E-waste: Out of Sight, Out of Mind

Posted on: June 5th, 2012 by Harmony Foundation No Comments

Grand houses, luxury cars, piles of electronic waste, and a blackened river are common sights in Guiyu, a small town in Southern China, becoming infamous as a dumping ground for international e-waste. Every year about 20 to 50 million tons of e-waste is produced in the world with 70% shipped to China, and the rest sent to India or poor African countries. The e-waste includes computers, printers, cell phones, TVs, toys, and other electronics.


And it’s not only obsolete and broken equipment. Adam Minter, author of the Shanghai Scrap blog, found in April 2012 that the e-waste included defective but nearly new items from HP, Samsung, and Panasonic, as well as electronics returned for warranty repairs. In Guiyu, about 80% of families are directly involved in the business of disassembling and disposing of e-waste. Every year about 1.5 million tons of e-waste is processed in Guiyu, which contributes 90% of tax income for this small town.




Among over 150,000 employees in Guiyu’s e-waste industry, many are migrants from poorer parts of China, too desperate to care about the health risks. According to a 2008 documentary produced by 60 Minutes, “21st century toxins are being managed in a 17th century environment.” Workers use their bare hands to disassemble electric wire, plastics and circuit boards; then the unprotected workers use fire and mercuric acid baths to extract precious, mostly toxic, metals from the e-waste.



What’s the cost of our obsession with the newest electronic gadgets? The e-waste industry has seriously harmed the local environment and the health of residents. Acid residue is dumped into the local river which has turned black. Clouds of acrid smoke from burning the e-waste expose residents to polychlorinated and polybrominated dioxins, some of the most toxic compounds on earth. In fact, research has found that Guiyu has the highest level of cancer causing dioxins in the world.


Standing on the street for a short while you can smell the pungent stench in the air. Many workers have respiratory disease, skin ulcers and kidney stones. According to an article in the Chinese magazine Environment Research by Huo Xia, a professor in the Medical School of Shantou University, blood lead levels of 70.8% in children has reached the level of lead poisoning. The rate of stillborns for pregnant women in Guiyu from 2003-2007 was six times higher than other areas, and the rate of premature births was 62% higher.


Of course China bears some responsibility for this awful mess. In 2010 China, produced, 2.3 million tons of e-waste, second only to the U.S. production of 3 million tons. In addition, China ratified the Basel Convention in 1990 and has banned e-waste import ever since, but local governments turn a blind eye on the e-waste industry, grateful for tax income contribution to local towns.


But what about our responsibilities as consumers, is it fair for us to dump our waste on others?  And yet that’s exactly what we do, exploit the poor and leave them a legacy of damaged health and environments. Adding insult to injury we turn up our noses at their reckless behaviour and walk away.


The ugly truth is that the stinky e-waste export is driven by pure economics. A 2006 Seattle Times article E-waste dump of the world reported that, “an average computer yields only $1.50 to $2 worth of commodities such as shredded plastic, copper and aluminum (…) e-waste recyclers in the United States can’t cover their costs with such low yields, especially while respecting environmental regulations.” Even though charging 50 cents a pound for taking in old computers (about $20-28 per unit) would mean recycling can be done safely and profitably in the U.S., many companies still chose to ship the e-waste to Asia and Africa for better profit. Stricter environmental and safety rules drive up the cost of disposal, it’s as much as 10 times cheaper to export the waste to developing countries.


Surely this harmful practice can be stopped. In fact, in the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal was adopted to do just that. As the Basel Convention clearly states, “Recognizing the increasing desire for the prohibition of transboundary movements of hazardous wastes and their disposal in other States, especially developing countries. Parties shall prohibit or shall not permit the export of hazardous wastes and other wastes to the Parties which have prohibited the import of such wastes.”


So what’s the problem? Shamefully, as the biggest e-waste producing country, the U.S. continues to allow such criminal e-waste management through weak legislation and failure to ratify the Basel Convention. As usual Canada makes all the right gestures and does little in practice.  Canada ratified the Basel Convention in 1992 but to date has done very little to enforce it. As the CBC documentary e-waste Dumping Ground (2008) pointed out, if e-waste export were an Olympic sport, the U.S. would win the gold medal while Canada would win the silver.


