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Sustainable development vision and principles

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The FSDS vision

The draft 2022 to 2026 Federal Sustainable Development 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 environmental challenges while recognizing the importance of investing in activities that strengthen our environment and economy for future generations.

Principles for the 2022 to 2026 FSDS

The Federal Sustainable Development Act sets out 7 principles that must be considered in the development of the Federal Sustainable Development Strategy as well as departmental sustainable development strategies. Each of these principles is reflected in the draft 2022 to 2026 strategy.

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 draft 2022 to 2026 strategy provides evidence that the environment is at the forefront of government decision making, while taking into account issues that are more socially or economically focused. The strategy continues to be systemically considered in decision making through the conduct of strategic environmental assessments as required by the Cabinet Directive on the Environmental Assessment of Policy, Plan and Program Proposals. The strategy includes targets and actions on important environmental issues facing Canadians, including climate change, air quality and biodiversity loss. By looking at each of the 17 SDGs through an environmental lens, the draft strategy considers certain key links between the environment and broader sustainable development issues such as poverty, hunger, human health, economic growth, infrastructure, consumption and production, and education.

The Government of Canada is strengthening its capacity to consider climate mitigation and adaptation in a rigorous, consistent, and measurable manner. Budget 2021 announced $36.2 million over 5 years, starting in 2021 to 2022, to develop and apply an Integrated Climate Lens that ensures climate, economic and inclusivity considerations are integrated throughout federal government decision making. This includes resources to increase economic and emissions modelling capacity.

Impact assessment contributes to informed decision making on designated projects in support of sustainable development. The Impact Assessment Agency of Canada leads all federal reviews of major resources projects. The purposes of impact assessment include fostering sustainability, ensuring respect for the rights of Indigenous peoples, protecting components of the environment, and social, health, and economic factors, and establishing a fair, predictable, and efficient impact assessment process that enhances Canada’s competitiveness and promotes innovation. Impact assessments also provide opportunities for meaningful public engagement. Additionally, strategic and regional assessments help the government understand impacts from a broader perspective compared to project-level impact assessments.

Finally, the Government of Canada is committed to intersectional policy development that considers how diverse groups of women, men, and gender-diverse people may experience policies, programs, and initiatives, while seeking to advance equitable outcomes and addressing systemic inequalities. For example, federal departments and agencies are currently required to integrate Gender Based Analysis Plus (GBA Plus) into all Memoranda to Cabinet, Treasury Board submissions, legislation, regulations, and budget proposals. 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 3-year Federal Sustainable Development Strategy cycle enables the strategy to reflect new and emerging issues in sustainable development and supports continuous improvement. The draft 2022 to 2026 strategy reflects lessons learned through 4 previous cycles, including through the introduction of a new frame based on the 17 SDGs, with a focus on their environmental aspects, stronger targets that are measurable and include a time frame, as well as new targets in areas such as disaster risk reduction (complementing commitments to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions and release Canada’s first national strategy on climate change adaptation), information about sustainable development, and employment of women in the clean technology sector.

The draft strategy reflects new and emerging sustainable development issues such as environmental equity and environmental justice—the equitable treatment and meaningful inclusion of all people in laws, regulations, and programs to protect them from environmental hazards, regardless of their income or identity, and which facilitates their access to environmental benefits and opportunities in the clean economy (see chapter 10).

The draft provides strengthened transparency and accountability: for the first time, it includes a table (Annex 3) clearly indicating which federal organizations are responsible for individual targets, milestones and implementation strategy actions.

Actions set out in the draft strategy reflect the diverse ways in which sustainable development can be advanced. For example, The Government of Canada's actions to protect the environment and health are guided by a precautionary approach, which states that "where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.” The Government of Canada’s approach to sustainable fisheries (under SDG 14, Life Below Water) also reflects the precautionary principle, while work to ensure carbon pollution pricing systems are in place in Canada (under SDG 13, Climate Action) reflects the “polluter pays” principle.

3. Intergenerational equity

The goals, targets and implementation strategies of the 2022 to 2026 draft strategy reflect a commitment to intergenerational equity, or the principle that it is important to meet the needs of the current generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

Considering intergenerational equity also means accepting the reality that environmental challenges, as well as action to address them, do not affect all Canadians in the same way. For example, a decision that benefits seniors may, for example, have little direct impact on children, and vice-versa. In addition to age or generation, people experience climate change and other environmental challenges differently based on many characteristics inherent to who they are. These include (and are not limited to) gender, race, religion, sexuality, ability, class and citizenship status. Youth in Canada should be at the center of work to ensure a stable climate, clean air and water, and healthy ecosystems.

