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SDG 10: Reduced inequalities

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The environmental perspective

This chapter's focus on taking action on environmental inequalities and collaborating on environmental and natural resource management draws inspiration from SDG Global Indicator Framework Target 10.3: Ensure equal opportunity and reduce inequalities of outcome, including by eliminating discriminatory laws, policies and practices and promoting appropriate legislation, policies and action in this regard.

The environmental aspects of inequality have many dimensions and reinforce disparities that are multidimensional and intersectional. These disproportionately affect people sharing identity factors such as gender, race, Indigeneity, disability, and low socioeconomic status, especially those with multiple identities. These identity factors are compounded by systemic and structural barriers, which together create a vicious cycle in which economic, health and social impacts are borne disproportionately by groups and people who are already marginalized and face barriers to participating in the emerging clean economy.

Environmental inequalities are prevented and resolved through environmental equity and environmental justice. These terms refer to the equitable treatment and meaningful inclusion of all people in laws, regulations, and programs to protect them from environmental hazards, and which facilitate their access to environmental benefits and opportunities in the clean economy. This is particularly true for people who are systemically marginalized because of multiple and interacting identity factors such as race, ethnic or language group, national origin, gender identity, sexual orientation, income, and/or disability status, among other factors.

While climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution touch all in Canada, their effects are not evenly distributed, differing according to geographic location, gender, income level, ethnicity and other socioeconomic factors. Large urban centers will experience amplified heat waves, people living in rural areas who depend on agriculture may experience loss of livelihood, and Indigenous peoples who rely on land and water for their traditional ways of life may experience disruption. Northern and coastal regions in Canada are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Meanwhile, persons with disabilities are disproportionally affected by extreme climate change events due to challenges such as compromised health, lack of accessibly presented information, and difficulties accessing mobility supports during migration or evacuation. Mitigating the effects of a changing environment in a balanced and inclusive manner will benefit everyone in Canada, and will help alleviate the impacts of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution on people at risk.

First Nations, Inuit and the Métis Nation have been stewards of their traditional lands and waters since time immemorial. As distinct peoples, they hold inherent, unique and constitutionally protected Aboriginal and Treaty rights. Indigenous peoples must always be engaged in decisions about environmental management and natural resource development within their territories on a nation-to-nation, Inuit-Crown and government-to-government basis, and in keeping with any requirements as they are set out in modern treaties.

The environment and natural resources must also be carefully and sustainably managed so that Indigenous peoples and everyone else in Canada can benefit from a clean environment free from pollution, and from a healthy and prosperous future. Indigenous Knowledge provides valuable insights, alongside western science, in promoting sustainable management of the environment and natural resources. Aiming to secure free, prior and informed consent on matters impacting Indigenous rights supports strengthened relationships, trust and mutual respect. Developing natural resources sustainably and equitably is essential to reducing inequalities in economic development and access to a clean environment.

At the same time, it is important to ensure that the social and economic effects of environmental policy are accounted for when they risk increasing existing inequalities. For example, low-income households or those facing food insecurity—often headed by single mothers, persons with disabilities, recent immigrants and Indigenous peoples—may be more at risk from the effects of carbon pollution pricing, as expenditures on carbon-intensive goods make up a larger share of their expenses.

Intergenerational equity

Intergenerational equity—or the ability to meet the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs—is a principle of the Federal Sustainable Development Act. It is about ensuring that future generations inherit a set of economic and environmental assets that are at least as good as the previous generation's.

A stable climate, clean air and water, and healthy ecosystems (including sustainably managed forests and fisheries) provide the essential building blocks for all generations to meet their needs. Future generations in Canada (especially Indigenous peoples and northerners) and around the world could inherit many of these environmental assets in a worsened state due to climate change, pollution, and the destruction of species and ecosystems. Urgent action is needed to halt and reverse these trends so that future generations can meet their needs and aspirations.

In addition to age or generation, people experience climate change and other environmental challenges differently based on many characteristics inherent to who they are. For these reasons, youth in Canada from diverse backgrounds and with multiple identities related to race, gender identity and expression, Indigeneity, geography, income and disability status should be at the center of these discussions to ensure a better representation of their priorities and needs.

Climate change impacts on 2SLGBTQQIA+ communities

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's Third Assessment Report on the state of knowledge concerning the sensitivity, adaptability, and vulnerability of physical, ecological, and social systems to climate change, people who are already at risk will experience the greatest impacts of climate change.