Even our Ministers of the Environment failed to get the job done. In 2004, The Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment adopted 12 principles for e-product stewardship in the much ballyhooed Principles for Electronics Product Stewardship. Despite a clear commitment to only export e-waste for recycling from Canada to facilities with a documented commitment to environmentally sound management and fair labour practices, the CBC documentary clearly showed that some parts of Canada still ship e-waste to China and other countries.


So how do companies continue to export e-waste from Canada? Wikipedia reveals that the Canadian Government uses a unique interpretation of the Basel Convention to create a loophole in the regulations. As a result as much as 400,000 tons of e-waste is exported each year because it is intact not disassembled.


Our enforcement is not much more impressive. According to Seattle-based Basel Action Network, the only known enforcement success in Canada, occurred when 50 containers loaded with about 500,000 kg of e-waste destined for China and Hong Kong were caught at the Port of Vancouver in 2006. The 27 companies involved were fined less than $2,000 apiece under the Customs Act, but the company names were not revealed.


Well done Canada, we’ve opened the door to uncontrolled export of toxic e-waste and made some money in the process. If the Chinese or Ghanaians or others are stupid enough to take it, that’s their problem not ours.


So Canada, what’s our decision, out of sight, out of mind, or to take responsibility for ourselves?


If we are serious about human rights and environmental protection, we must first ban all e-waste export, and strengthen regulations for enforcement. The only exception should be highly specialized equipment going to a facility abiding by the highest international Environment, Health and Safety standards. At the same time, Canada should also urge, indeed require, producers to improve their product design for better disassembly and disposal, and press them to replace toxic flame-retardants with environmentally safe alternatives.


According to the U.S.Government Accountability Office, only $1 more in design cost per computer could save $4 for American recyclers in disassembly costs. Why let innocent people bear the cost for irresponsible consumers and profit-greedy producers? Sure companies and government must do better so must we as individuals. We need to control our eager pursuit of the latest fashion in cell phones, cameras, computers and other e-devices. Ten years ago, the average life span of a computer was six years; now it is only two years. Cell phones, cameras and TVs are no better.


If we each reduce our e-waste, make sure it is properly disposed of and choose suppliers who do the same we can help ensure our wastefulness is not destroying the environment or damaging the health of children and parents half way around the world.


If you want to explore more about e-waste, here are some links you can visit:


Important Facts You Need To Know About E-waste


The Dark Side of the Information Age

Chinese Investment in Canadian Energy and Natural Resources: Boon or Bogey Man?

Posted on: May 10th, 2012 by Harmony Foundation No Comments


Since Prime Minister Harper changed his government’s policy on China, Canada is welcoming, indeed encouraging Chinese investment. According to Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, “The stock of foreign direct investment into Canada from China reached approximately C$14 billion at the end of 2010. Chinese firms are actively investing abroad and have expressed a strong interest in investing in Canada. Sectors of interest include natural resources, renewable energy, information and communication technology, food processing, pharmaceuticals and natural medicine, and advanced manufacturing.” [1]

Are Canadians concerned, should we be concerned? According to Canadian Press-Harris Decima survey in February 2012, 51% of Canadians welcomed Chinese investment in Canada, while 71% felt badly if Chinese companies took majority control of an existing Canadian-owned operation.
Canadians do have a few concerns about China’s investment in natural resources. First of all, most of China’s investors in natural resources and energy are State Owned Enterprises (SOEs), who are considered by many as government agents, raising concerns China ‘s government will control some of the natural resources in Canada through its SOEs; second, because China lacks enough of its own resources, there is concern it will exploit Canada’s natural resources too rapidly to fuel its development needs; third, China’s investors and collaborators in Canada might bring short term contract workers from China to work in Canada.
The BHP bid on Potash exemplifies these concerns. In Aug. 2010, BHP Billiton (Australia), the largest mining company in the world, offered $38.6 billion in a takeover bid for PotashCorp in Saskatchewan, the largest Potash producer in the world. Meanwhile, China’s SOE Sinochem was looking for potential partners to mount a counter-offer. The Conference Board of Canada completed a report “Saskatchewan in the Spotlight” to help the provincial government to make their decision. This report says “BHP Billiton’s proposed takeover of PotashCorp could reduce Saskatchewan government revenues by at least $2 billion over the next 10 years”.  Under the scenario that Sinochem buys PotashCorp and adopts a “high production” approach, the possible reduction of revenue for Saskatchewan over a decade would be $5.7 billion. Eventually the bid by BHP Billiton was blocked by the Minister of Industry Tony Clement under the “net benefit to Canada” provision of Canada Investment Act on Nov. 3rd, 2010.
What’s interesting is that CBC held a poll online to solicit predictions on the BHP bid. 25.14% predicted that BHP would win the bid while only 9.85% thought China would buy PotashCorp. [2]
While the accelerated development concern seems real, the view held by many that most of China’s investment in Canada is in natural resources and energy does not match with results to date.  In fact, Asia Pacific Foundation’s research on China’s investment in Canada shows that in 2010, 44% of China’s investment in Canada was in business service, while 8.3% was in mining, dropped from 10.4% in 2008. [3]
Another concern expressed is the danger of Chinese domination. While it is true that Chinese investment in Canada has grown significantly in recent years, its overall scale compared to America and Europe is still small. In 2011, US invested $326.1 million in Canada while China’s investment was only $10.9 million.

