Environmental Law

Section 2: Legislation that Protects the Environment


In 1997, another international conference on the environment was held in Kyoto, Japan. There, world leaders discussed how they could best act on their promises at the 1992 Earth Summit to fight global warming.

Most environmentalists agree that carbon-based (greenhouse) gases β€” from factories, cars, and homes β€” accumulate in the atmosphere and keep the sun's heat from escaping. The prediction is that over the next few decades, the Earth's temperature will rise, perhaps resulting in catastrophic changes β€” like the melting of polar icecaps and the consequent flooding of low-lying countries. This is what people are referring to when they talk about global warming. Although no one knows for sure what will happen, we are already seeing weather changes that may - or may not - be related to global warming. Most scientists agree that it is better to err on the side of caution - to take steps now to prevent a possible disaster a decade or two down the road.

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Under the Kyoto Protocol -an agreement that resulted from the conference-industrialized (and rapidly industrializing) countries agreed by 2012 to bring their emissions of these greenhouse gases down to 6 percent below where they were in 1990 and to develop efficient use of energy, promote the development of cleaner energy sources, and put into effect more sustainable agricultural practices. The agreement was then taken back to the governments of the participating countries, and over the following years, those governments were expected to ratify-that is, officially agree toβ€”the Protocol. So far, almost 100 countries have done this. Canada is one of those countries, having ratified the Protocol in December, 2002. The United States has refused to ratify Kyoto, claiming that it would have too negative an effect on the country's economy.

Naturally, the United States is not the only country that has concerns about the effects of Kyoto. In Canada, Alberta has expressed serious reservations about the Protocol's effect on the oil and gas industry, and some scientists believe that the science behind the Kyoto agreement is flawed. By international agreement, the Protocol won't become legally binding until at least 44 countries, accounting for at least 55 percent of the world's greenhouse gases, have ratified it. While the 55-country mark has easily been surpassed, as yet, these countries account for only about 40 percent of the 1990 emissions. This means that the whole project may yet come to very little in the way of real improvement of the Earth's environment.

The difficulties that proponents of the Kyoto Protocol have experienced in getting countries to ratify it-and the disagreements that have erupted in countries like Canada over whether or not the Protocol is a good or bad way to approach global environmental issues-underscores the difficulties that arise whenever attempts are made to tackle those issues by means of international agreements. And yet, if serious environmental situations are not dealt with at an international level, how else can they ever be corrected?


In Section 2, you looked at some of the principal environmental legislation of both the Canadian and Alberta governments.

You should now have an idea of the sort of legislation that is in place and some of the issues that surround it. But, ask yourself the following questions:
How effective is this legislation?

  • How does it really work?

  • How much input does the public actually have in making decisions regarding the environment?

  • What actually goes on in the assessment of a proposed project?

Questions like these must still be examined, and this is what you will be doing in the next section.