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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.


Exploring the ‘Pivotal Role’ of Women’s Economic Empowerment in Ethiopia

Kathleen McFarland is a first year law student at McGill’s Faculty of Law, and an associate editor for the McGill International Journal of Sustainable Development Law and Policy. She has a Bachelor of Journalism from Carleton University. Her undergraduate degree and her love of travel inspired her interest in international human rights law. 

After a great lunch on-the-go, you hand over your card to pay. Insufficient funds. You try again. Declined. You try another card, glancing around to see if there’s anyone that you know that can help you out. You frantically empty your purse, your pockets, but there’s only a bit of change and you feel just awful, and of course embarrassed. It turns out to be a simple banking error that had cancelled all your cards; annoying but easily fixed the next day. A familiar story.

I can well imagine that feeling, that panic. In the past few years as a student, I have grown accustomed to experiencing minor panic attacks whenever I visit my bank – whether it is to pay tuition, balance my credit or simply check my debit account.

Luckily, my parents trained me to manage finances from a young age. For countless women around the world, however, such guidance is unimaginable. Worse still, there is often no opportunity for an education to spend it on anyway; in 2012, 126 million youth worldwide lacked basic reading and writing skills. Young girls accounted for over 60 percent of this number.

The problem is especially pronounced in certain areas of Africa, where issues of gender inequality are obstacles to women’s economic empowerment. Despite calls from UN agencies, NGOs and African governments for initiatives that support women in business, women remain an untapped resource for sustainable economic development. In the past 50 years, economies in Sub-Saharan Africa have seen significant legislative reform in allowing women to access and own property and resources. Nonetheless, a 2014 survey by The World Bank revealed that many restrictions remain. Over 90 percent of 143 countries surveyed have at least one legal barrier to equal economic opportunities for women. In 15 different economies, husbands can prevent their wives from accepting jobs; in 79, there are legal restraints on the types of jobs women can perform.

Perhaps that is why the 2015 Summit of the African Union, held in Addis Ababa at the end of January, chose Women’s Empowerment for this year’s theme. Women comprise 50 percent of the world’s population, 40 percent of its workforce and yet own merely 1 percent of its wealth. They also remain disproportionately affected by poverty, discrimination and exploitation, frequently working insecure and low-wage jobs, including child labour and prostitution. In Northern Africa, 55 percent of working women are in vulnerable employment and unprotected by labour legislation, compared to 32 percent of men. In sub-Saharan Africa, this number rises to 85 percent.

Luckily, high-ranking officials across the continent are taking action – especially in Ethiopia, where the AU is based. Last November, African Ministers for Gender and Women’s Affairs met with the International Labour Organization in Addis Ababa to strategize for gender equality by 2030. The resulting Addis Ababa Declaration calls on governments to bolster initiatives that give women more access and control over land, labour, finance, credit and markets.

A female coffee farmer in Ethiopia | Photo courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons.

A female coffee farmer in Ethiopia | Photo courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons.

It also encourages more female entrepreneurship, especially in agribusiness. Whether in business, on farms, or as entrepreneurs, women make important contributions to their economies. Research shows that women reinvest 90 percent of their earnings in their families and local communities. According to ITC executive director Arancha González, women invest primarily in social services such as education, nutrition, household expenditure, and caring for children and elderly people. Globally, companies with female managers turn a 34 percent higher profit; if female farmers had equal access to the same tools and credit as their male counterparts, there would be 150 million fewer hungry people in the world.

“In some places [in Africa], women are not part of the economy; they are considered to be a non-asset,” González said in September 2014, while in Rwanda to launch a database of government procurement contracts aimed at improving women’s access to business opportunities. “It’s almost like you have a plane with two engines but you only fly with one. You need to have both engines running if you want to generate the maximum amount of growth.”

This is certainly not news to Nigest Haile. In 2004, Ms. Haile founded the Center for Accelerated Women’s Economic Empowerment (CAWEE), the only NGO in Ethiopia that works specifically to support women in business. Haile serves on countless boards for women’s networks, and founded Africa’s first commercial women’s bank. She received the 2012 Pan-African Award from UN Women and the International Labour Organization, and was recognized by the U.S. Department of State for her tireless efforts to encourage women to enter and thrive in the world of business. Last October, CAWEE signed an agreement with DFATD, in which the Ethio-Canada Development Cooperation contributed $260,000 CAD to a project that trains 1,500 women and girls in trades like basketry and dyeing, and then connects them with export markets.

The joint project is owned by Ethiopia’s first lady, Roman Tesfaye, herself a strong advocate for women’s economic empowerment in Ethiopia. During her husband’s time in office, she has taken action through local and international initiatives to combat the inequality and discrimination faced by female entrepreneurs.