Finally, concerns are being raised about Chinese environmental performance. In June 2010, China published “Environmental Performance Guidelines for China’s Overseas Investment,” covering environmental impact assessment, protocol protection mechanism, ecological compensation and corporate social responsibilities.
One can only conclude at this time that, whether or not China or any other foreign investor is a problem for Canada, whether control of essential industries or sectors, domination of Canadian business, undesirable influence over decisions of strategic national importance or weakening of labour, public health and environmental protection, is up to us.
We need to strongly encourage our governments to protect our interests and not compromise under pressure from business to give priority to their ambitions. Regarding China, let’s take the opportunity to help Chinese investors make responsible investment in Canada, better inform them about CSR in Canada, and where needed pressure Chinese companies to be social and environmentally responsible in Canada, at home and around the world. In this way we not only protect our own interests but also contribute, as we should, to improving conditions globally.
Major investment from China in Energy & Resource in Canada in the Past Three Years


  • Jan. 2012, PetroChina bought Athabassca Oil Sands Corporations’ remaining stake  (40%) in the Mackay River project with $1.9 billion, which made PetroChina the first Chinese company having full ownership of an oilsands project
  • Nov.2011, CNOOC acquired Opti Canada, a financially troubled Calgary company, with US$2.1 billion; in return, CNOOC gains a 35% stake in the Long Lake oil sands project.
  • Oct. 2011, Sinopec bought Daylight Energy Ltd. for $2.2 billion.
  • Aug. 2011, Jilin Jien Nickel would invest another $400 million in its nickel extraction project in Nunavik, which makes the total investment $800 million after it acquired Canadian Royalties Inc. in 2010.
  • May, 2011, Baosteel purchased Noront Resources’s 9.9% equity with $17.4 million (the percentage could raise from 9.9% to 14.15% with extra $11.7 million)
  • Apr. 2011, Jinchuan Group acquired Continental Minerals with $431 million
  • Jan. 2011, Wuhan Iron & Steel Group (WISG) and Adriana Resources (ADI) signed agreement that WISG would pay ADI $120 million for a 60% participating interesting in a joint venture in the Lac otelnuk and December Lake iron ore properties in Northern Quebec
  • Sept. 2010, XinXing Pipes Group Co. agreed to invest up to $1 billion into an iron ore mining project in Nunavut
  • Aug. 2010, CRCC-Tongguan Investment Co., a jointed-owned direct subsidiary of Tongling Nonferrous Metals Group Holdings Co., Ltd. and China Railway Construction Corporation Limited, acquired 100% of Corriente Resources, a Vancouver based copper company, with $679 million.
  •  May 2010, CIC invested $1.25 billion to a joint-fund company with Penn West Energy.
  • Apr. 2010, Sinopec paid USD$4.65 billion to Syncrude Canada Ltd. for a 9% stake in Syncrude owned by Conoco Phillip.
  • Feb.2010, PetroChina completed the acquiry of Athabasca’s 60% interest of macKay and Dover oil sands projects.
  • Dec. 2009, Yunann Chihong Zinc and Germanium Co. Ltd. and Selwyn Resources signed agreement for Chinhong to earn a 50% joint venture interest in the Selwyn project by spending $100 million on exploration and development.
  • Oct. 2009, CIC invested $500 million in convertible bonds of SouthGobi Energy Resources Ltd. to help SouthGobi accelerate its coal mining and exploration activities in Mongolia.
  • 2009, CIC invested $1.74 billion to buy 17% of Tech Resources Ltd’s equity.
  • 2009, China State Grid Corp signed a MOU with Quadra Mining Ltd. (QuadraFNX Mining Ltd.) on an investment of $1billion.
  • March 2009, Wuhan Iron and Steel Group (WISG) invested US$240 million and became the biggest shareholder of Consolidated Thomson Iron Mine Ltd. (CLM); it owns 19.9% of CLM’s share, 25% of CLM’s BloomLake project and 50% product from that project.


