Keynote Address: Making environmental monitoring a key asset for sustainable development

Dr. Arthur Hanson, Distinguished Fellow with theInternational Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD)






Looking into the future to make major development decisions today requires credible monitoring programs and storylines that can help prevent option foreclosure and disasters, and, very importantly, can provide insight into additional or better development choices. Consistent capacity to create trusted and usable knowledge derived from the broad range of data, information and analytical tools available will define the value and standing of an independent monitoring body such as AEMERA. The organization must come to be regarded as a key asset for Alberta’s sustainable development, able to thrive no matter how controversial its findings may be perceived; and stable in the face of changing economic, social or environmental circumstances. It must be capable of bringing new environment and development concepts into its work, for example the idea of planetary boundaries; better understanding of ecological resilience and integrity, and ecological services; recognition of how climate change will affect ecological monitoring and outcomes; and, of course, how to best link various knowledge sources, including traditional knowledge, with the many sources of science-based data. Good understanding of cumulative environmental impacts and regional environmental change is utterly dependent on environmental monitoring but rarely is this done well enough or in a timely fashion. This problem will become important in defining the most significant sources of pressures and stressors, and in the geographic and ecological scale of monitoring. Good environmental monitoring requires a system of adaptive assessment, planning and management, and a high degree of interaction with end users of knowledge. Scientists and others gathering information need to become comfortable with interpretation of their information within meta-frameworks that may include storylines built cooperatively with stakeholders, and scenarios that incorporate social, economic, cultural and environmental information. There is good Canadian and international experience from which to learn. The timing of Alberta’s decision to set up AEMERA is excellent. It will take 5 to 10 years for it to reach its full potential. That time frame should be recognized and supported by all involved.




Art Hanson is a Distinguished Fellow with the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) and earlier served as IISD’s President and  CEO. He conducts research, and provides advisory services on innovation for sustainable development, environment and economy relationships, biodiversity, oceans, and international development. Currently, he is the International Chief Advisor and a Member of the China Council for International Cooperation on Environment and Development (CCICED). This body provides advice to the State Council and Premier of China.

Dr. Hanson has a strong interest in linking science to public policy, and has worked with government bodies in Canada, the United States and Asia on natural resources and environmental management, and on mechanisms of accountability and governance for sustainable development. Institutional strengthening and capacity-building projects have also been an important focus of his work. In recent years much of his professional time has been spent working with China. Previously, Dr. Hanson initiated major environment and development capacity-building efforts in Indonesia working with the government, NGOs, universities and the private sector. He is a member of the Indonesian Biodiversity Foundation (KEHATI) Board.

He served two terms on Canada’s National Round Table on the Environment and Economy (NRTEE) and was Canada’s Ministerial Ocean Ambassador with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans for four years. Dr. Hanson was a member of the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) for a decade, and a Mentor in the Trudeau Foundation. He has provided advice to the Office of the Auditor General of Canada since 1990, and to many other branches of the Canadian Government.

From 1978 to 1991, he was Professor and Director of the School for Resource and Environmental Studies at Dalhousie University. Dr. Hanson holds a PhD from the University of Michigan in the field of Fisheries Ecology and Natural Resources  and a Masters degree in Zoology/Fisheries from the University of British Columbia. He has an Honorary Doctorate of Law Degree from Mount Allison University. He is an Officer of the Order of Canada. Arthur Hanson lives in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada