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Safe and healthy communities

Long-term goal

All Canadians live in clean, sustainable communities that contribute to their health and well-being

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Why is this issue important

We are committed to ensuring Canadians live in clean, safe environments that contribute to their health and well-being. Among other measures, this means improving air quality, protecting Canadians from harmful substances, and preventing environmental emergencies or mitigating their impacts if they do occur.

Air pollution can affect health even at low levels, especially for children, the elderly and those with health conditions. It also affects the environment and results in economic costs due to lost productivity, increased need for medical care, and impaired quality of life. About 14 400 premature deaths in Canada each year can be linked to human-caused air pollution such as car exhaust and industrial emissions. And about 30% of Canadians live in areas where air quality does not meet national standards.

While chemicals are part of our everyday lives and provide many benefits, some can be harmful if not properly managed. Managing these substances, as well as assessing and remediating contaminated sites, protects human health and the environment, and benefits Canada's economy.

Climate change impacts in Canadian communities

Climate change is already affecting Canadians and their communities. Extreme weather events like floods, wildfires, droughts, and high temperatures are costly and can impact our health, safety and well-being. Taking action now to prepare for expected impacts will help to protect Canadians and build safe, healthy and sustainable communities:

Sustainable Indigenous communities

Indigenous and northern communities face challenges such as managing the impacts of a changing climate, addressing the high and often fluctuating costs of energy, and promoting sustainable development that balances environmental, social, cultural and economic well-being.

Indigenous and northern communities in Canada are particularly susceptible to these challenges due to factors such as remoteness and inaccessibility, cold climate, aging and inefficient infrastructure, and reliance on diesel for electricity generation and space heating.

Actions across our strategy will help to support sustainable Indigenous communities, including:

  • continuing to support First Nation communities in preparing for and responding to emergenices
  • building resilience in the North and Indigenous communities
  • providing funding to First Nation communities to improve water and wastewater infrastructure and waste management on reserve
  • helping Indigenous and northern communities reduce their reliance on diesel for heat and electricity
  • continuing to deliver the Nutrition North Canada subsidy, aimed at alleviating high food costs in the North

Canada in the world

Building safe and healthy communities supports the 2030 Agenda and its global Sustainable Development Goals—in particular SDG 2, Zero Hunger; SDG 3, Good Health and Well-being; SDG 9, Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure; SDG 11, Sustainable Cities and Communities; SDG 12, Responsible Consumption and Production; SDG 13, Climate Action; and SDG 15, Life on Land. It also supports specific SDG targets, as well as other international agreements and initiatives.

For details on how this goal supports international action, see Annex 3.

Connections with other FSDS areas

Building safe and healthy communities is linked to FSDS targets on climate action, protecting habitats, and supporting vulnerable people and sectors:

Our partners

Provinces and territories are taking action to protect Canadian communities from air pollutants and other harmful substances. For example, under the Air Quality Management System, they are working to reduce air pollutant emissions and keep ambient air pollutant levels below the Canadian Ambient Air Quality Standards. They have also agreed to report on a regular basis on air quality within local air zones and through the State of Air Report.

Provincial and territorial governments also establish legislation and regulations that prohibit pollution, address waste, and set requirements and standards for remediating contaminated sites outside federal lands. For example, Ontario's Resource Recovery and Circular Economy Actaims to divert more waste from landfills, including by encouraging innovation in recycling processes and requiring producers to take responsibility for their products and packaging.

Municipalities are key partners as well—their decisions related to public transit, waste management, buildings, and other areas have a significant impact on air pollution, as well as Canadians' quality of life.

Partners taking action - Climate Telling

The ClimateTelling web portal was established to create awareness about climate change and the impact on human health facing Indigenous communities in Canada. It provides resources and tools for Indigenous communities interested in undertaking climate change and health-related initiatives. It also provides a platform for sharing knowledge, expertise and experiences and supports collaboration between scholars, professionals and community advocates. The portal was developed with support from Indigenous Services Canada's Climate Change and Health Adaptation Program.