Are You Wearing Something Clean?

Posted on: May 7th, 2012 by Harmony Foundation No Comments


Water shortages and pollution trouble China, with two thirds of over 600 cities lacking sufficient clean water. Industrial use and wastewater discharge are major causes for water shortages and heavy pollution with the textile industry the biggest source of both.  In November 2011 Greenpeace published Dirty Laundry – Unraveling the corporate connections to toxic water pollution in China, and then in April, a group of respected environmental NGOs in China, Friends of Nature (FON), the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs (IPE), the Darwin Institute of Environment, Green Stone, and EnviroFriends, published the report Clean up for Fashion – Green Choice Textile Brand Supply Chain Pollution.


According to these reports, many textile factories are responsible for serious environmental violations in China, causing severe water pollution.


More than a few violators are suppliers for famous international textile brands and clothing retailers. To make these international companies aware of the unethical performance of their suppliers and to encourage their action to improve their supply chain’s environmental practices, the 5 environmental groups sent letters to the CEOs of 48 international companies in March 2012.


Some companies, such as Nike, Esquel, Levi’s and Burberry started to investigate suppliers and look for solutions; some replied, refusing to give any information.  Remarkably Zara replied, “We regret that we cannot respond to individual requests for information from schools, universities and professionals regarding our business model.” More chose to ignore the request for information, and by the time the Clean up for Fashion report was published, 32 companies still had not replied. To date, 23 companies have replied, while the other 25 still keep silent.


So who are these companies who fashionably damage the environment to produce our clothes? The logos shown below identify the 48 companies who received letters, including many top brands.


Why should we care, if the Chinese care about their environment let them do a better job protecting it?  The stark reality is that much of the damage is done by companies cutting corners to provide us with low cost fashion. Let’s look forward to the day… soon… When Wal-Mart changes its slogan from “Save money, live better “ to Save the environment, live better” and we quit making our consumer choices simply based on price and take into account the environmental, health, and labour practices of  the companies we support or avoid.


The 48 companies are:


Canada, China and Human Rights: Indifference, Self-Righteousness or a Truly Principled Approach

