Canada’s “rip it and ship it” economy ill-prepared to shift towards sustainability, report finds

By Will Young

Canada’s “rip it and ship it” economy that emphasizes extraction over of value-added processing and manufacturing has left the national lagging badly in innovation, in materials efficiency and recycling, according to an OECD report released today.

OECD’s 2017 Environmental Performance Review of Canada[1], also points to environmental regulatory oversight and enforcement deficiencies in Canada.

The report highlights that Canada remains one of the most energy-intensive and material-intense economies in the OECD, noting that:

Resources consumed per capita (measured by weight) and resources needed to generate a unit of GDP are high even compared to other resource-rich OECD economies with strong mining and construction industries. Technological and process innovation, as well as greater use of recycled materials, would help Canada improve its resource efficiency. This would also contribute to green growth objectives, including climate mitigation and growth in clean tech segments. (p. 23)

“The OECD’s observations are very revealing, and should help push Canada develop appropriate policy to shift away from primary resource extraction and its attendant destructive economic and environmental effects, and towards greater materials efficiency, recycling, and sustainability, whether through economic incentives and disincentives, or through legislation and regulation,” Ugo Lapointe, Canada Program Coordinator for MiningWatch Canada, said.

As the report notes, “Even when compared to other OECD economies with high reliance on minerals and metals, Canada displays low material productivity.”

MiningWatch points out that the urgency of this problem was recently underlined by a United Nations-backed study[2] that found that the amount of electronic waste around the world grew to a record 45 million tons in 2016, with only 20% being recycled.

Canada produces over 20 kg of e-waste per inhabitant per year, ahead of all other countries in the Americas, including the US.

There is no national legislation or strategy on the management of e-waste or of metal recycling from the construction, infrastructure and transportation sectors.

The OECD report also took aim at Canada’s poor enforcement of environmental regulations, noting:

At the same time, there is evidence of “regulatory capture” in enforcement against powerful industries. A recent report by British Columbia’s Auditor General concluded that neither the Ministry of Environment nor the Ministry of Energy and Mines conducts effective compliance monitoring and enforcement in the province’s mining sector. In many cases, operators who violate the law are given repeated warnings and opportunities to return to compliance, but never face real sanctions, even for clear and dangerous violations. Furthermore, neither ministry has adequately evaluated the effectiveness of its compliance assurance efforts (B.C. Auditor General, 2016). (p. 96)

“There is currently a very limited insurance liability of up to $25 million for mine spills and accidents, and a recent UNEP report[3] found Canada had some of the highest rates of mining spills in the world.” Laponte added. “Beyond this report, we’d like to know what ability or mechanisms does the OECD have to follow up on the UNEP recommendations to protect the environment and the safety of people downstream of these large, primary mining waste facilities.”

MiningWatch called on federal, provincial, and territorial governments to take meaningful action to address the issues raised in the report.

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