SDG 4: Quality education
On this page
The environmental perspective
Canadians need knowledge and information about the environment to take action on sustainable development. This chapter's focus on sharing research, knowledge and data for sustainable development with Canadians supports SDG Global Indicator Framework Target 4.7: By 2030, ensure that all learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including, among others, through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles.
Climate change education is recognized as a priority in the Paris Agreement and the SDGs. Effective climate change education is fundamental to overcoming climate denial, increasing climate literacy and supporting climate action. The Canada Climate Change and Education report, released by Learning for a Sustainable Future in 2019, showed that while the majority of Canadians are concerned about climate change, 86% indicated that they need more information.
Schools, universities and other educational institutions are taking action for sustainable development. For example, a Canada-wide census by the Sustainability and Education Policy Network in 2019 showed that 43% of school divisions had participated in a sustainability certification program, and 25% had sustainability staff. Further, in a 2018 survey undertaken for Canada's 6th National Report to the Convention on Biological Diversity, 10 out of 10 participating provinces and territories reported that biodiversity had been incorporated into elementary and secondary school curricula.
The report also underscores the importance of Indigenous Knowledge in contributing to the effectiveness of Canada's various biodiversity initiatives, providing information regarding the sustainable use of plants and animals, as well as the relationships and current stresses in ecosystems.
Moving toward sustainability will require action across Canadian society, including informal education beyond the classroom.
Where the Government of Canada is going
Mandate letters released in December 2021 outline the Government of Canada's direction and policy priorities. Selected commitments related to Sustainable Development Goal 4 are listed below.
- Develop a climate data strategy to ensure that the private sector and communities have access to data to inform planning and infrastructure investments (Minister of Environment and Climate Change; Minister of Public Safety; President of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada and Minister of Emergency Preparedness; Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry).
- Support innovation ecosystems across the country to support job creation, technology adoption and scale-up. This includes safeguarding Canada's world-leading research ecosystem, as well as our intellectual property intensive businesses (Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry; Minister of Public Safety).
How the Government of Canada contributes
In Canada, provinces and territories are responsible for organizing, delivering and assessing all levels of education. One way in which the Government of Canada contributes to sustainable development knowledge and education is by funding research, through the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council for example.
The Government of Canada is implementing the Science Literacy Promotion Initiative with Environment and Climate Change Canada scientists to improve understanding of the science behind environmental issues related to a changing climate and what our future climate will look like. The Scientists-at-Large activity under this initiative will connect scientists with the Canadian public through speaking opportunities and other communications activities to allow the government to communicate science in a meaningful way.
The Government of Canada is working to build knowledge through research in areas such as water-related sustainability, sustainable fisheries, clean technology, plastic pollution and waste prevention, lands and forests management, wildlife species recovery, coastal and marine ecosystems and marine protected areas. It also plays a role in providing information about and raising awareness of sustainable development. This includes enhancing public awareness of and preparedness for natural disasters, providing information about local outdoor air quality and harmful substances, as well as supporting sustainable choices.
For example, the Canadian Centre for Climate Services provides information to improve Canadians' understanding of how the climate is changing and how those changes could affect them, as well as guidance and resources to make climate-smart decisions. The government also provides information on how to assess and improve the energy performance of old and new homes that they can implement through government programs and incentives to consume less energy, save money and fight climate change, such as the Canada Greener Homes Grant. Through its Energy Efficiency Insider, Natural Resources Canada provides newsletters with tips on managing energy usage for commercial and institutional buildings.
The Government of Canada is implementing the Roadmap for Open Science. This will make the scientific research process more inclusive and accessible to scientists and Canadians through making data and publications open and making research understandable and useful.
In addition, the government has conducted a national assessment process of how and why Canada's climate is changing, the impacts of these changes on communities, environment, and the economy and how Canadians are adapting. The assessment resulted in a series of reports that raise awareness of the issues facing the country and provide information to support sound decisions and actions that address climate change and adapt to its impacts. For example, the National Issues Report was released in June 2021. Environment and Climate Change Canada has also undertaken preliminary research that will be used to support the government's ongoing communication with Canadians about climate change and its impacts. The key results from this survey show an increase in: knowledge and awareness of climate change, environmental and nature conservation topics; the perception that individual actions have a positive impact on environmental change; and actions taken to help fight climate change, conserve nature and achieve a cleaner and safer environment.
The Government of Canada works with provinces and territories through the Council of Ministers of Education in Canada (CMEC). This council provides leadership in education at the pan-Canadian and international levels. CMEC has included education for sustainable development as one of the key activity areas in Learn Canada 2020, its framework to enhance Canada's education systems, learning opportunities, and education outcomes.
Canada also demonstrates leadership internationally. As a member state of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, through CMEC, the Government of Canada has committed to incorporate sustainable development themes into formal, non-formal, and informal education and to report on its implementation. The Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada has also funded the Monitoring and Evaluating Climate Communication and Education Project that supports a global network working to improve the quantity and quality of climate change communication and education.
The Program of Applied Research on Climate Action was launched in 2021. It is a multi-year research initiative into the application of behavioural science insights and methods accompanied by robust policy analysis. It aims to provide data, knowledge and insight to support policy, program and communications efforts that will advance climate and environmental action.
Indigenous Knowledge in environmental research
Indigenous peoples have used Indigenous Knowledge in decision making about environmental management for millennia. While there is no single definition of Indigenous Knowledge, the term refers to a set of complex knowledge systems based on the worldviews of Indigenous peoples. Indigenous Knowledge reflects the unique cultures, languages, governance systems and histories of Indigenous peoples from a particular location. Indigenous Knowledge is dynamic and evolves over time. It builds on the experiences of earlier generations and adapts to present conditions. First Nations, Inuit and the Métis Nation each have a distinct way of describing their knowledge. Knowledge-holders are the only people who can truly define Indigenous Knowledge for their communities.
Many international agencies and instruments have addressed Indigenous Knowledge, including the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Many sections of the Declaration work together to protect Indigenous Knowledge. The Declaration recognizes “that respect for Indigenous Knowledge, cultures and traditional practices contributes to sustainable and fair development and proper management of the environment.” Canada is obliged to respect and protect the rights articulated in the Declaration. Indigenous Knowledge is defined in article 31 as: the right to maintain, control, protect and develop their cultural heritage, Traditional Knowledge and traditional cultural expressions, as well as the manifestations of their sciences, technologies and cultures, including human and genetic resources, seeds, medicines, knowledge of the properties of fauna and flora, oral traditions, literatures, designs, sports and traditional games and visual and performing arts. Indigenous peoples also have the right to maintain, control, protect and develop their intellectual property over such cultural heritage, Traditional Knowledge, and traditional cultural expressions. Guides such as the First Nations Principles of ownership, control, access, and possession (OCAP®) can be used to ensure that Indigenous peoples have more control over their intellectual property.
The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act mandates Canada to implement the Declaration in cooperation with Indigenous peoples in a whole-of-government approach. Indigenous Knowledge helps federal organizations improve their understanding of Indigenous worldviews, Indigenous cultures, the environment, issues affecting the environment, impacts those issues are having now and in the future, and ways to address them. The Government of Canada is working to renew its relationship with Indigenous peoples based on a recognition of rights, respect, cooperation and partnership. This work includes collaborating with Indigenous Knowledge Holders on research projects. Working with Indigenous partners, the Government of Canada is beginning to understand the importance of Indigenous Knowledge systems that have been handed down since time immemorial. The Government of Canada will continue to collaborate with Indigenous partners and Indigenous Knowledge Holders to ensure that Indigenous Knowledge systems are supported and considered in all stages of environmental research and monitoring activities.