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Sustainable development vision and principles

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The FSDS vision

The 2022 to 2026 Federal Sustainable Development Strategy (FSDS, the strategy) supports the government’s vision that Canada’s economic, social, and environmental health is secure, and our quality of life continues to improve. Achieving this vision requires addressing today’s challenges while investing in activities that improve the quality of life for future generations.

Principles for the 2022 to 2026 FSDS

The Federal Sustainable Development Act sets out seven principles that must be considered when developing the FSDS as well as in departmental sustainable development strategies. The 2022 to 2026 strategy reflects each of these principles.

1. Sustainable development is based on an efficient use of natural, social and economic resources and the need for the Government of Canada to integrate environmental, economic and social factors in the making of all of its decisions

The 2022 to 2026 strategy is a further step by the federal government to integrate economic, social and environmental dimensions into its decision making. For the first time, the FSDS includes social and economic targets and actions without an environmental dimension, including poverty in Goal 1, education in Goal 4, inequality in Goals 5 and 10, and affordable housing in Goal 11.

The strategy is integrated into government decision making through conducting strategic environmental assessments, as required by the Cabinet Directive on the Environmental Assessment of Policy, Plan and Program Proposals. Strategic environmental assessments help ensure that the environment is considered when developing policy, plan and program proposals, while also reporting on how those proposals contribute to the goals and targets of the FSDS.

The Government of Canada is developing an Integrated Climate Lens (ICL), a tool to ensure that climate, economic and social considerations are considered together throughout government decision-making. Announced in Budget 2021, the ICL framework is currently being piloted across a sub-set of federal departments before being applied more broadly across the Government of Canada.

Impact assessment contributes to informed decision making on designated projects in support of sustainable development. The Impact Assessment Agency of Canada leads federal reviews of major projects subject to the Impact Assessment Act. Impact assessments work to foster sustainability, ensure respect for the rights of Indigenous Peoples, protect components of the environment and human health while taking into account social and economic factors, and provide a fair, predictable, and efficient impact assessment process. Impact assessments also provide opportunities for meaningful public engagement.

In addition to environmental and impact assessments, the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada conducts regional and strategic assessments under the Impact Assessment Act. Both regional and strategic assessments can help inform the planning and management of cumulative effects (cases where the combined effects of multiple projects exceeds the effects of each project considered on their own). For more information on impact assessment, regional assessments and strategic assessments, see Goal 16.

The Government of Canada is committed to implementing the Quality of Life Framework for Canada. Introduced in Budget 2021, the Framework is grounded in evidence of the determinants of well-being in Canada. It provides a holistic approach to defining and measuring success and making better use of data and evidence across five domains (i.e., Prosperity, Society, Environment, Health and Good Governance). This supports evidence-based decision-making and ensures we achieve and report on outcomes that improve all Canadians’ quality of life (consistent with its cross-cutting lens on Fairness and Inclusion), both now and in the future (consistent with its cross-cutting lens on Sustainability and Resilience). 

The Government of Canada is also committed to developing public policies through an intersectional lens. This means taking into account how intersecting factors, such as age, disability, ethnicity, education, geography, gender, language, race, religion, sex, and sexual orientation, shape people’s experiences, opportunities and outcomes, as well as their access to programs and services. An intersectional approach allows for the design and development of policies, programs, services and other initiatives that respond to needs and reflect the lived experiences of all people in Canada.

The Government of Canada integrates intersectional factors into its decision making through its commitment to Gender Based Analysis Plus (GBA Plus). For example, federal departments and agencies are required to integrate GBA Plus into all Memoranda to Cabinet, Treasury Board submissions, legislation, regulations, and budget proposals (see Goal 5 for more information). The 2018 Canadian Gender Budgeting Act further enshrined gender budgeting in federal budgetary and financial processes.

2. Sustainable development as a continually evolving concept

The Federal Sustainable Development Strategy cycle enables the strategy to reflect new and emerging issues in sustainable development and supports continuous improvement, including through the introduction of a new structure based on the 17 SDGs. It also has a broader scope than past strategies, reflecting economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development. Further, it has taken initial steps to incorporate broader dimensions of sustainable development, such as culture and Indigenous rights.

The strategy reflects new and emerging sustainable development issues such as environmental equity and environmental justice. These terms generally refer to the equitable treatment and meaningful inclusion of all people in laws, regulations, and programs to protect them from environmental hazards; avoiding disproportionate burden of pollution and other environmental harms across identity groups; and facilitating everyone’s access to environmental benefits and opportunities in the clean economy, regardless of identity factors (which could include gender identity and expression, race, ethnicity, Indigeneity, language, income, or sexual orientation—see Goal 10).

