BANFF, Alberta - Environment ministers of the world's industrial powers are riding natural-gas powered buses, eating mostly organic food and getting gifts of recycled materials in weekend talks in this picturesque Rocky Mountain town.
Now they want to infuse such thinking in global development policies being formulated this year at the upcoming Group of Eight summit in nearby Kananaskis, Alberta, and the World Summit on Sustainable Development in South Africa in August.
The annual meeting of top environmental officials of the G-8 nations — the United States, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Russia, along with the European Union — won't resolve major issues such as U.S. rejection of the Kyoto Protocol that sets limits on greenhouse gas emissions.
Instead, the ministers want to devise steps to increase the importance of environmental concerns when their bosses — the G-8 heads of state — make decisions on eradicating poverty, improving global health and other aspect of sustainable development at their June summit and the U.N. gathering in Africa.
An African development plan proposed for the G-8 summit calls for helping those countries that create conditions for development and private investment, such as democratic systems, independent judiciaries and free market economies.
The idea is for poor nations in Africa, and elsewhere, to attract private investment to spur development instead of depending solely on handouts from wealthy nations.
Canadian Environment Minister David Anderson said the problem is that developing nations tend to ignore environmental concerns.
"Countries facing famine look to development as vital and some of them regard the environmental concerns as, `That's what we do later once we reach a point where everyone has enough to eat,'" he said. "That's a perfectly logical position to hold, but the dilemma is that if you don't consider environment at the beginning, you may in fact exacerbate your problems in the medium or long term."
One background paper, titled "Environment and Development," says environmental concerns usually are "a comparatively weak component" of domestic and international policies for development, finance and trade matters.
By seeking links between environmental issues and sustainable development issues, such as poverty reduction, the ministers could raise the profile and influence of environmental concerns in formulating policies, the paper suggests.
Another paper urges world leaders to emphasize the importance of the environment "as the foundation for economic growth and poverty alleviation." It also says the G-8 must demonstrate commitment to implementing international agreements, which amounts to a dig at the U.S. government's rejection of the Kyoto Protocol that is supported by the EU and most other nations.
U.S. President George W. Bush says complying with the protocol's limits on greenhouse gas emissions would harm the U.S. economy. While the issue is not on the agenda for the weekend meeting, Anderson said climate change would be discussed.
The Canadian government has yet to guarantee ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, due to economic concerns that competing U.S. industries would have an advantage from operating outside the restrictions of the agreement.
To show how one aspect of the Kyoto agreement would work, Canada announced Friday that greenhouse gas emissions created by the air and car traffic of delegates traveling to the meeting were being offset by the purchase of credits from a South African company constructing an environment-friendly housing project.
PEER Africa is spending more for passive solar power and other energy saving measures in the low-income housing it builds, with the reduced greenhouse gas emissions measured in credits available for purchase.
Canada paid 2,500 Canadian dollars (dlrs 1,800) for 500 tons of carbon dioxide credits to balance the amount of emissions generated for the meeting, Environment Canada said.
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