Legislating Sustainability: Nova Scotia's New Law Marries Environmental Sustainability and Economic Prosperity

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The Environmental Goals and Sustainable Prosperity Act. Now there's a piece of legislation begging for an acronym. Tongue twister or not, this law certainly has Nova Scotians talking about what it means for the province.

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Countries such as Finland, Norway and New Zealand have progressive legislation that links the economy and the environment. British Columbia, Quebec and Ontario have greenhouse gas reduction plans, but Mark Parent, Nova Scotia's Minister of Environment, believes, "Nova Scotia is the first province in Canada to legislate such a broad range of environmental targets with the explicit intention of fostering sustainable economic prosperity."

Passed in April 2007, the EGSPA mandates management of the environment and the economy "for the benefit of present and future generations." It states that the long-term environmental and economic objective of the province is to "fully integrate environmental sustainability and economic prosperity." As a way of meeting this objective, the EGSPA legislates the province's commitment to its economic development strategy and defines two primary goals that test the act's guiding principle. The first goal is that Nova Scotia will have "one of the cleanest and most sustainable environments in the world by 2020," and the second is that the province's economic performance will be "equal to or above the Canadian average by 2020." Equally impressive are the act's specific targets (see "20 Sustainability Targets").

The EGSPA is the result of a convergence in thinking among a variety of government departments, business leaders, academics and the non-profit community. Parent says it is primarily founded on the ideas contained in four documents: Green Plan: Towards a Sustainable Environment (2003), the Department of Economic Development's economic development strategy, the 2004 interim report of the Premier's Advisory Council on Innovation and NovaKnowledge's 2005-2006 Report Card on the Environmental Economy. It also stems from Nova Scotia's success in reaching its year 2000 target of a 50-per-cent reduction in solid waste. The fact that meeting this target helped to solve an environmental problem and created jobs opened the eyes of some of the EGSPA's key architects to what might be possible if this approach was used on a broader scale.

One of the forces behind EGSPA, Bill Lahey, deputy minister of environment at the time the bill was written, says that one strength of the act lies in "the fact that targets are embodied in law, and progress towards them must be accounted for annually by the minister." The fact that the minister must seek advice from the 19-member Nova Scotia Round Table on Environment and Sustainable Prosperity in preparing its annual report and for a mandatory five-year public review, should increase the likelihood that targets will be met. In addition, the five-year review provides a mechanism for amendments and improvements so that, according to Lahey, "slippage can be identified and targets can be modified or reprioritized."

Another of the act's strengths is that it pulls together policy and targets that span many different government departments into a single document that is accessible to the average citizen, and provides a common framework from which solutions can be developed. Although the wording isn't as clear as it could be, the EGSPA suggests that solutions be derived from collaborations among the provincial government and stakeholders. It is not readily apparent who these stakeholders are, but Lathey suggests, "They will be the sorts of community groups, business proprietors, academics and government representatives that are already involved in developing natural resource strategies on water, forests and biodiversity for Voluntary Planning." Lahey believes that Nova Scotia may be the perfect place to test a collaborative approach to governance since the province's size means that you can almost always "put all the necessary and knowledgeable people into one small room and hammer out a solution. …