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Friday, June 1, 2012

Five Global Problems and How Canada Can Solve Them

Five Global Problems and How Canada Can Solve Them

Maybe it's that we're not looking at the big picture. Or maybe it would just be too overwhelming if we did, but some of the solutions currently being applied to national issues have greater, global application and relevance.

Most global problems are dealt with on a country-by-country basis. Sure, we have the Hague and Kyoto and Maastricht, but when you begin counting the meaningful international treaties, you almost run out of names before you run out of fingers.

It's too easy to view issues on a regional level and miss the fact that most problems have global implications. So too, we tend to view the solutions on a regional level without considering that a local solution may have global benefit.

Canadians have come up with creative solutions to problems that are not unique to Canada, but rather stretch well beyond our borders, and have the potential for worldwide application.

Let's look at the some of the global issues that Canadians have attempted to solve on a regional level:

Fisheries Depletion

For over twenty percent of the world's people, fishing is more than a pastime � it's a means of survival. The international trade in fish and fish products exceeds $50 billion a year. With demand high and resources finite, the resultant shortfall has global implication.

According to the World Wildlife Federation, a full 50 percent of marine fisheries are fully exploited, twenty percent are over-exploited, and the rest are being harvested in an unsustainable manner. Among the major marine fish stocks, such as cod and tuna, three out of four are being fished beyond their biological limits.

To counter the shortages, many governments, including Canada, have encouraged the rapid growth of aquaculture. As a result, farmed fish now account for one-third of the world's fish production. While this has countered the sustainability concerns, other problems have developed as a result. In Canada, particularly the West Coast, fish farms generate considerable amounts of pollution and waste. The close proximity of the confined fish increases the propagation of sea lice, and escaped farmed fish spread lice and disease to wild stocks. Just last year, as the British Columbia government lifted a seven-year moratorium on new fish farms, one of Vancouver Island's most significant pink salmon runs had already collapsed, and more than three million salmon failed to return to spawning rivers.

Making the international fishing industry sustainable would require some large-scale initiatives, including massive reductions in fishing fleets, concerted effort in controlling illegal fishing and fishing practices, and strictly enforcing limits on the number of fish harvested in a given area. The fish farm industry would also need careful review to ensure that in attempting to meet demand for fish, wild stocks are no t completely wiped out in the process.

The solution, some argue, is even simpler: if fishing is banned in a given area for several years, the rebound in stock is significant, the overall catch is increased, and the industry becomes sustainable. Last fall the Economist reported a study which discovered that in some 100 areas where such bans occurred, the number of fish increased 90 percent within a few years, their size increased 30 percent, and the number of species by 20 percent. These effects, the researchers contended, seemed to spill over into adjacent areas where fishing remains permitted.

As the Canadian experience can attest, it is not as easy as all that. Quota regulation of the Atlantic cod stocks was introduced in 1973. Labeled as the Total Allowable Catch (TAC), the policy was ineffective, due to the restrictions being set too high too quickly, and partly because enforcement was not effective. In 1992, Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans took one step further, imposing a moratorium on cod fishing off the coast of Newfoundland, after scientists determined that mature cod stock had dropped by 99 percent from the numbers recorded in the 1980s. Despite these measures, cod stocks really have not seen much of a rebound.

"It is now time for us to take a different approach. Stopping the commercial cod fishery alone will not work," argues Fred Woodman, chairman of the Fisheries Resource Conservation Council, an arms length body that advises the Federal Fisheries Ministry. He recommends that the government make a long-term commitment to rebuilding the stocks, establishing community councils to make recommendations about the local fishery, and amending the moratorium to provide protection for the most vulnerable areas and allow fishing in those areas where there has been some growth.

The lessons Canada has learned from the moratorium in Newfoundland, the fish farms in the Pacific, and the Atlantic cod indus try quotas are ones that need to be shared with other nations facing similar problems.

