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Planning for a Sustainable Future:
A Federal Sustainable Development Strategy for Canada
2013–2016

Sustainable Development Office
Environment Canada

November 2013


Executive summary

The second cycle of the Federal Sustainable Development Strategy (FSDS) fulfills the requirement of the Federal Sustainable Development Act to develop an FSDS every three years that makes environmental decision making more transparent and accountable to Parliament. It builds on three key improvements made in the first cycle, which was tabled in Parliament in October 2010:

  1. An integrated, whole-of-government picture of actions and results to achieve environmental sustainability;
  2. A link between sustainable development planning and reporting and the government's core planning and reporting processes; and
  3. Effective measurement, monitoring and reporting in order to track and report on progress to Canadians.

Significant progress has been made over the course of the first cycle. With the tabling of the 2010–2013 FSDS, Canadians had for the first time a comprehensive picture of actions across the federal government that contribute to environmental sustainability. Since 2011, departments and agencies have produced annual Departmental Sustainable Development Strategies integrated into their core planning and reporting processes. The government has also demonstrated its commitment to measurement, monitoring and reporting by issuing two progress reports and expanding the suite of environmental sustainability indicators that support FSDS reporting.

In accordance with the strategy's "Plan, do, check, improve" system of performance management, the government is building on progress to date to further advance the transparency and accountability of environmental decision making. These advances are informed by feedback received on both the first and draft second cycles of the strategy. Key steps for the second cycle include:

  • Building the whole-of-government picture by incorporating a broader range of federal government actions that support the FSDS goals and targets;
  • Enhancing the link to core federal planning and reporting through ongoing alignment between the FSDS and federal departments' Program Alignment Architectures; and
  • Expanding the Canadian Environmental Sustainability Indicators suite to ensure that indicators are available to measure progress on all FSDS goals and targets.

In February 2013, a consultation draft of the 2013–2016 FSDS was released for public consultation. The final 2013–2016 FSDS integrates Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development and stakeholder comments received during the consultation period by improving targets and implementation strategies to enhance their specificity, measurability, and achievability; improving the strategy's coverage of environmental issues and priorities such as Responsible Resource Development; providing more detail on how the federal government collaborates with others to achieve results; clarifying language and better defining key ideas; and elaborating economic and social dimensions of the strategy's environmental sustainability themes.

Through including environmental sustainability goals and targets in strategic environmental assessments and continuing to integrate environmental performance considerations into the procurement of goods and services, the second cycle of the FSDS will also continue to support informed and integrated decision making across government. Further development of the government's sustainable development approach will continue in future FSDS cycles.

Like the first cycle, the second cycle of the FSDS includes four priority themes:

  •      I. Addressing climate change and air quality;
  •    II. Maintaining water quality and availability;
  •   III. Protecting nature and Canadians; and
  •   IV. Shrinking the environmental footprint – beginning with government.

Themes are structured according to Figure 1 and include aspirational, long term goals, medium term targets that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound, and concrete implementation strategies (actions to achieve the targets). The 2013–2016 FSDS includes eight goals across the four themes, supported by thirty-four targets.  In total, the strategy includes 225 implementation strategies, which are programs and activities undertaken by departments across the federal government.

Figure 1 – Theme structure: goals, targets and implementation strategies

This figure illustrates the structure of the FSDS (long description is located below the image).

Long description

This figure illustrates the structure of the FSDS, showing the relationship between themes, goals, targets, and implementation strategies, using the theme "Addressing climate change and air quality" as an example. It indicates that, in the context of the FSDS, themes are overarching issues; goals are aspirational, long-term objectives; targets are medium-term objectives that, wherever possible, meet the SMART criteria of specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound; and that implementation strategies are specific actions that may also meet the SMART criteria where appropriate. The figure shows that each theme is addressed by one or more goals; that one or more targets are established under each goal; and that implementation strategies are established to support the achievement of each target. For example, "Goal 1: Climate change" has two targets that are established under this goal --Target 1.1 Climate change mitigation and Target 1.2 Climate change adaptation. Target 1.1 has a sample implementation strategy that supports it entitled 1.1.1 Develop domestic climate change strategies aligned with the U.S. as appropriate for Canadian circumstances as part of Canada’s commitment to meet its national Greenhouse gas emissions. For illustrative purposes, there are also two targets established under Goal 2: Air pollution. Target 2.1 is Outdoor air pollutants, and Target 2.2 is Indoor air quality. Progress on goals and targets under each theme is tracked using indicators selected for their policy relevance, utility, soundness, and data availability and integrity. An example of an indicator under Goal 1 is "National greenhouse gas emissions".

Three of the four themes introduced in the first cycle are maintained, while Theme III has been broadened to include actions to protect the health of Canadians, by including a target on chemicals management (consolidating two targets that previously appeared in Themes I and II).

The strategy provides a detailed description of how the federal government is taking action on each of the four themes. While recognizing that provinces and territories, Aboriginal peoples, industry, and others also contribute to achieving environmental sustainability outcomes, the FSDS includes only federal actions to advance the goals and targets.

One of the most significant initiatives in this regard is the Government's Plan for Responsible Resource Development, which was designed to promote sustainable economic growth while introducing significant new measures to ensure environmental protection, and supporting social development through engagement with Aboriginal communities and all Canadians who benefit from such opportunities.


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