Two Spirit, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Intersex, and Asexual Plus (2SLGBTQQIA+) communities in Canada face social, economic, health, and legal inequalities as well as discrimination and stigmatization, all of which affect their ability to adapt and respond to a changing environment. Moreover, given that 25 to 40% of youth experiencing homelessness in Canada identify as 2SLGBTQQIA+, extreme weather patterns related to climate change may disproportionately affect this group.

Studies report that 2SLGBTQQIA+ people are more likely than others to be severely impacted by disasters and may need extra help to cope with them. Prior to a disaster, members of the 2SLGBTQQIA+ community may not have access to the same supports and information as the general population because of potential exclusion, isolation, restricted social networks, and socioeconomic status. Following disasters, they may have difficulty finding access to shelters or face disrespect or harassment in settings such as emergency shelters.

For these and other reasons, climate adaptation, disaster prevention and response activities need to be accessible and appropriate for the 2SLGBTQQIA+ community. An important early step in preparing for these events is to ensure active engagement with local groups that represent and have experience working with 2SLGBTQQIA+ populations.

How action to support other SDGs, with a focus on their environmental aspects, contributes to reduced inequalities
  • SDG 1: No poverty. Taking action on poverty reduces inequalities in access to resources, opportunities, and the goods and services required to achieve well-being and sustainability. From an environmental perspective, work toward disaster awareness and adaptation to climate change can benefit marginalized communities and those at risk of severe losses.
  • SDG 2: Zero Hunger. Working to increase the sustainability of Canada's agriculture sector helps to provide sustainably grown and managed food to global consumers in areas of the world that are unable to meet their own food production needs. At home, working to address food insecurity seeks to reduce inequalities in food access in Canada.
  • SDG 3: Good Health and Well-being. Decreasing Canadians' exposure to pollution will provide important health benefits to all Canadians. This is especially true for racialized and other disadvantaged communities, who have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and other environmental health risks.
  • SDG 4:Quality Education. Increasing graduation rates and advancing research in STEM creates a skilled and productive workforce that benefits all Canadians, including those from historically underrepresented groups. Access to climate information helps Canadians make informed decisions that keep them and their communities safe.
  • SDG 5: Gender Equality. Promoting employment, skills and training for diverse groups of women, men, and gender-diverse peoples in the environment and clean technology sector plays a critical role in reducing inequality within Canada and increasing participation in decision making.
  • SDG 6: Clean Water and Sanitation. Reducing risks to public water systems and public wastewater systems on reserves as well as promoting sustainable water use and safeguarding water quality in lakes and basins provides broad benefits for all Canadians.
  • SDG 7:Affordable and Clean Energy. Providing accessible, clean energy and energy efficiency services to Indigenous, remote, low-income and marginalized communities can increase energy affordability and building performance, while improving local air quality.
  • SDG 8:Decent Work and Economic Growth. Creating decent, well-paid clean technology jobs in various regions of the country can reduce economic inequality. It is also the cornerstone of a just transition, ensuring that workers exiting Canada's fossil fuel sectors can access well-paid employment opportunities in other sectors.
  • SDG 9:Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure. Supporting infrastructure that helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental impacts, and promoting resilience through natural infrastructure, provides important benefits for Canadians from all walks of life. Low-income and marginalized communities are often more reliant on public infrastructure.
  • SDG 11:Sustainable Cities and Communities. While accessible public transit and access to green space benefits all Canadians, it is especially valuable to low-income and racialized communities that are often reliant on public transportation and are less likely to have access to urban green space.
  • SDG 12:Responsible Consumption and Production. Zero-emission vehicle sales targets and incentives aim to increase their affordability among the Canadian population. Increasing solid waste diversion benefits all Canadians, especially those living close to landfills and waste disposal sites.
  • SDG 13: Climate Action. Taking action on climate change helps reduce the severity of climate-related incidents such as heat waves, natural disasters and extreme weather events. Indigenous peoples, racialized communities, and other populations at risk are often hit hardest by these events, as they typically have fewer resources to adapt or recover.
  • SDG 14:Life Below Water. Managing sustainable fisheries is important for all Canadians. It helps to ensure Canada's fishery resources provide economic, subsistence, and cultural benefits to Indigenous peoples, fish harvesters, and coastal communities, now and in the future.
  • SDG 15:Life on Land. Conserving land, fresh water, and wildlife populations provides health, recreational, cultural, and aesthetic benefits for all Canadians. Conservation also safeguards Indigenous peoples' continued access to species that have important food, medicinal, cultural and spiritual values.
  • SDG 16:Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions. Strong institutions ensure that proposed development projects consider and mitigate impacts on everyone, including women, Indigenous peoples, and those at risk, and that environmental laws are fairly, effectively and transparently enforced for the benefit of all.
  • SDG 17:Partnerships for the Goals. Promoting environmental partnerships, international assistance, climate finance, and equitable and sustainable trade in natural resources reduces inequalities for access to resources and environmental services, both within Canada and across the globe.