Water Depletion

One of the less-publicized, yet globally significant, side effects of climate change is global water depletion. Many of the world's inland seas, such as the Black Sea, Aral Sea, and Lake Chad, have shrunk to a fraction of their size forty years ago. It is estimated that 1.5 billion people do not have access to adequate supplies of safe drinking water, and by 2020, up to 3 billion people could face acute water shortages.

Water scarcity is caused mainly by increased demand and pollution, and is aggravated by global warming. Water deficits also occur from the demands of irrigation and industry, which account for almost three-quarters of the world's demand for water. More than half of the water entering irrigation systems never actually make it to the crops, due to faulty irrigation equipment, leaks, or wasteful practice. Excess irrigation, on the other hand, does irreparable damage to rivers and marshes, by changing local ecosystem's patterns and by carrying chemicals, fertilizers and pesticides back into the water supply.

Water deficits have the potential to become a major global challenge. Control of water could become a major cause of international conflict, particularly where one country has the ability to restrict or control the flow of crucial waterways.

Desalination of sea water is the most logical alternative to freshwater irrigation and drinking water. The process, how ever, is still prohibitively expensive. Greater effort, however, should be put toward this initiative. Canada actively supports desalination research and has provided federal subsidies to a number of Canadian companies like Candesal, which develops affordable desalination techniques such as using the excess heat generated by power stations.

Water, labeled the new gold by some, has not quite matched its counterpart in price, supply or distribution. "What we don't value, we won't conserve," contends Ducks Unlimited, an organization committed to preserving Canada's wetlands. One of the major causes of water scarcity and damage to freshwater ecosystems, the organization contends, is the gross under-valuation of water. By failing to acknowledge its importance to survival, we may unwittingly deplete the earth's water supply.

$75 billion per year is invested in water infrastructure and management in developing countries, almost one third of this coming from Canada alone. As well, Canada has played a significant role in desalination efforts and is a key player in supporting the development of desalination units. These efforts, however, must be sustained over the long term to make any meaningful impact.

Canada, a country which possesses the greatest amount of freshwater in the world, can to use this position to raise awareness of worldwide water deficits, and the need to actively deal with the shortage.

Conflict Prevention

Ever since Lester Pearson won a Nobel Peace Prize for his role in the Suez Canal Crisis, Canada has often congratulated itself on its peacekeeping role. It is arguably more important, however, for Canada to develop a reputation for conflict prevention, and not just keeping the peace after conflict begins.

Intrastate wars have become more commonplace than wars between states. In 1999-2000, there were over fifty intrastate wars, with a death toll of over 7 million civilians. Since 1945, over 90 percent of these conflicts have taken place in developing countries, often, as in the Congo, drawing neighboring countries into the conflict.

A recent World Bank analysis of intrastate conflicts shows that they predominantly occur where rebel forces have strong financial backing. While some revolutions are based on genuine grievance, most conflicts, the study showed, are based on gaining access to valuable resources. Greed, not grievance, is the motivator. The World Bank's research show that internal conflicts are very likely in countries where income and education are very low, where an exported income such as petroleum, drugs, or diamonds can be easily captured and sold, and where one larger ethnic group dominates smaller ones.

Such conflicts can be averted by tracking the resource internationally, whether diamonds , petroleum, or drugs, making them harder to sell. Other efforts are intensifying the fight against money laundering and controlling the small-arms trade. Finally, countries should be actively encouraged to entrench the rights of minorities in their constitutions to ensure that the larger group does not dominate the smaller.

In 2000, Parliament launched the National Initiative to Combat Money Laundering to bring Canada's efforts into line with international standards. The centerpiece of the strategy was a new Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) Act requiring financial institutions to report suspicious transactions. The Act also created the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada (FINTRAC), which analyses these transaction reports and releases information to intelligence and law enforcement agencies when appropriate. This legislation serves as a successful model for countries desiring to combat money laundering and the financing of civil unrest.< /p>

In addition, Canada has been successful in promoting the interests of various cultures and entrenching minority rights in its Constitution. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms served as a roadmap in post-apartheid South Africa, and should continue to serve as a model for those countries with minority ethnic groups.