The focus of the draft strategy is on addressing environmental challenges facing Canada so that future generations are able to thrive. This includes driving down emissions; taking the actions needed to minimize current and future harm from climate change, including minimizing economic and social risks for future generations; ensuring that Canadians have clean air to breathe and clean water to drink; and conserving Canada’s unique ecosystems and the services they provide, including those key to food security such as pollination and access to traditional foods. 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.

Recent amendments to the Act further promote intergenerational equity. 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 draft 2022 to 2026 strategy supports openness and transparency by bringing federal environmental sustainability targets across all 17 SDGs together in one place. It presents a whole-of-government picture of how 99 federal organizations contribute to advancing the environmental perspectives of the SDGs. Once the final strategy is tabled, 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 Federal Sustainable Development Strategy progress report in each 3-year period. The Canadian Environmental Sustainability Indicators (CESI) program builds on this requirement to support transparency. CESI indicators that support the strategy’s reporting are updated on an ongoing basis, enabling Canadians to track progress on goals and targets.

Wherever possible, indicators for measuring progress on the draft 2022 to 2026 Federal Sustainable Development Strategy—including a number of CESI indicators—align with the Canadian Indicator Framework for the 2030 Agenda. This helps to support a consistent and coherent sustainable development reporting approach across the Government of Canada.

5. Involving Indigenous peoples

Canada adopted the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act in June 2021 to advance the implementation of the Declaration as a key step in renewing the Government of Canada’s relationship with Indigenous peoples. The UN Declaration Act will provide a legislative framework to advance the Government of Canada’s implementation of the Declaration at the federal level, in partnership with Indigenous peoples.

The Government of Canada recognizes the importance of involving Indigenous peoples in developing the Federal Sustainable Development Strategy given their Traditional Knowledge and their unique understanding of, and connection to, Canada’s lands and waters. Indigenous youth will inherit the results of Canada’s sustainable development efforts, and play an important role in social and economic outcomes where no new generation of Indigenous youth is "left behind". Indigenous peoples are encouraged to comment on the draft and help to shape the final strategy that is tabled in Parliament.

The Sustainable Development Advisory Council plays a key role in shaping the strategy and advising the Minister of Environment and Climate Change on sustainable development. Since 2020, 6 seats on the Council (up from 3) are reserved for members representing Indigenous peoples.

The draft strategy reflects a broad range of Government of Canada initiatives, many of which involve 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. Indigenous peoples are also taking action in their own lands and communities to protect the environment and promote climate resilience.

6. Collaboration

The draft 2022 to 2026 strategy promotes collaboration by presenting common goals and targets that apply to departments and agencies across government. Compared with past strategies, the current draft enhances collaboration by including contributions from many more federal organizations—99 compared to 44 in the 2019 to 2022 strategy (28 that were required to participate and 16 that participated voluntarily).

While the draft strategy focuses on federal targets and actions, partners such as provincial and territorial governments, Indigenous peoples, municipalities, businesses, and non-governmental organizations collaborate with the federal government on many initiatives that support its goals and targets. For example, the Government of Canada is working with other governments, the private sector and Indigenous peoples to advance the development and deployment of clean and renewable energy.

7. Results and delivery approach

As required by the strengthened Federal Sustainable Development Act, all targets in the draft 2022 to 2026 strategy are measurable and include a time frame. For each target, the strategy identifies an indicator 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 the final Federal Sustainable Development Strategy is tabled in Parliament, each federal organization that contributes to it will be required to prepare its own departmental sustainable development strategy that supports the goals of the broader federal strategy. Each federal organizations must also report on progress in implementing its departmental sustainable development strategy and report on its implementation each year for at least 2 years after it is tabled. This way, federal organizations will have the opportunity to make course corrections as required throughout the Federal Sustainable Development Strategy cycle. Through this reporting, parliamentarians and Canadians will also be able closely track what is being achieved by individual federal organizations over the next 4 years.

A whole-of-government Federal Sustainable Development Strategy progress report will complement individual departmental reports. While federal organizations will report on the implementation of their specific commitments through departmental reporting, the whole-of-government progress report will assess how the government is progressing overall on the strategy’s targets and short-term milestones. It will include a rating system to assess progress using the most recent target-level indicator results. By examining the results achieved during the strategy’s cycle, the rating system will provide an assessment of “achieved”, “underway”, “attention required”, or “no new data available” for each target. Federal organizations will collect data and track progress on the targets and milestones for which they are responsible and will contribute 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 cycle, information will be added to the online version of the strategy on results achieved and on the contributions of individual federal organizations.