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 10 are listed below.

  • Eliminate remaining long-term drinking water advisories on reserve and make sure that long-term investments and resources are in place to prevent future ones (Minister of Indigenous Services and Minister responsible for the Federal Economic Development Agency for Northern Ontario).
  • Fully implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act and consult and collaborate with Indigenous peoples on an action plan to achieve the objectives of the Declaration (Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada; with support from all ministers, and particularly the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations; the Minister of Indigenous Services; and the Minister of Natural Resources).
  • Continue to work in partnership with First Nations, Inuit and the Métis Nation to address climate change and its impacts, and chart collaborative strategies (Minister of Environment and Climate Change; Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations; Minister of Indigenous Services).
  • Recognize the a “right to a healthy environment” in federal law and introduce legislation to require the development of an environmental justice strategy and the examination of the link between race, socioeconomic status and exposure to environmental risk (Minister of Environment and Climate Change).
  • Continue to lead the evaluation process of GBA Plus with the goal of enhancing the framing and parameters of this analytical tool and with particular attention to the intersectional analysis of race, indigeneity, rurality, disability and sexual identity, among other characteristics (Minister for Women and Gender Equality and Youth; supported by the Minister of Housing and Diversity and Inclusion; the President of the Treasury Board; the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations; the Minister of Rural Economic Development; the Minister of Tourism and Associate Minister of Finance; Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion).

How the Government of Canada contributes

The Government of Canada is addressing the environmental perspectives of inequality, including by promoting environmental justice, integrating equity considerations into its strengthened climate plan, advancing reconciliation with First Nations, Inuit and the Métis Nation, and providing climate finance for climate change mitigation and adaptation measures in developing countries.

The Government of Canada is taking action to combat racism and discrimination in all its forms. In 2019, the government unveiled Building a Foundation for Change: Canada's Anti-Racism Strategy 2019-2022.Building on a national engagement process with Indigenous peoples and racialized and religious minority communities, $95 million has been allocated to the strategy and its initiatives to combat racism and discrimination.

The Government of Canada is also taking steps to better understand and address the environmental dimensions of inequality and advance environmental justice. When assessing and managing risks under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA) and other legislation, federal departments consider effects on communities living in proximity to commercial industrial facilities, as well as First Nation and Inuit populations. As a first step toward a formal policy framework on identifying, assessing and managing the effects of chemicals and other substances on vulnerable populations under CEPA and other legislation, the Government of Canada engaged in a series of consultations on defining vulnerable populations in late 2018 and early 2019. On February 9, 2022, the Government of Canada introduced a bill to enact a strengthened CEPA to recognize a “right to a healthy environment” in federal law and to protect everyone, including people most vulnerable to harm from toxic substances and those living in communities where exposure is high.

Under the federal air quality program, the Government of Canada intends to assess how to better address air pollution “hot spots” that potentially have an impact on populations at risk.

Climate mitigation policies such as carbon pricing need to be designed with equity in mind as energy costs make up a greater share of low-income households' income and expenditures. Canada's strengthened climate plan A Healthy Environment and A Healthy Economy reaffirmed the federal government's commitment to continue to price carbon pollution and acknowledged that not all groups are affected by carbon pricing in the same way. The federal approach to pricing carbon pollution addresses equity issues by recognizing particular groups or sectors may require targeted support or relief, such as farmers, fishers, residents of rural and small communities, users of aviation fuel in the territories, greenhouse operators, and power plants that generate electricity for remote communities. In provinces and territories where the federal fuel charge applies, proceeds will go back to Canadian families and their communities. The return to families was also designed to address the circumstances of single-parent households. Where the Output-Based Pricing System applies, proceeds will further support industrial decarbonization and electrification.

Advancing reconciliation with First Nations, Inuit and the Métis Nation is a crucial step toward addressing inequality and closing the socioeconomic gap between Indigenous peoples and non-Indigenous Canadians. Canada's commitment to implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples reflects the importance of working collaboratively with First Nations, Inuit and the Métis Nation to advance reconciliation and promote greater equality and prosperity for Indigenous peoples and all Canadians.

Among other affirmations of human rights, the Declaration affirms rights relating to the conservation and protection of the environment on the lands and territories of Indigenous peoples. It also highlights the importance of free, prior and informed consent and the effective and meaningful participation of Indigenous peoples in decisions that affect them, their communities and territories. In the context of environment and natural resource management, free, prior and informed consent is about First Nations, Inuit and the Métis Nation working together with the federal government in good faith, partnership and respect, with the objective of achieving consensus on decisions that impact Indigenous rights and interests.