Posted on: April 10th, 2012 by Harmony Foundation No Comments

Canada is not only a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but Canadians were among its principal authors. The protection of human rights is a principle that Canadians take very seriously, one that deeply informs our world view and the way we interpret international relations.
In 2006 the Globe and Mail conducted a major survey that found that 72% of Canadians agree that promoting democracy and human rights in Asia should be a priority. Concerns include the widespread use of the death penalty, “re-education” through labour and arbitrary detention of minorities such as Tibetan, Mongolian and Uyghur people. No less important are the conditions under which people labour to make the consumer goods we buy from China. Accusations of prisoner abuse, including forced labour are bad enough, but organ-harvesting claims are so outrageous they are beyond our comprehension.
These concerns are ones that clearly weigh heavily on the Canadian public’s consciousness. The pursuit of economic and commercial interests can therefore not ignore China’s human rights record without a fundamental clash with Canadian values and public opinion.
If we Canadians are truly committed to human rights and ethical behavior aren’t we obliged to speak up at home and abroad, and work for positive change? Shouldn’t our good reputation and relations in the world compel us to play a constructive role in helping to resolve human rights violations as they occur?
Arguably yes, but, unfortunately, to speak up can also mean to be shut up.
Dealing with Chinese violations of human rights is a difficult balancing act for Canada, as the Harper Government has awkwardly discovered. In the realm of international relations and realpolitik, interests commonly come before principles and to interfere with another country’s internal affairs is often taken as provocation.
China considers human rights to be nothing more than domestic affairs, well outside the realm of acceptable external influence. For the Chinese government, Canada has absolutely no right to interfere in these areas and the Chinese leadership has no reservations about saying so.
When Stephen Harper first came to power in 2006 he took a principled, bold, and ultimately antagonizing stance with China in regards to human rights and Tibet. He made numerous strong speeches, claiming that Canada would not “sell out to the almighty dollar.” He avoided attending the opening ceremony of 2008 Beijing Olympic Games— though he claimed it was not a snub— and even publicly hosted the Dalai Lama in 2007.
After several high profile Chinese snubs, and increasing pressure from Canadian business groups, the Harper government has slowly reversed its tough stance on China.
It hasn’t been easy. In December of 2009 Harper made his first state visit to Beijing, the first prime ministerial visit since Paul Martin in 2005. This lapse was not lost on Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, whose public rebuke of Harper in front of the international press, the Globe and Mail described as an “unprecedented breach of diplomatic protocol.”
Since that time, the Harper government has worked hard to repair relations, and they have indeed improved. Canada has since been awarded “approved destination status” for Chinese tourists, some Canadian beef has been allowed back into the Chinese market, and the two nations have pledged to double bilateral trade.
Unfortunately, a part of this campaign of building back the Chinese relationship has been to roll back our focus on human rights, not a comforting development for those concerned about Canada renewing our old habit of tepidly raising concerns and then pursuing business as usual.
Our challenge is to build and maintain a healthy relationship with China without kowtowing and relinquishing our core values for the sake of a buck. Indifference is not a respectable option, and nor is cynical posturing. The relationship with China cannot be just interests or just principles. We need a maturity that acknowledges the complex reality of the situation that China is too big, too important, and too proud to be treated like a recalcitrant school-boy.
On one hand we cannot be too over bearing, lest the Chinese turn their backs and shut us out. On the other hand, we cannot be silent lest the Chinese take our acquiescence for granted, and ignore our concerns with smiling faces and deaf ears. For both our future and the world’s, we must remain engaged—acquiescence will benefit no one.
This position may be obvious and easily preached in the classroom, but in the real world it is much, much tougher. Some recent scenarios make that dramatically clear. The first is a case of three Tibetan brothers, previously honoured by China and the world for wildlife conservation, that were recently thrown in jail because they tried to stop a government official from hunting illegally in a park. They are not Canadian citizens, but their case is regarded by many international observers as a major reversal of Chinese progress that sets an unsettling precedent. How should Canada respond to this? Do we agree that it is an internal issue and stand back or do we acknowledge the greater implications, become involved even if it threatens our economic interests?
Is the situation different when a Canadian is involved? Another example: Husein Dzhelil, a Canadian citizen of Uighur descent was sentenced in 2007 to life imprisonment by the Urumqi Intermediate People’s Court for “plotting to split the country” and to 10 years in prison for joining a terrorist organization. How do we address this? He unequivocally denies the charges. Do we treat it like a one-off consular case, do we risk addressing the broader issues of minority repression? Or do we mumble some objection and then let it go after China rebuffed our enquiries?
How and when Canada addresses human rights abuses in China and elsewhere is a difficult issue. Material gain that results from ignoring human rights violations is not something Canadians support. We expect our government to behave with integrity when violations occur, even if we risk political or economic consequences. In an age of sound bites and web trolling campaigns we need to keep our wits about us and hold fast to the principles, integrity and common sense that make us the envy of the world. Unless, of course, cheap consumer goods and wealthy Chinese students and tourists are more important to us.

