Great Lakes environmental policy : the ecosystem approach and an economic perspective


University of British Columbia

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Document Type



Master of Laws - LLM




This thesis is concerned with the conceptual foundations of environmental law and policy in the Great Lakes basin, the world's largest freshwater ecosystem. The Great Lakes regime is now widely recognized as one of the most advanced international environmental management regimes in existence. Over the past two decades, toxic contamination has emerged as a highly pressing ecological issue in the Great Lakes basin. In Canada and the United States, the ecosystem approach, a comprehensive and integrated approach to environmental management, has been adopted both bilaterally and domestically in the Great Lakes' complex environmental policy framework to guide the protection of ecological integrity. There has been extensive discussion of the ecosystem approach, particularly from scientific and managerial perspectives; however, the economic content of the concept has been largely neglected, despite the importance of considering all relevant perspectives in the development of law and policy. This thesis is divided into five chapters. After discussing in Chapter 1 the ecological and institutional contexts and methodological issues of the analysis, this thesis defends, in Chapter 2, the view that economic theory has relevance to issues of environmental law and policy. In addition to highlighting the main contours of welfare and environmental economic theory, a main conclusion, and an essential premise upon which the analysis proceeds, is that economics remains a useful analytical approach to environmental issues, despite some important criticisms. Subsequently, in Chapter 3, the analysis shifts to an examination of four bilateral and domestic Great Lakes instruments that form the core of Great Lakes toxic pollution policy: (i) the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement; (ii) the Great Lakes Binational Toxics Strategy; (iii) the Canada-Ontario Agreement; and (iv) the Final Water Quality Guidance for the Great Lakes System. After outlining key principles underpinning each instrument, the thesis underscores common themes running through the collective policy framework. The ecosystem approach constitutes a unifying concept in this framework. The ecosystem approach is examined from an economic perspective in Chapter 4. After identifying key elements of the ecosystem approach, this chapter highlights important parallels between fundamental welfare and environmental economic notions. One main conclusion is that economic concepts and approaches, such as environmental valuation, externalities, and self-interest, form an integral part of the ecosystem approach. Finally, Chapter 5 identifies some directions for further research. Given that, as the thesis seeks to establish, economic theory constitutes an important, albeit not sole, perspective on the ecosystem approach, a key challenge will be to facilitate interdisciplinary analysis and cooperation leading to effective operationalization of the concept.


Environmental policy -- Great Lakes region; Ecosystem management -- Great Lakes region; Water -- Pollution -- Economic aspects -- Great Lakes region; Environmental protection -- Economic aspects

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