How Would Net Gain Work?

Net gain should measure total, not per capita, environmental improvements, including improvements to air, water and soil quality. For example, the province's targets for reduced total emissions of nitrogen oxides of 45% by 2010 under the Anti-Smog Action Plan, and reduced total emissions of sulphur dioxide of 50% by 2010 under the Canada-Wide Acid Rain Strategy Post 2000, are both good examples of the net gain principle in action. Both are achievable, even allowing for a growing population and economy. The targets, in and of themselves, do not prescribe the specific solutions; rather, they set the quantities of pollutant reductions that industry and governments must strive to achieve. The Kyoto Protocol is another application of the net gain principle that is under intense debate in Canada and other countries. The same thinking should be applied to a range of environmental indicators for urban development and regional transportation development.

A workable concept of net gain must be fair. It must apply to both public- and private-sector developments. It must be transparent -- understandably measured or estimated, clearly articulated, and objective. For some developments, net environmental losses in the immediate area may be inevitable, but there are many opportunities for offsetting environmental improvements at local or regional scales (or even at the provincial scale). Proponents of new developments should be required to explore and implement opportunities to offset the environmental impacts of their developments to achieve the net gain target. In essence, Ontario would be continually investing in, not depleting, its natural capital, with ever-improving environmental quality as a result. Natural capital and the health of future generations would be greater, not less, than what exists today.