The Canadian-Chinese Trade Relationship

Posted on: April 10th, 2012 by Harmony Foundation No Comments

China is now world’s second largest economy. The centre of global manufacturing, China is the world’s largest importer and its second largest exporter. By all economic indicators China has risen, and with sustained double digit growth is indeed still rising.This phenomenal transformation happened as companies across the world raced to relocate production to take advantage of low wages and a potential market of 1.3 billion people, including an emerging middle class that, according to the market research firm Euromonitor, has already reached 80 million and will grow to 700 million by 2020.
China has become an increasingly important trading partner for Canada too. While still dwarfed in volume by the United States, China has become our second biggest import destination (10.9% of imports compared to the US with 51%) and our third biggest export destination (3.1%, compared to the UK with 3.36% and the US with 75%).
In the lead up to the G8 and G20 summit, Premier Hu and Prime Minister Harper pledged to further that relationship and to double bilateral trade by 2015 to $60 billion.
This projected increase may be good for Canada if we get it right. As the recent recession made painfully clear, the American greenback is not infallible and if Canada is going to maintain its economic strength in the 21st century it is going to need to diversify its trade portfolio. With its soaring economy and prospects for the future, it only makes sense that China should play an increasingly larger role in Canada’s future trade strategy.
However, the crucial point is just that: Canada’s trade with China must be managed as a part of a forward-thinking and comprehensive strategy.
At the moment, Canada’s trade relationship with China is one of great imbalance. China sells us cheap consumer goods and electronics and we, almost exclusively, sell them raw resources— agricultural produce, pulp, lumber, oil and gas, coal, minerals, metallic ore. A table of the top ten imports and exports is included at the bottom of the post.
There are several problems with this current trade relationship. First of all, it is problematic from a Canadian point of view because natural resources are inherently unstable. Some natural resources— such as those in agriculture and forestry – produce at the whims of nature. The potential for bad weather, disease, and pests can all lead to sudden unforeseen disaster. More important however, all natural resource exports are unreliable in the sense that they are commodities that lack a unique selling point. Pulp from BC is not much different than pulp from elsewhere in the world, and the same goes for Alberta’s oil, Manitoba’s canola seeds, or Saskatchewan’s potash. If there is a sudden surge of output or a change in demand anywhere in the world, Canadian prices will be affected. Subject to intense competition and the fluctuations of natural systems and the international market, Canada’s current export base is at the mercy of forces well beyond our control.
Another problem with this current relationship is that it is not forward looking. It is representative of a past age, with Canada the hinterland supplying the needs of “metropoles” elsewhere in the world. If Canada’s role in the chain of production remains unchanged, China is merely replacing the United States, and the United Kingdom before that. If Canada wants to remain a global economic player we need to be more creative and much more innovative.
At the moment there is an enormous opportunity in the world for those actively engaged in the development of low-carbon and other “green” technologies. Rising energy costs, increasing resource scarcity, and a growing awareness of the enormous risks from climate-change, offers great potential for technologies and expertise that improve efficiency and reduce our environmental footprint.
According to estimates from a 2009 report by Roland Berger Strategy Consultants Clean Economy, Living Planet clean energy technologies will be the third-largest industrial sector in the world by 2020. The water treatment industry in China alone is projected to be worth $1 trillion by 2025. The global demand for green technologies is already on the rise, and, according to a 2009 report by the Canadian Conference Board, the green tech industry has grown at about 10 per cent each year between 2002 and 2008.
While making strides towards an environmentally sound, economic base, Canada does not have to reinvent itself. Our long history with natural resources and our natural geography give us definitive advantages over other countries, notably in waste management, water treatment, and energy-efficient resource extraction technologies. Canada may also be able to develop strengths in wave and tidal power and the next generations of biofuels.
While the opportunity is there, Canada is largely missing out. From 2002 – 2008, the same time period of global growth in the industry, Canadian trade in the green-tech sector actually shrunk by 2% a year, when adjusted for inflation. Comparatively, from 2000 – 2009 Canada’s oil production increased by 85%. Considering that oil prices will increase as demand rises and supply falls, this liquidation of our energy assets is simply bad business. At the same time, neglect of low-carbon energy— undoubtedly the energy sector of the future— is simply bad long-term economic policy.
The stimulus funding of 2009 presented a great opportunity for Canada to invest in the green economy. In the midst of the recession UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called for a “Green New Deal” with investments focused on renewable green energy, green jobs and greater energy efficiency. Many of the world’s most powerful economies responded. South Korea allocated 78% of its stimulus to the green economy, and China 30%, and the US 12%. Canada spent just 8.8% – which placed us 10th in the ranking of the G20.
Furthermore, according to a recent report, nearly half of that 8.8% was slated for funding of profitable oil companies for unproven carbon capture and storage technology.
Unfortunately in the past year not much has changed. According to the same report, entitled Falling Behind: Canada’s Lost Clean Energy Jobs produced by Environmental Defense Canada and United Steel Workers, in 2009 Canada invested just $357 million on renewable energy, compared to the US which spent $27 billion. Even on a per-capita basis the US invested almost 9 times more than Canada. The report estimates that this investment gap already has cost Canada 66,000 direct and indirect jobs, not including the job opportunities lost in greener transportation and energy efficiency.