Actions set out in this strategy reflect the diverse ways to advance sustainable development. For example, the Government of Canada's actions to protect the environment and human health are guided by the precautionary principle. The approach to sustainable fisheries (Goal 14) reflects a precautionary approach. Work to ensure carbon pollution pricing systems are in place in Canada (Goal 13) and to establish a principle of no net loss of biodiversity in federal decision making (Goal 15) both reflect the “polluter pays” and “internalization of social and environmental costs” principles.

3. Intergenerational equity

The 2022 to 2026 strategy’s goals, targets and implementation strategies reflect a commitment to intergenerational equity, or the principle that the needs of the current generation should be met without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

The focus of the strategy is on addressing the challenges facing Canada. It is also about sustaining and enhancing the natural and built environment so that future generations inherit a set of assets that are at least as good as the previous generations’, and enjoy an improved quality of life.

Actions to promote intergenerational equity in the FSDS include minimizing economic and social risks for future generations by driving down emissions and taking action to minimize current and future harm from climate change (Goal 13); ensuring that Canadians have clean air to breathe and clean water to drink (Goals 6 and 11); conserving Canada’s unique ecosystems and the services they provide, including those key to food security such as pollination and access to traditional foods (Goals 14 and 15); and supporting high-quality education (Goal 4) and infrastructure (Goals 7, 9, and 11) so that future generations can prosper and thrive. At the same time, it emphasizes the importance of ensuring a healthy economy and a healthy environment for Canadians today—for example, by supporting businesses and workers so that they can succeed in the clean growth economy (Goals 5 and 8).

In addition to these actions, Canada is promoting intergenerational equity through its measures to assess the state and value of our ecosystems and environment. This includes the forthcoming Census of Environment, and the Natural Capital indicator being developed as part of Canada’s Quality of Life Framework.

The Minister of Environment and Climate Change takes into account demographic considerations such as age, gender and diversity when appointing members of the Sustainable Development Advisory Council. This helps ensure that the council reflects the diversity of Canadian society and that the voices of Canadians of all ages can shape this and future strategies.

4. Openness and transparency

The 2022 to 2026 FSDS supports openness and transparency by bringing federal targets and government actions across all 17 SDGs together in one place. It presents a whole-of-government picture of how 101 federal organizations contribute to economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development. Departmental sustainable development strategies will set out how individual federal organizations are taking concrete action within their own mandates.

The Act requires regular departmental reporting as well as a whole-of-government FSDS progress report in each 3-year period. The Canadian Environmental Sustainability Indicators (CESI) program builds on the principle of transparency by ensuring that the CESI indicators that support the strategy’s reporting are updated on an ongoing basis. This enables Canadians to track progress on goals and targets over the course of the strategy’s time period.

The strategy provides strengthened transparency and accountability: for the first time, it includes a table that clearly indicates which federal organizations are responsible for the targets, milestones and implementation strategies in each Goal (Annex 3). The table also states how milestones and implementation strategies support FSDS goals and targets.

5. Involving Indigenous Peoples

Canada adopted the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act (UN Declaration Act) in June 2021 as a key step in renewing the Government of Canada’s relationship with First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities. The UN Declaration Act provides a legislative framework to advance the Government of Canada’s implementation of the Declaration at the federal level, in partnership with Indigenous Peoples.

The recognition and implementation of section 35, Constitution Act, 1982 rights is central to Canada’s relationship with First Nations, Inuit and Métis, and to sustainable development. The co-existence and exercise of rights, coordinated through negotiated treaties and agreements, provide a framework for ongoing reconciliation, also advancing implementation of the Declaration. Recent co-developed measures ensure that Indigenous governments with negotiated treaties and agreements have the financial resources to govern and contribute to closing socio-economic and service gaps for their citizens. Adopting measures that ensure Indigenous communities have the resources to appropriately govern themselves is a key component in advancing self-determination and sustainable development, and renewing relationships towards reconciliation.

The Government of Canada recognizes the importance of involving Indigenous Peoples in developing the Federal Sustainable Development Strategy given their inherent rights and treaty rights, Traditional Knowledge and unique understanding of, and connection to, the lands, waters and ice. Indigenous youth will inherit the results of Canada’s sustainable development efforts, and play an important role in their communities’ social and economic outcomes.

The Sustainable Development Advisory Council (SDAC) advises the Minister of Environment and Climate Change on sustainable development issues. Since 2020, 6 seats on the Council (doubled from 3) are reserved for members representing Indigenous Peoples. The SDAC and five National Indigenous Organizations (the Assembly of First Nations, the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the Métis National Council, and the Native Women's Association of Canada) have played a key role in shaping the strategy through meetings and working group discussions.

Additional steps have been taken to incorporate Indigenous perspectives into the final 2022 to 2026 FSDS. For the first time, the strategy includes reflections from National Indigenous Organizations on what sustainable development means to them (see Sustainable Development: Perspectives from National Indigenous Organizations). SDAC members representing Indigenous Peoples have also provided distinctions-based examples of local, Indigenous-led sustainable development in action throughout the strategy.

This strategy also reflects the broad range of Government of Canada initiatives that are undertaken in partnership and collaboration with Indigenous Peoples. For example, Indigenous Peoples work closely with the federal government to conserve and protect lands and waters and help species at risk recover, through measures such as the Indigenous Guardians Program (Goal 15). Since 2015, First Nations communities have worked with the federal government to eliminate long-term drinking water advisories on reserves (Goal 6). In addition, the Government of Canada co-manages natural resources, collaborates, and engages with Indigenous Peoples (Goal 10), and works closely with remote Indigenous communities to transition them off diesel fuel for electricity and heating (Goal 7). Indigenous Peoples are also taking action in their own lands and communities to protect the environment, their Traditional Knowledge and way of life, and to promote climate resilience.

6. Collaboration

The 2022 to 2026 FSDS promotes collaboration by presenting common goals and targets that apply to departments and agencies across government. Compared with past strategies, the current FSDS enhances collaboration by including contributions from many more federal organizations—101 compared to 44 in the 2019 to 2022 strategy (28 that were required to participate and 16 that participated voluntarily).

While the strategy focuses on federal targets and actions, many of their successful outcomes require collaboration with provincial and territorial governments, Indigenous Peoples, municipalities, businesses, and non-governmental organizations. For example, the Government of Canada is working with other governments, industry, and Indigenous Peoples on actions promoting sustainable agriculture (Goal 2), improving water quality in the Great Lakes (Goal 6), advancing the development and deployment of clean and renewable energy and increasing energy efficiency (Goal 7), reducing plastic pollution (Goal 12), taking action to mitigate and adapt to climate change (Goal 13), and conserving terrestrial, coastal and marine ecosystems (Goals 14 and 15).

The strategy also features text boxes on actions to promote sustainable development by provincial, territorial, municipal and Indigenous governments, industry, environmental nongovernmental organizations, and Indigenous communities.

Provincial and territorial environmental ministries were invited to comment specifically on the strategy, as well as a range of partners.

7. Results and delivery approach

As required by the strengthened Federal Sustainable Development Act, all targets in the 2022 to 2026 strategy are measurable and include a time frame. The 2022 to 2026 strategy also reflects lessons learned through the 4 previous FSDS cycles. For each target, the strategy identifies an indicator, and in some instances more than one, that will be used to measure progress. Baseline data provided for each indicator make the starting point clear and provide a basis for future reporting.

Within one year after tabling the FSDS in Parliament, each federal organization that contributes to it is required to prepare its own departmental sustainable development strategy that supports the goals of the broader federal strategy. Each federal organization must also report on progress in implementing its departmental sustainable development strategy each year for at least 2 years after tabling its strategy. This way, federal organizations will have the opportunity to make course corrections as required throughout the FSDS cycle. Through this reporting, parliamentarians and Canadians will also be able closely track what individual federal organizations achieve over the next 4 years.

A whole-of-government FSDS progress report will complement individual departmental reports and assess the government’s progress in delivering on the strategy. It will include a clear rating system to assess progress using the most recent target-level indicator results and provide an assessment of whether each target has been categorized as either “achieved”, “underway”, “attention required”, or “no new data available”. Federal organizations will collect data and track progress on content for which they are responsible, contributing to the development of the whole-of-government progress report.

Updates to the online version of the strategy between 2022 and 2026 will support a results and delivery approach. Throughout the FSDS cycle, the strategy’s online version will add information on results achieved and on the contributions of individual federal organizations. For the first time ever, the strategy will also report milestone achievements in real time.

Some of the targets in this strategy reflect recent policy announcements, for which target indicators are still being developed, such as new targets under the Post-2020 Biodiversity Framework of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity. In these cases, finalized targets and indicators will be incorporated in the online version of the strategy when they become available, and they will also be reported on in the FSDS progress report.