SDG 16: Peace, justice and strong institutions
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The environmental perspective
Given that strong and effective institutions are critical to protecting and enhancing the natural environment in the face of threats such as climate change, air and water pollution, illegal and unreported fishing, and increasing levels of natural resource extraction and infrastructure development, this chapter's environmental perspective concentrates on enforcing environmental laws and managing impacts. This perspective was drawn from the SDG Global Indicator Framework targets 16.3: Promote the rule of law at the national and international levels and ensure equal access to justice for all; 16.7: Ensure responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels; and 16.b: Promote and enforce non-discriminatory laws and policies for sustainable development.
Strong institutions, including the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government, serve a number of vital functions, and their role in solving interrelated environmental challenges is more important than ever. Through representative government, the legislative branch ensures that all citizens have a voice in shaping the law and debating its effects on the environment and on society at large. The executive branch develops new policies, regulations, funding and enforcement programs to respond to ongoing and emerging environmental challenges. The judiciary helps interpret environmental legislation (including through case law where relevant), and ensures that the law is accessed, applied and enforced in a fair and impartial manner.
Other institutions make important contributions. Independent, science-based institutions are needed to predict and mitigate the effects of proposed policies, programs, and economic development projects on the environment, on human health, and on communities, including marginalized populations. Institutions such as the Office of the Auditor General (and their international equivalents) play an important direct oversight and accountability role, while academia, not-for-profit organizations, and think tanks provide indirect oversight and accountability, making sure that governments and other institutions are implementing effective programs and spending public funds responsibly, while credibly and transparently reporting on results. Not-for-profit organizations and a free and independent press provide other avenues for the public to engage in dialogue on issues related to sustainable development.
Where the Government of Canada is going
Mandate letters released in December 2021 outline the Government of Canada's direction and policy priorities. A selected commitment related to Sustainable Development Goal 16 is listed below.
- Revive the Law Commission of Canada so it can provide independent advice on law reform needed on the complex legal issues Canadians face, such as systemic racism in the justice system, advancing reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, issues around climate change and rapid technological shifts in the world (Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada).
How the Government of Canada contributes
The Government of Canada supports transparent, accountable and inclusive institutions through legislation and regulatory requirements that contribute to evidence-based decision making and strong environmental enforcement, reporting, and oversight, both domestically and internationally.
Through legislation, the Government of Canada sets the legal parameters for compliance and enforcement of environmental laws and regulations. Several federal departments are involved in enforcing the environmental provisions of key legislation. Environment and Climate Change Canada undertakes monitoring and enforcement for air and water pollution and hazardous materials under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999, for the various provisions of the Species at Risk Act and the Convention on Migratory Birds, and for the pollution prevention provisions of the Fisheries Act, among others. Fisheries and Oceans Canada enforces all other aspects of regulatory compliance with the Fisheries Act. Finally, Transport Canada enforces the marine pollution prevention provisions of the Canada Shipping Act, while the Canadian Coast Guard provides support through marine pollution monitoring and response. These departments also promote accountability and transparency by reporting on environmental compliance and enforcement outcomes in their departmental results reports.
In cases where offenders are convicted of an environmental crime, sentenced offenders may be subject to a fine or a court order. Fourteen federal statutes automatically direct penalties to the Environmental Damages Fund (EDF), and 5 federal statutes contain discretionary clauses to do so. In accordance with federal policies, and aligning (where possible) with court recommendations, the EDF directs monies received from fines and court orders for environmental offences to projects that will benefit Canada's natural environment.
The Impact Assessment Agency of Canada conducts and administers high-quality assessments that contribute to informed decision making on designated projects in support of sustainable development. In 2019, the Impact Assessment Act replaced the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012, marking the transition to a new, more holistic assessment system that considers changes to the environment from designated projects as well as changes to health, social or economic conditions.
The Impact Assessment Agency of Canada continues to conduct and administer both environmental and impact assessments, with increased focus placed on considering Indigenous Knowledge and perspectives alongside western science in each assessment. The Impact Assessment Act and the Canadian Energy Regulator Act also specifically commit the Government of Canada to respect the rights of Indigenous peoples and implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples during the assessment of designated projects.
The Canadian Energy Regulator Act came into force in 2019, replacing the National Energy Board with the Canada Energy Regulator (CER), a modern regulator with increased independence and accountability. The CER ensures that pipeline, power line and offshore renewable energy projects are constructed, operated and abandoned in a safe and secure manner to protect people and the environment. The CER enforces strict environmental safety standards, while ensuring the decision-making process is transparent and considers both scientific information and Indigenous Knowledge. Designated projects under the Canadian Energy Regulator Act are subject to an integrated impact assessment led by the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada with the support of the CER. The integrated impact assessment for these projects provides a single review process that meets the requirements of both the Impact Assessment Act and the Canadian Energy Regulator Act.
In addition to environmental and impact assessments, the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada conducts regional and strategic assessments under the Impact Assessment Act. Regional assessments assess effects of current and anticipated physical activities in a specific region. They go beyond the scale of project-specific assessments to understand the regional context in areas where resource development is occurring or expected. Meanwhile, strategic assessments examine the Government of Canada's existing or proposed policies, plans, or programs relevant to impact assessment. Strategic assessments may also focus on issues relevant to impact assessment. Both regional and strategic assessments can help to foster sustainability by taking the interdependence of human-ecological systems and the well-being of present and future generation into consideration.
The Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development (CESD), on behalf of the Auditor General of Canada, promotes transparency and accountability by assessing the performance of government programs, reporting on the federal government's progress in protecting the environment and advancing the sustainable development goals, and providing parliamentarians with objective, independent analysis and recommendations.
Under the Federal Sustainable Development Act, the CESD must review and comment on draft federal sustainable development strategies, as well as progress reports on their implementation. The CESD also manages the environmental petitions process and monitors the responses of federal ministers.
The petition process is a way for Canadians to bring their concerns about environmental and sustainable development issues to the attention of the federal government and obtain a formal response. The CESD also audits whether the Government of Canada is prepared to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Its audits are also intended to provide an authoritative, independent voice on the challenges facing the global community as it plans to implement the sustainable development goals and report on progress leading up to 2030.
Gender-Based Analysis Plus (GBA Plus) and the Impact Assessment Act
The Impact Assessment Act requires GBA Plus for projects subject to the Act. The Impact Assessment Agency of Canada and project proponents must conduct GBA Plus at each stage of the assessment, including early planning, impact assessment, decision making, and post-decision phases. GBA Plus provides a framework and a set of analytical questions to guide an impact assessment. It is used to identify who is impacted by a project, and assesses how people may experience impacts differently in order to improve project design and develop mitigation measures that address different impacts. Applying GBA Plus to impact assessments helps practitioners and decision makers understand, describe, and mitigate adverse impacts on diverse populations.