In stark contrast to the lackluster incentives given to green economic development, the Canadian government gives the oil and gas industries $2 billion a year in subsidies and tax relief, according to the Pembina Institute’s most recent estimate. This is an industry with annual revenue of $80 billion, and while profits have been down since their record highs in 2008, profits posted this quarter indicate a strong come back. In fact, following the catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico the Albertan oil sands are looking more and more appealing to US buyers and the Canadian industry’s prospects are looking brighter than ever. Subsidies of this scale for an industry that is this profitable are absolutely ridiculous.
Canada’s oil and gas industry simply does not need government support. This is a fully mature industry that is more than capable of standing on its own two feet. Not only that, but those feet are firmly planted where they stand. Unlike other industries, like automotives, there is no risk of flight with the oil patch. The resource is ours and unlike an assembly plant it is not at risk of being moved elsewhere, no matter how much the oil and gas industry blusters.
China is already on board for pursuing a more sustainable path to economic development. They have acknowledged that their current approach simply cannot be maintained. While the West polluted its way to development and managed to put off dealing with its consequences, China cannot do the same. They are already choking on their own growth, reeling from the effects of unprecedented levels of smog, desertification, water contamination, and deforestation, to say nothing of the human costs.
In a nationally televised speech, which opened the annual session of the National People’s Congress in 2007, Premier Wen Jiabao announced:
“We must make conserving energy, protecting the environment and using land efficiently the breakthrough point and main focus for changing the pattern of economic growth.”
China is showing leadership and taking the initiative to chart sustainable economic growth and development. Canada needs to reassess its economic priorities in general, but needs to re-evaluate its relationship with China in particular. China’s economy is going to drive the 21st century, and how Canada relates to that economy is going to determine our future in this new century. We can continue to be hewers of wood and haulers of water or become leaders in the research and development of the technologies and methods which the world needs to ensure a healthy, sustainable, and secure future, as do we.

