s high vulnerability to flooding disasters | Source: Adaption to Climate Change Using Green and Blue Infrastructure, June 2010 (pdf).

The City of New Orleans faces major flood risks from three main sources: heavy rains induced by the city’s humid and subtropical climate; flooding along the Mississippi River, and hurricane storm surge from the Gulf of Mexico. The Gulf of Mexico is characterized by the frequent occurrence of hurricanes, with a major hurricane reaching the Gulf Coast every year since 1994.

The city of New Orleans is particularly vulnerable to flood risk because of its low elevation—most of the city’s land area is between 0.6 and 0.5 meters below sea level. As a result, engineered floodwalls and levees were constructed to protect the city from flood hazards. However, climate change related sea level rise threatens to only exacerbate New Orleans’ flood risk.

Hurricane Katrina served to highlight the inadequacy of New Orleans’ disaster risk reduction strategy. It had a devastating impact on the city, which was caused primarily by the failure of city’s floodwalls and levees. Some reports have called the Hurricane Katrina disaster “the worst civil engineering disaster in American history” . As a result of the flooding disaster, it is estimated that roughly 80% of the city was flooded roughly 80% of the city was flooded, resulting in 1,500 people losing their lives  and approximately 900,000 more being displaced from their homes.

In the light of the Hurricane Katrina disaster, researchers and government officials began to explore alternative techniques to reduce flooding risk in the city. Consequently, wetlands were explored for their ability to offset the potential negative impacts of storm surge from hurricanes. In New Orleans, wetlands play a crucial role in reducing the intensity of storm surge. Kazmierczak and Carter argue that wetlands help to reduce the intensity of storm surge in four main ways: first, wetlands decrease the area of “open” water, which is where wind forms waves; second, wetlands increase the friction of the water that passes over them, reducing wave velocity; third, wetlands directly absorb wave energy upon direct contact with surface vegetation; and fourth, wetlands help to absorb surface flood waters following a flood event. In fact, they estimate that every 4.3km of wetland can absorb approximately one foot of surface storm surge. For this reason, protection and restoration of wetlands can be used to reduce the risk of floods from hurricanes.

In order to benefit from the risk reduction services of wetlands, the City of New Orleans has taken initiative to reformulate its building codes. The aim of this strategy is to move away from full reliance on engineered flood protection mechanisms and instead utilize ecosystems for their ecological services.

Illustration depicting the multiple lines of defense against hurricane-induced     storm surge in Louisiana, which can be achieved using wetlands |

Illustration depicting the multiple lines of defense against hurricane-induced storm surge in Louisiana, which can be achieved using wetlands | Source: City of New Orleans Plan for the 21st Century, August 2010 (pdf).

Following the Hurricane Katrina disaster, the State of Louisiana Legislature established the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority. This authority is charged with coordinating local, state and federal agencies in Louisiana to promote the protection and restoration of wetlands. The authority’s “Master Plan” includes residential and commercial building codes along the coast of Louisiana. Restricted buildings along the coast were implemented to benefit from wetland ecology that buffers storm surge. The authority aims to combine engineered flood protection strategies with more natural, ecological systems.

The New Orleans Master Plan was finalized in January of 2010. Nevertheless, the implementation of the Master Plan encountered several challenges. First there was difficulty in raising public awareness environmental hazards. Second, raising funds for Eco-Disaster-Risk-Reduction (Eco-DDR) solutions after almost forty years of reliance on floodwalls and levees. Lastly, there were some jurisdictional issues in implementing planning and regulating build codes.

Building a strong evidence base for Eco-DRR strategies and engaging with key stakeholders from the onset of programs can adequately overcome these difficulties. Building an evidence base requires that projects are routinely evaluated in order to monitor the effectiveness of conservation programs. When coupled with public consultation, a strong evidence base can be effective in promoting Eco-DRR projects.

 

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