Partners taking action - Food Security Vulnerability Assessment Related to Permafrost Degradation

The community of Jean Marie River, Northwest Territories, is deeply concerned by the impacts of climate change on their people's traditional lands and the activities that they support. In collaboration with the Northern Climate ExChange, they have conducted 2 vulnerability assessments of permafrost thaw and its impact on the community and traditional activities, including impacts on food security. Using both scientific and Traditional Knowledge, the community has created a map of thaw-sensitive areas. This map is a practical tool for decision-makers and allows the community to better adapt around permafrost hazards. Jean Marie River's project is now being expanded to include 2 additional traditional harvest areas.

Partners taking action- Montreal's Path to Sustainable Development

With support from the government of Québec, the Ville de Montreal partnered with the Conseil des industries durables and Ellio, to develop the Parcours Développement Durable Montréal. Through training and mentoring, the partnership supports local private and social economy businesses, including female entrepreneurs participating in the Women4Climate international mentoring program, in understanding how to create and implement innovative and inspiring sustainable business models based on sustainable development principles. The program is an important element in support of Montreal's transition to a responsible, green and circular economy and will continue until 2021 for a total of 75 businesses.

Partners taking action - Sustane Technologies: Advanced recycling

In Canada, it costs roughly $50-$150 per tonne to put waste into a landfill. Halifax-based Sustane Technologies Inc. is using clean technology to convert municipal solid waste destined for the landfill into clean fuel products and recyclable materials. A possible solution to the global waste problem, Sustane's technology also involves the conversion of low-grade plastic waste into fuel for internal and commercial use. The company will generate enough process heat to power its new commercial operations in Chester, Nova Scotia, so it will be as environmentally and cost efficient as possible. This innovation lessens the environmental footprint of waste, provides many new jobs and creates significant export opportunities. This project was developed with support from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency.

Responsible ministers/Key departments and agencies

Minister of Environment and Climate Change; Minister of Health/ Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada; Canada Border Services Agency; Environment and Climate Change Canada; Fisheries and Oceans Canada; Health Canada; Indigenous Services Canada; Jacques Cartier and Champlain Bridges Incorporated; National Defence; National Research Council Canada; Natural Resources Canada; Parks Canada; Public Safety Canada; Public Services and Procurement Canada; Standards Council of Canada; Statistics Canada; Transport Canada

Canada's starting point

  • To measure changes in air quality, we track emissions of key air pollutants and monitor outdoor air quality. Emissions of most key air pollutants decreased substantially between 1990 and 2016, including fine particulate matter (18% lower in 2016 than 1990), sulphur oxides (65% lower), nitrogen oxides (25%), volatile organic compounds (42%) and carbon monoxide (54%).
  • We also track the percentage of Canadians living in areas where the Canadian Ambient Air Quality Standards are met—approximately 70% in 2013 to 2015.
  • To measure the adverse effects of air pollution, we estimate the percentage of deaths in Canada each year, excluding death from injuries, that is due to exposure to ground-level ozone and fine particulate matter emitted from human sources. The most recent estimates show that 2% of deaths can be attributed to ground-level ozone exposure (1984 to 2012) and 0.8% to fine particulate matter exposure (2001 to 2012).
  • To measure environmental and health risks from harmful substances, we track levels of key substances in Canadians' blood and urine, as well as in the environment:
    • between 2007 to 2009 and 2014 to 2015 there was a significant decreasing trend in the average concentration of blood lead (26% reduction), BPA in urine marginally decreased, and there was no significant trend in the average concentration of blood cadmium or mercury
    • the concentration of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) in fish exceeds the Federal Environmental Quality Guidelines, while the concentration of perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) in fish exceeds guidelines for fish as diet for wildlife predators
  • We also track emissions of harmful substances to air as well as releases to water. Between 1990 and 2016, mercury, lead and cadmium emissions to air were reduced by 88%, 87% and 91%, respectively. Releases of mercury, lead and cadmium to water were 63%, 62% and 50% lower, respectively, in 2016 than in 2003.
  • To measure our progress in implementing the Federal Contaminated Sites Action Plan (FCSAP), we track the number of sites for which remediation activities have been completed. Between 2005 and 2018, 1 020 federal contaminated sites were remediated under FCSAP. In total more than 16 000 sites on the Federal Contaminated Sites Inventory have been closed, including 6 600 funded under FCSAP, either because remediation was complete or because no action was identified as necessary during assessment.