Economic activity generates and provides capital for the purchase of those goods and services consumers demand. Because economic activity is so important to welfare, much effort has gone into developing indicators that tell us about the health of the economy.
The information provided by such indicators can be used to manage the economy to achieve economic goals.
However, economic wealth is but one aspect of welfare; social and environmental capital are also crucial, especially in resource sectors such as agriculture. Unfortunately, common economic indicators, such as Gross Domestic Product, are largely silent on the environment and do not take changes in environmental assets and services, such as land, water and biodiversity, into account. Decision-makers who rely solely on economic indicators risk achieving short-term economic goals at the expense of environmental objectives, a form of economic development which is unsustainable over the longer-term. This “environmental information gap” has been recognized for some time, and work to address it is underway here in Canada and abroad. For example, in its February 2000 budget, the federal government allocated $9 million to support activities aimed at developing environmental indicators that would complement economic indicators. The importance of such indicators to Canada was strongly emphasized by Minister Martin, who stated in the 2000 Budget speech: “In the years ahead, these environmental indicators could well have a greater impact on public policy than any other single measure we might introduce.”
Two general criteria were used to judge the environmental performance of agriculture over the 1981-1996 period: how well agriculture conserves natural resources that support production, and how compatible agricultural systems are with natural systems and processes. With regard to resource conservation, the indicators suggest that soil management has improved overall. With regard to agriculture’s compatibility with natural systems, performance is mixed. Environmental risks have
In 1992, Canada joined with some 100 nations (now greater than 170) in signing the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity. The Canadian Biodiversity Strategy (CBS) was drafted to implement Canada’s commitment under this Protocol, and AAFC’s Biodiversity Action Plan describes a broad range of AAFC’s biodiversity-related initiatives. This plan is intended to define the Department’s strategy to work with its partners on issues related to biological diversity from an agricultural perspective. Two accompanying documents, Biodiversity Initiatives- Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and Biodiversity Initiatives- Canadian Agricultural Producers provide an overview of the broad range of biodiversity conservation initiatives in which the Department and the agricultural and agri-food sector are involved.