Post-Brexit, the U.K. and Canada can fuel global sustainability

Written by Deborah de Lange, Associate Professor, Ryerson University and Philip R Walsh, Associate Professor, Entrepreneurship and Strategy, Ryerson University. Photo credit THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick. Originally published in The Conversation.

A “circular economy” is one that avoids waste and instead innovatively reuses or regenerates end products. That’s in contrast to today’s largely “linear” economy, in which products are dumped as waste after we’re finished with them — losing value and damaging our environment.

With a circular economy, new business models generate value from end products and even turn those products into services, such as the phenomenon known as car-as-a-service, which minimizes negative impacts on the environment and people. A circular model relies on renewable energy, and an emphasis on human well-being has been incorporated into the concept.

Our new research into circular economy trade is one of only two reports on the topic tying the circular economy to international trade. The report was jointly funded by the Canadian and British governments as they ponder a post-Brexit Canada/U.K. trade deal.

As 2019 dawns, we’re proposing that a worldwide circular economy could be created through international trade and trade agreements like the one that might be forged between Canada and the U.K.

Global circular economy a possibility

The main message of our research is that Canada and the U.K. could jointly start a global race to the top through a trade agreement that incorporates circular economy principles.

The two countries can move ahead on precedent-setting circular economy trade, which would harmonize regulations across nations so as to eliminate industrial and consumer waste. We could even add incentives as part of the terms of trade — for example, lowering tariffs on goods generated by a verified cross-border circular process.

CETA (the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement), Canada’s agreement with the European Union, is considered a foundation for progressive trade, according to the expert opinions incorporated into our study.

Others, however, think CETA needs a great deal of improvement. Our research offers suggestions on how CETA too could be enhanced by more circular trade provisions, although they still may not satisfy those who prefer no trade agreements at all.

The norms of free trade among nations originated with GATT (the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade), continued through the World Trade Organization (WTO), and have led to the unintended consequences of weakening environmental rules rather than strengthening them.

Standards weakened, not strengthened

Our trade agreements, in fact, have amounted to a race to the bottom and that must change. Many businesses also want to see positive initiatives incorporated into trade deals, but they’ve faced competitive pressures to lower rather than raise standards.

So let’s turn the negative side effects of our activities into an economic boon, enlarging the economic pie.

Both Canada and the U.K. are on their own paths towards greater sustainability and have Paris Agreement climate commitments to reduce greenhouse gas pollution. They can reinforce and strengthen each other’s efforts through circular economy trade — reducing, reusing and recycling in a co-ordinated fashion among businesses and consumers around the world.

We would like to see circular economy principles normalized into trade agreements. The WTO has set a goal for free trade everywhere, and we are ultimately proposing that the WTO could also get behind circular economy free trade everywhere too.

Trade integrates economies

Our study covers five areas in a potential circular economy trade agreement: Design inputs, governance, tariffs and non-tariff barriers, technology and sustainability as related to prosperity.

Thematic Linkages to Canada-UK Circular Economy Trade

We know from previous research that trade tends to integrate economies, reducing trade volatility and increasing trade volumes. Integrating economies may also tend to reduce the potential for violent conflict because the economic sacrifices become too high. Circular economy trade would lead to even tighter integration.

Through circular economy trade, firms develop even more intertwined relationships with each other, not only by selling new products and services to each other, but also by selling their waste products to each other and finding new, more efficient business models to serve each other and consumers.

Depending on firms’ expertise, they can work together through a digitized economy to deliver co-ordinated products and services to consumers. Circular economy trade can support this international digitized co-ordination based on complementary expertise. If circular economy trade increases integration, then it should further reduce trade volatility and boost trade volumes.

Consumers also need to redefine their role as part of waste reduction/reuse in a circular economy. Circular economy trade can spread these new consumer norms. For example, consumers may choose to buy or lease their appliances, their smartphones, their cars, etc., in the future, and purchase upgrade services instead of throwing old appliances and cars away.

Tesla cloud upgrades

Trade rules can support an increase in the availability of these consumer options. Some of it is already the norm in Europe.

Longer-lasting electric vehicles support sustained use, and software upgrades from the cloud are already part of Tesla’s service. As car-as-a-service spreads, utilizing electric autonomous cars, a new international auto industry is developing.

Canada and the U.K. can work together on this modern circular auto industry by co-ordinating on trade and investment. The U.K. has a strong auto industry and Canada could rebuild its own by doing business with the British industry, given the current losing game with American automakers.

A Canada-U.S. auto pact supported our auto industry, so now we need a circular version with the U.K. British automakers would work with sophisticated Canadian partners from a convenient base to supply the hungry and lucrative North American auto market.

Financial services are another area for co-ordination. Canada and the U.K. both have vital banking sectors with different strengths. By sharing their strengths, they can become even more robust and co-ordinate investments in an international circular economy while they divest of fossil fuel investments.

