L’option zéro émission
Plaider pour zéro émission n'est pas une nouvelle proposition du
monde environnemental; les environnementalistes se sont objectés à
l'utilisation de produits chimiques particuliers depuis les années 60.
Il n'existe pas actuellement de réponses ou de solutions aux effets
des produites chimiques et, bien que zéro émission soit la politique la
plus sage et la plus prudente, il ne fait pas de doute que c'est une
proposition très complexe avec d'importantes conséquences et avec des
Toutefois, il se peut que nous ayons atteint le temps pour des actions
radicales parce que nous avons atteint les limites : les limites de nos
capacités scientifiques et les limites de notre tolérance au danger et
à la dégradation.
Tantramar Environmental Alliance
the past half century, we have been confronted over and over again with
complex environmental and human health problems caused by chemicals,
beginning with carcinogens, CFCs, POPs, green-house gases and now EDSs.
Many argue that it is time to acknowledge that not only are the effects of
the thousands of chemicals we have released upon the planet out of our
control, but the ability to assess the damage is equally beyond our
Perhaps it is time to change course-rather than use
enormous resources studying and mitigating damages (end-of-pipe), we could
prevent problems at source by preventing the release of a substance into
the environment in the first place. Instead of a chemical-by-chemical
approach, it may well be more efficient in the long run to use a systems
approach to chemical regulation in general, i.e. blanket regulation, which
could eventually take the form of a global zero-discharge policy for
emissions of certain or all chemicals, starting with bio-accumulative,
persistent and endocrine disrupting substances.
Advocating for zero-discharge is not a new position in the
environmental field, environmentalists have been protesting the use of
select chemicals since the 1960s, inspired by Rachel Carson's Silent
Spring in 1962. Many continue to argue that "we have already reached
our capacity for environmental insults" (Raffensperger and Tickner,
1999, p.8), and that we should not permit synthetic substances to be
discharged into the environment, thus eliminating any possibility of
Such a so-called zero-emissions policy has already been
implemented in international environmental legislation in at least three
instances, interestingly all addressing the pollution of bodies of water.
In 1978, the International Joint Commission (IJC) of the US and Canada
co-signed the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, which stated that
"the discharge of any or all persistent toxic substances be virtually
eliminated" (as quoted in EEA, 2001, p.128).
Another example protects the North Sea, calling for
continuous reduction and cessation within one generation of releases into
the North Sea of persistent, toxic and/or bioaccumulative chemicals (North
Sea Ministers Conference, 1995, on-line).
A third example of this radical environmental policy
position is the 1998 OSPAR Strategy with Regard to Hazardous Substances.
In this document, the Environment Ministers of the member counties of the
OSPAR Commission for the protection of the Marine Environment in the North
East Atlantic agreed to "prevent pollution of the maritime area by
continuously reducing discharges, emissions and losses of hazardous
substances with the ultimate aim of achieving concentrations in the
environment close to zero for man-made synthetic substances" (OSPAR
Strategy with regard to Hazardous Substances, ospar.org, 1.1). They go on
to say that they shall make every endeavor to "move towards the
target of cessation of discharges, emissions or losses of hazardous
substances by the year 2020" (OSPAR Strategy with regard to Hazardous
Substances, ospar.org, 4.1).
These are not the only voices calling for a zero-tolerance
to environmental harm: the WWF has launched its Global Toxics Initiative
in which it calls for an end to "threats to biological diversity from
toxic industrial chemicals and pesticides-especially endocrine disrupting,
bioaccumulative, or persistent chemicals-within one generation-by no later
than 2020" (WWF, 2001a, on-line). The WWF position is that
"given the immense stakes, precaution dictates swift and strong
action to eliminate the use and production of harmful chemicals" (WWF
There are no easy answers or solutions to current chemical
impacts, and while zero-emissions may be the wisest and most cautious
policy, it is without doubt a very complex proposal with tremendous
consequences and economic repercussions. However, it may be that we have
reached the time for this radical action because we have reached limits:
limits of our scientific capabilities and limits of tolerance for harm and