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In Search of Sustainable Development

Introductory remarks delivered on March 14th on Panel 2: Challenges of Sustainable Development, at the Baku Process Meeting 2019, Baku, Azerbaijan, March 13-15, 2019

Stéphane Dion
Special Envoy of the Prime Minister to the European Union and Europe and
Ambassador of Canada to Germany

I would like to start off by saying that if the Government of Canada and Prime Minister Trudeau have substantially increased Canada’s efforts to improve the natural environment and to fight climate change, it is because they are aware of the seriousness of these global challenges. The world needs to find the path of sustainable development; this means a future that ensures for the generations to come, both economic development and a sustainable natural environment. In other words, nothing less than the reconciliation of human kind with planet earth.

Let me quote a report of the OECD on Canada’s environmental performance. The OECD holds the view that “the federal government elected in 2015 established ambitious environmental goals and injected new momentum.”1  It touts the government’s current Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change as “a well thought-out strategy.”2  In particular, the OECD points out that “putting in place a Canada-wide pricing, a key pillar of the framework, will be essential”3 and that “not many countries have yet made such a step.”4  The OECD sees in this environmental framework an occasion to strengthen the Canadian economy, notably to “boost demand for eco-innovations in Canada.”5

As commendable as those efforts deployed in Canada and elsewhere are, human kind needs to do even more to achieve its global sustainable goals (SDGs), which includes tackling climate change (SDG 13), reducing the severe health impacts of air pollution (SDG 3) and providing universal access to energy (SDG7) and to clean water and sanitation (SDG 6).

Sustainable water management could be the main challenge of this century. According to the United Nations, the world isnoton track to achieve its SDG global water targets by 2030.  Couple this with the fact that globally, water demand is projected to exceed sustainable supply by 40 percent, as early as 2030. The OECD estimates that by 2050, 4 billion people could be living in water scarce areas (twice more than today), and extreme flood losses could more than double in frequency. Total plastics in the oceans could outweigh fish by 2050.

We are also far off the mark in our efforts against a global collapse of biodiversity. According to the WWF, from 1970 to 2014, there has been a 60% overall decline in vertebrate population abundance.6  Another study shoes that “the pace of modern insect extinctions surpasses that of vertebrates by a large margin”.7

Neither is the world on track in achieving its climate change goals. According to the UN Environmental 2018 Emissions Gap Report, if all countries were fulfilling their current GHG reduction pledges, as set out in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) at COP 21 in Paris, it would account for only one third of the reductions needed to get on the pathway to staying below 2°C of warming.8 In fact, even if Parties meet their first NDCs and maintain a similar level of ambition beyond 2030, the UNEP report forecasts that global warming would reach 3.2°C by the end of the century. And this forecast assumes that all countries will honour their commitments, while in fact, current estimates indicate many countries are not on track to reach their current Paris pledges.9

According to the International Energy Agency, there is a major gap between the announced policies and what should be done to meet our global goals related to climate change, clean air, water needs and universal access to electricity.10 With the current announced policies, global CO2 emissions will remain on a slow upward trend until 2040.  Comparatively, the International Energy Agency scenario in line with holding global warming below 2°C (the Sustainable Development scenario) sees CO2 emissions peaking around 2020 and subsequently  entering a steep decline, to land at about half of todays’ level in 2040 and to be on course toward net-zero emissions by 2070.

Indeed, the task in front of us all is immense.  Our industrial revolution was based on fossil fuels: coal, oil and gas. Despite all our efforts, they still provide around 80% of global energy consumption and this ratio has not budged since 1990.

The share of renewable energy in global energy consumption is 10% today and should reach 22% under the International Energy Agency Sustainable Development scenario.  However, the current announced policies bring this share to a mere 15%. The share of coal in global energy must decline from 27% today to 12% in 2040; however, the current announced policies will only reduce coal to 22%. The fact is that low carbon technologies and efficiency green policies needs an additional push. With this in mind, I will take this opportunity to invite every country to join the Powering Past Coal Alliance that Canada launched with the UK.

To achieve our climate, environmental and development goals, enormous collective efforts are needed, in addition to what we already doing. This is why we should not give in to the forces of inertia and denial, but instead support the resolute forces of good will for a sustainable world for ourselves and generations to come.


1 OECD (2017), OECD Environmental Performance Reviews: Canada 2017 (Paris:  OECD Publishing,
2017), pg. 20, http://www.oecd.org/canada/oecd-environmental-performance-reviews-canada-2017-9789264279612-en.htm.

2 Ibid., 38.

3 Ibid., 22.

4 Ibid., 39.

5 Ibid., 133.

6 WWF, Living Planet Report – 2018: Aiming Higher  (Switzerland: WWF, 2018),
https://c402277.ssl.cf1.rackcdn.com/publications/1187/files/original/LPR2018_Full_Report_Spreads.pdf. See also Gerardo Ceballos, Paul Ehrlich and Rodolfo Dirzo, Biological Annihilation via the Ongoing Sixth Mass Extinction Signaled by Vertebrate Population Losses and Declines (PNAS, 2017), https://www.pnas.org/content/114/30/E6089.

7 Francisco Sánchez -Bayo and Kris A.G. Wyckhuys, “Worldwide Decline of the Entomofauna: a review of
its drivers,” Biological Conservation 232 (2019) pp. 8-27, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0006320718313636.

8 UNEP (2018), The Emissions Gap Report 2018 (Nairobi: United Nations Environment Programme),
http://wedocs.unep.org/bitstream/handle/20.500.11822/26895/EGR2018_FullReport_EN.pdf.

9 Climate Action Tracker, CAT Warming projections – global update 2018 (2019),
https://climateactiontracker.org/.

10 International Energy Agency, World Energy Outlook 2018 (OECD/IEA, 2019),
https://www.iea.org/weo2018/.

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