What Green Economy? New OECD Report Finds Canada Worst of G7 on Recycling, Minerals Efficiency

(Ottawa) The OECD’s 2017 Environmental Performance Review of Canada, released today, finds Canada ill-prepared to shift its economy towards greater environmental sustainability. A continuing emphasis on a “rip it and ship it” economy that pushes extraction ahead of value-added processing and manufacturing has left Canada lagging badly in innovation, in materials efficiency and recycling. The report 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)

Recent reports have highlighted the need for more metals in building green energy capacity, without fully taking into account either the real costs of mining or the potential for materials efficiency and recycled materials to fill that need. Ugo Lapointe, Canada Program Coordinator for MiningWatch Canada, said, “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.”

As the OECD report notes, “Even when compared to other OECD economies with high reliance on minerals and metals, Canada displays low material productivity.” The urgency of this problem was recently underlined by a United Nations-backed study 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 USA, and 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)

Lapointe commented, “There is currently a very limited insurance liability of up to $25 million for mine spills and accidents, and a recent UNEP report found Canada had some of the highest rates of mining spills in the world.” He added that MiningWatch is pressing federal, provincial, and territorial governments to take meaningful action. “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.”

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