The Government of Canada fully endorsed the Declaration without qualification in 2016 and committed to its full and effective implementation, in keeping with the Truth and Reconciliation's Commission's Calls to Action and the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls' Calls for Justice. On June 21, 2021, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act received Royal Assent and immediately came into force. The UN Declaration Act provides a framework to advance the Government of Canada's implementation of the Declaration in partnership with First Nations, Inuit and the Métis Nation. It is about protecting, promoting, and upholding Indigenous rights, including rights to self-determination, self-government, equality, and non-discrimination as a basis for forging stronger relationships with First Nations, Inuit and the Métis Nation. Through consultation and cooperation with First Nations, Inuit and the Métis Nation on the development of an action plan, and through measures to ensure the consistency of federal laws with the Declaration, more specific approaches and proposals contributing to the implementation of the Declaration will be developed over time.

The federal government plays an important role in the well-being of Canada's population and in reducing inequalities through the supports and services it provides. It has sustained its commitment to actions that are targeted at addressing specific barriers and inequalities. In addition, the government has a long-standing commitment to embedding equality, diversity and inclusion objectives in all its actions. Canada's approach to equality mainstreaming is Gender-based Analysis Plus (GBA Plus). GBA Plus is an effective tool to support the development of responsive and inclusive initiatives, including policies, programs, and other initiatives that meet the needs of individuals and diverse groups of people.

Promoting opportunity for racialized and Indigenous Canadians

As part of its agenda to tackle racial inequality, the Government of Canada is providing resources for Black and Indigenous business owners to engage in entrepreneurship through the Black Entrepreneurship Program and the Aboriginal Entrepreneurship Program. Budget 2021 allocated an additional $51.7 million over 4 years to support the Black Entrepreneurship Program. Led by Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada and Canada's regional development agencies, the program provides loans of up to $250,000 for Black business owners and entrepreneurs. It also provides financial support for not-for-profit organizations to offer training and mentorship to Black entrepreneurs, and to conduct research on barriers and limitations to business growth.

Budget 2021 also allocated $42 million to Indigenous Services Canada over 3 years to grow the Aboriginal Entrepreneurship Program, which provides Indigenous entrepreneurs with access to capital and to business opportunities such as market development, business advisory services, and training. For instance, as part of a network of 59 Aboriginal Financial Institutions involved with the program, the Native Fishing Association provides loans to Indigenous commercial fishers in the B.C. commercial fishing industry.

The government also recently announced the Work to Grow Program, funded by Parks Canada and delivered by Nature Canada. The program provides learning and community-building opportunities and a 50% wage subsidy to hire racialized youth aged 15 to 30 to secure jobs in the nature conservation and appreciation sectors. The Work to Grow program aims to provide employment opportunities to over 275 racialized youth. Program participants are also provided with career development and networking opportunities. The Work to Grow program is strengthening the voices of racialized youth in the nature conservation and appreciation sectors.

Access to clean drinking water in First Nation communities on reserve

While Canada's drinking water is among the safest in the world, access to clean drinking water remains a challenge in small and remote communities, such as First Nation communities on reserve. On reserve, the provision of safe drinking water is a shared responsibility among First Nation communities and the Government of Canada. First Nations own and operate their water and wastewater systems and design and construct facilities. The Government of Canada provides advice and financial support to First Nation communities for their public water and wastewater systems and ensures that drinking water quality monitoring programs are in place.

The solutions to addressing drinking water in First Nations are unique to each community, and Indigenous Services Canada works closely with each community to find the most appropriate solution. Indigenous Services Canada is supporting First Nation partners to achieve sustainable access to safe drinking water, including by: committing $5.6 billion in funding since 2016 to First Nations to upgrade water and wastewater infrastructure on reserve, to better support the operation and maintenance of systems, and to improve the monitoring and testing of community drinking water; supporting First Nations to address and prevent long-term drinking water advisories—between November 2015 and December 16, 2021, 124 Long-Term Drinking Water Advisories and 205 Short-Term Drinking Water Advisories have been lifted from public systems on reserve; and advancing reconciliation through the approval of the Safe Drinking Water Settlement Agreement. Indigenous Services Canada continues to partner with First Nations to develop new approaches that will ensure that on-reserve water and wastewater systems are safe and adequately meet the needs of each community.

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2022-2026 FSDS

Draft Federal Sustainable Development Strategy 2022-2026