“[Their] reproductive role, high workload and unpaid labour, lack of decision-making in the household and subordination has kept most Ethiopian women trapped in poverty,” said Ms. Tesfaye at an ITC conference in Rwanda last September.

‘Economic empowerment of women plays a pivotal role in ensuring their right to equality and to an adequate standard of living, and it should be the prime agenda in every development discourse.’

Despite the occasional panic attack, my own economic independence has allowed me to invest in my future. Thanks to trailblazing women like Ms. Haile and Ms. Tesfaye, such opportunities may become a reality for many more women the world over.


Ms. Roman Tesfaye, second from right, in the White House with the Obamas and her husband, the Prime Minister of the Federal Republic of Ethiopia Hailemariam Desalegn | Photo Courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons, Office of the White House (Amanda Lucidon).

Ms. Roman Tesfaye, second from right, in the White House with the Obamas and her husband, the Prime Minister of the Federal Republic of Ethiopia Hailemariam Desalegn | Photo courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons, Office of the White House (Amanda Lucidon).

I Am Nigeria: Is Anybody Listening?

Allison Lee is a 1L at the McGill Faculty of Law. She is a research assistant on the Genome Canada Literature Review project and an associate editor for the McGill International Journal of Sustainable Development Law and Policy. She has a bachelor’s degree in International Development from the University of Ottawa, which spurred her interest in human rights, conflict, and international law.

The extremist attacks on satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris shocked the world last week. Meanwhile, deadly attacks in the town of Baga, Nigeria, in which up to 2,000 may have been killed have gone largely unnoticed. Even Nigeria’s President, Goodluck Jonathan, who has not been very vocal about the issues in his own country, strongly condemned the attacks in Paris. This begs the question: why did the Charlie Hebdo shootings in Paris, which killed 17 people, overshadow terrible attacks in Nigeria that left an estimated 2,000 dead?

Photo Credits: Dillspage

Photo Credits: Dillspage, Tumblr.

Far-Reaching vs. Limited Effects

Experts point to some very important indicators that explain why the Paris shootings were accorded more attention than Nigeria’s violence. According to them, the Charlie Hebdo shootings raise issues of fundamental liberties that transcend France’s borders and extend to all European countries, which is perceived as more important than just another attack in a sequence of ongoing violence that has plagued Nigeria since independence. Furthermore, the far greater western media presence in Paris as opposed to Boko Haram controlled regions meant that coverage of the shootings was easier to obtain. Finally, experts argue that the shootings in France raise serious policy issues related to security, immigration, and the War on Terror, while the events in Nigeria are conceptualized as a domestic issue of angry Nigerians who feel marginalized by corruption and poverty.

This limited view is problematic for several reasons. Not only is it characteristic of a Western, ethnocentric worldview, it also ignores the realities of the situation in Nigeria. Boko Haram is no longer just a problem for Nigeria, but also for neighbouring Cameroon and Niger, who have also endured attacks from this group. Moreover, the increasing strength of such a dangerous group will begin to raise serious policy considerations that could potentially extend past Africa and eventually affect Western countries, much like the Islamic State (IS) has.

Nigeria’s Importance to Sustainable Development

 By virtue of having both the largest economy and population in Africa, Nigeria plays a key role in the continent’s sustainable development efforts. The country is rich in renewable and non-renewable resources. The rainforest produces various food crops, while the oil-rich Niger Delta makes Nigeria one of the largest oil producers in the world.

Nigeria is also a regional leader, extensively participating in organizations such as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which aims to contribute to development efforts in Nigeria and its neighbouring countries.

Creating stability in Nigeria by countering the threat posed by Boko Haram and fostering more stable and sustainable development efforts will undoubtedly have an effect on the countries around it as they continue to become even more regionally integrated through ECOWAS.

Moving Forward

Combatting groups like Boko Haram requires a combination of short- and long-term solutions if peace and development are to be achieved. The following strategies could provide important first steps in achieving more sustainable development and neutralizing the threat Boko Haram poses to both Nigeria and the wider international community.

A key focus should be combatting corruption and fostering good governance. Empowering northern state governments to lead the charge against Boko Haram could mitigate conspiracy theories that the siege is related to the upcoming elections. The federal government could also play a role by establishing a Ministry of Northern Affairs to address grievances in the north.

These short-term goals could potentially foster greater nation building in Nigeria, which is essential for long-term sustainable development.  The sense of alienation many Nigerians feel due to underdevelopment and long-standing inequalities fuels youth to feel affinity for identities that uphold the Nigerian state as the enemy. Cultivating a Nigerian identity that allows citizens to develop a sense of community with one another and with the state could have far-reaching positive impacts on combatting terrorism, ensuring sustainable development, and improving lives.


Photo Credits: Schrankartoons, Tumblr.


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