On the Environment: Canada Continues to Lift Far Below our Weight in China

Posted on: April 10th, 2012 by Harmony Foundation No Comments

Incredible dramatic economic growth since the 1970s has transformed China into a dominant force in the world economy, raising the standard of living for millions of Chinese.
China’s new role as a global power presents new challenges to the ranking world powers. Western nations can no longer afford to ignore or isolate China, which is quickly becoming a pace-setter on the world stage.
However, China’s economic success has not come without a steep environmental cost. The last three decades of unabashed economic and industrial growth has wreaked catastrophic results on the environment and compelled China to seek foreign partners to chart a greener more sustainable course for the future. According to TIME magazine, China currently occupies the dubious distinction of having two of the top ten polluted cities in the world, with Linfen and Tianying occupying the top two positions on the list. The top ten polluted rivers in the world include China’s Pearl and Yellow Rivers. While only 44th in the world per capita, China is by far the world’s worst polluter nation with the highest overall annual emission of greenhouse gases (6,018 million tonnes).
Canadian companies, governments and organizations have an unprecedented opportunity to leverage their expertise and technological innovations in the environmental sector to create unique green solutions with the world’s foremost emerging economy. We not only have the opportunity to strengthen trade and commerce with China, which are commonplace today, but also long-term relationships in the vitally important and rapidly growing fields of environmental sustainability, education and social development.
However, moving forward the question remains; is Canada doing its part to help China through her environmental challenges or are we shirking our responsibilities in exchange for lucrative short-term economic profits? Does Canada have a long-term plan moving forward for its relationship with China? If so, what are our goals and interests in China besides dollars and cents and how can we show leadership on the environment and the development of more inclusive and open society?
The evidence strongly suggests not only that the Canadian relationship with China lacks a clear sense of direction, but that rhetoric about environment and human rights is a thin veneer covering overwhelmingly commercial ambitions emphasizing fossil fuels, uranium and lumber. Significant evidence of a long-term commitment towards environmentally and socially sustainable development is simply not there.
The Canadian relationship with China seems as backwards as the coal-burning plants that Canadian companies are installing in China. Rather than emphasizing investment in the economy of the future, renewable energy, value-added commodities and green solutions to tackle climate, water and other problems, the Canadian model has been strictly ‘business as usual.’ What message are we presenting to China, that Canadian companies are only driven by bottom-line economics and not the place to look for innovative solutions to the pressing environment and development issues facing China, Canada and the world? For example, Canada’s leading overseas development agency, CIDA, lists one of its objectives as “to promote environmental sustainability in China through support for Chinese efforts to manage environmental issues in western regions of China by enhancing the capacity of the country’s land resource management systems.” Laudable goals and sentiments but what’s preventing CIDA from delivering results?
As we explored in the blog article entitled “Where’s the Beef in the Canada China Relationship” there is much political pressure on CIDA to abandon China because China has the financial capability to provide for itself. We disagree because China’s development decisions will affect the world’s economy, security and environment, trends to which Canada will not be immune.
In the interest of meeting our global responsibilities we must do more not less. However, we must recognize that funding needs to be focused on sustainability initiatives that bring practical results, prosperity while protecting public health and the environmental and building social assets too.
CIDA certainly talks the talk, but how well it actually walks the walk is an entirely different story. In too many cases CIDA’s rhetoric and progress at the grassroots level simply do not match, a problem across government where much more money is spent on policy development, bureaucratic exchanges and research without practical application than spent on results- based projects which improve health, education, social justice and the environment.
For example, between 2005 and 2012 CIDA spent 13.5 million dollars on a Statistical Information Management project, “so that it can provide data relevant to the Millennium Development Goals and other international economic, environmental, and social agreements.” Do Canadian taxpayers need to spend over 13 million dollars on data collection? Another project, led by Simon Fraser University, consumed over 16 million dollars developing agricultural policy options for China. SFU doesn’t have a department of agriculture and like many other projects there isn’t clear evidence that this project generated real results for communities and peoples in China. Need another example, how about over 4.4 million dollars being spent on “Cooperation on the Management of the Environment Sustainability.” Sounds good right? Unfortunately most of the money was consumed by more policy options, study tours and talks about environmental sustainability.
Now don’t get me wrong, I respect the value of baseline research in order to collect information necessary to develop and implement practical projects, and I believe CIDA supports many valuable activities despite political pressures to increasingly fund commercial or bureaucratic initiatives.
However, looking at the list of CIDA’s funded projects the majority seem to simply study and write about policies, and never produce or even lead to results for communities and people and the environment in China. It is one thing to study and analyze problems at Canadian universities, and consulting companies but there simply is not enough funding available to waste in on projects that produce little more than work and professional credits and papers for the participants. CIDA is not the only Canadian government organization whose mission is comprised by misdirected and misplaced spending; recently NRCAN launched a project to export “clean coal” to China and India. If you have a perplexed look on your face, you are not alone; there is nothing clean about coal period. According to NRCAN, “coal’s environmental impacts are the primary challenge to overcome for this industry to continue its vital role in providing an essential service. NRCAN’s “Canada’s Clean Coal Technology Roadmap” essentially provides Canadian corporations with more opportunities to flog their dirty coal products overseas, reaffirming that it is “business as usual.”
And what about Environment Canada our lead agency for environmental protection, conservation and management, what could they be doing? Of course, we need to meet our national requirements for clean air and water, carbon reduction, but Canada cannot even meet its own goals let alone its international commitments by staying home. Our environmental report card has been inconsistent at best.
Canada still dramatically lags behind other developed nations in demonstrating a tangible commitment to the environment. A 2008 analysis by the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy in collaboration with the financial services and consulting firm Deloitte concluded that Canada currently ranks sixth among the eight major economies when it is evaluated across five key categories and 1.5 comprehensive indicators necessary for low-carbon performance. In comparison to the rest of the G8, Canada continues to fall severely behind in the creation of green energy jobs, sustainable energy investments and renewable technologies. Simply put, Canada has some serious catch up to do in the Green Race.
Although this isn’t a pitch from some naive Sinophile there is much to be admired in China’s emerging grassroots environmental effort. There should be no doubt that China’s environmental performance will greatly affect the health and well-being of Canadians too! And, of course, the environmental consequence of our voracious appetite for cheap consumer goods gives us greater responsibility.
Simply put Environment Canada should be doing more to help China protect endangered species and disappearing habitat, to conserve energy, rehabilitate its fresh water and reduce carbon and other greenhouse gases. For that to happen Canadians and our leaders a need a new type of thinking, one that looks towards the future and not back at the past, which contributes to meeting the world’s problems rather than just talking about them.