A recent OECD conceptual report examining global circular economy trade calls for more research on the topic. Involvement and support from the WTO would also be helpful.

Future research needs to consider how social justice can be integrated into circular economy trade —for example, by ensuring more stakeholder engagement as part of negotiations and trade agreement development.

Consultation with, and input from, citizens, industry, provincial governments and other stakeholders will all help devise workable circular trade solutions while we carefully balance national with corporate interests.

Our report emphasises the potential for a post-Brexit trade agreement between the U.K. and Canada that could promote and foster a sustainable circular economy around the world. We hope trade negotiators use the ideas to make international trade more sustainable overall.

Youth leaving state care need education support

Written by Kim Snow, Associate Professor, Ryerson University. Photo credit Shutterstock. Originally published in The Conversation.

Whose voices matter when we think about youth in the care of the state? It is essential to listen to young people themselves in order to improve outcomes.

The focus of my research has been educational attainment of youth in care, and how youth themselves are a resource for supporting the achievement of their peers. While studying existing research about the educational outcomes of young people in care, in 2006, I began a campus mentorship program through which more than 200 youth have since developed education action plans and several have completed degrees, diplomas or certifications.

This is in a context where systemic changes are necessary to alleviate many of the factors impacting the apprehension of children and youth, and to ensure in a climate of provincial cutbacks in Ontario that youth in care will be heard when they voice complaints.

It remains to be seen how Canada will fulfil promises to reduce child poverty and develop new child welfare legislation with Indigenous communities. APTN reports that Jane Philpott, Minister of Indigenous Services, said the new legislation should mark a “turning point” that will be lifesaving.

Poverty is a dominant predictor of child welfare involvement and has consequences for the healthy development of children. Safe housing, clean drinking water, nutritious food, access to recreation and opportunity for developmentally appropriate educational scaffolding are the foundational necessities for healthy child development.

In this wider social context, it is hardly surprising that child welfare research from around the world has identified that young people growing up in care have poorer educational outcomes than their community peers.

Adverse factors that disrupt their education can occur before they enter care as well as during their time in care. These can include poverty, frequent moves, inadequate mental health support, a history of maltreatment, trauma experiences, multiple caregivers and frequent school changes.

Amid these long-standing social and policy issues that need to be addressed, young people in care deserve special consideration and focused attention regarding how to meet their educational needs.

A child in continuing care

The process of becoming a child in extended society care (formerly known as a Crown ward) is often marked by repeated attempts at temporary care and reunification with the child’s family.

Ontario has one of the lowest rates of child/youth apprehension in Canada: under four per cent of cases that are investigated by aid societies result in apprehension. Eighty per cent of the young people who enter care are returned to live with their family within 36 months.

Some youth are not able to return home and are placed permanently in care, with or without access to the parent. This current discussion focuses on the educational needs of those young people who are permanently placed in the care of a children’s aid society.

Simply being in care defines the young person as having heightened vulnerability; academic moves on top of placement moves can exacerbate the vulnerability.

A school move means teacher change. It means a shift in how the student is evaluated or the scheduling of academic classes and it means a loss of young person’s peer and support network. Placement moves typically create an educational disruption for the young person that has been shown to increase the risk of poor academic performance.

One intervention that holds much promise for assisting young people in care with educational improvement is funding transportation that allows them to remain in their school. Unless there are reasons in the child’s own interest not to, staying in the same school contributes to educational stability.

A peer-led social innovation

In 2006, I decided to invite, tuition-free, a small group of young people in care to join my undergraduate course in children’s rights and to work with me to plan a summer campus exposure event.

This experience invited (then-) Crown ward youth onto campus and directly challenged the stigma associated with being in care by fostering a sense of belonging on campus. It led to a two-week summer camp, post-secondary educational exposure program that sought to enable youth to pursue their goals.

The program evolved as a partnership model with young people at the centre.

This initial group that formed The Voyager Project is now in its 13th year; the group uses a peer-to-peer mentoring approach to engage in campus exposure events, undertake knowledge mobilization efforts and engage youth in systems change.

The young people who are members of The Voyager Project represent a group who, by no fault of their own, found themselves under the permanent guardianship of the state as children. With small investments made in them, they used the opportunity to reach back to current young people in care to encourage them to pursue education.

Belonging matters for educational success

Young people in The Voyager Project studied the importance of belonging for young people in care. They identified school as a key enabler of their sense of belonging and as a place with the potential to foster opportunities to belong through art and sporting activities.

Through their conference presentations, government submissions and direct interventions, members of The Voyager Project have supported the educational aspirations of young people. They have impacted the lives of young people in the care of children’s aid societies in Toronto and across the province.

Young people in the temporary or continuing care of a society need to be provided with educational enrichment programs — to help identify learning challenges, remediate education deficits and foster a sense of connectedness.

The general public should stay informed about the well-being of young people in care and hold governments to account — to ensure that they are meeting their obligations to support young people’s well-being and educational progress.