Global Investment harmonization

Many a debate has addressed the issues surrounding global trade, the role of the World Trade Organization (WTO), and the principles of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). Less attention, however, has been given to global investment harmonization.

While global trade rules such as GATT and the WTO have been most prominent in the public eye, foreign investment has been relatively unnoticed, despite growing three times faster than trade over the last couple decades. Between 1980 and 2000, foreign investment went from 4% to 12% of GDP as a worldwide average. Unlike trade, however, there are very few international investment rules, only bilateral treaties between countries.

Because the rules vary worldwide, there is very little consistency from deal to deal, thereby putting countries into inequitable bargaining positions. Developing countries that rely on trade with developed countries are at the mercy of the stronger nation, which are in a position to make tough political and economic demands, in exchange for foreign investment. The lack of international trade and investment rules make for an incredibly uneven playing field.

Dr. Sylvia Ostry agrees. "The world trading system is in dire need of reform and the reformers � if they exist � are nowhere to be seen, either in Geneva or national capitals." The University of Toronto economics professor points out that for foreign investment to be successful from both an economic and humanitarian perspective, there must be greater transparency, an emphasis on human rights and participatory democracy, and a general toward open participation in trade policy-making processes.

Canada has a strong history of foreign investment despite ideological or political differences. Canada's bold trade missions to China during the Nixon era are notable, as is Canada's long-standing trade relations with Cuba. This insistence on a fair deal unconstrained by ideology is a model that ought to be exported beyond our borders.

E-Commerce Rules

For all the parlor jokes about dot-coms, e-commerce is here to stay, and the momentum is just building. E-commerce grew from a few billion dollars in the 1990s, to $250 billion in 2001. Conservative forecasts place it above $3 trillion in the next few years.

The great advantage of e-commerce is its global reach without the limits of shelf space or warehousing. E-commerce permits greater choice and price comparison, lower transaction costs, and brings together purchasers around the world.

The great danger of e-commerce is that it will forge ahead of the world's ability to come up with at least a minimum of global rules for it, including taxation, conflicting national laws, and adjudication of disputes. Protecting consumers form cyber-crime is also important as is the greater notion of building confidence in e-commerce.

While e-commerce is still in its infancy, there is an urgency to solve this emerging global issue quickly, before the issues become insu rmountable. In this capacity also, Canada has become something of a leader.

On September 22, 1998, Parliament announced Canada's Electronic Commerce Strategy, which outlined a number of initiatives designed to establish Canada as a world leader in the adoption and use of electronic commerce. The primary goals of the plan � facilitating economic growth, maximizing social potential, and reflecting and supporting global needs � were designed to break down the digital divide between information "haves" and "have nots" based on social, linguistic, or geographical grounds.

In addition, Parliament passed the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act which has the dual purpose of providing for the protection of personal information while building consumer confidence in e-commerce. Through this legislation, Canada has encouraged the development of higher encryption and authentication of electronic documents.

These initiatives have placed Canada above the U.S. in terms of Internet users and Internet hosts. In addition, it leads the G7 nations in the share of population that uses the Internet, and in terms of connectedness and technological infrastructure, Canada ranks just slightly below the U.S. At the same time, Canada has ensured that there is enough of a regulatory framework to protect consumers and innocent internet surfers.

Canada's initiatives should provide a model for the rest of the world. It has managed to balance the competing requirements of encouraging e-commerce and Internet use, while still ensuring that consumers are protected.

The creative solutions that Canada has used to tackle regional issues are ones that can be applied on a global level. The lessons learned, whether from its failures in the fish industry or its successes in developing e-commerce, are lessons which it can and ought to export to the world.

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