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Planning for a Sustainable Future:
A Federal Sustainable Development Strategy for Canada

Sustainable Development Office
Environment Canada

October 2010

Executive summary

The Federal Sustainable Development Strategy (FSDS) fulfills the requirements of the Federal Sustainable Development Act (the Act), passed by Parliament in 2008, by rendering environmental decision-making more transparent and accountable to Parliament. It responds to a decade of criticism by the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development (CESD), Parliamentarians, non-governmental organizations (NGO) and others, that the previous system did not deliver the intended results.

The FSDS establishes a framework for sustainable development planning and reporting with three key elements:

  • An integrated, whole-of-government picture of actions and results to achieve environmental sustainability;
  • A link between sustainable development planning and reporting and the Government’s core expenditure planning and reporting system; and,
  • Effective measurement, monitoring and reporting in order to track and report on progress to Canadians.

The FSDS brings together goals, targets and implementation strategies which have been created through the normal course of government decision-making. The FSDS itself does not establish new goals and targets, with the exception of those for greening government operations (GGO), rather it makes the outcomes of decision making more transparent.

Goals, targets, and implementation strategies are organized under four priority themes:

  1. Addressing climate change and clean air,
  2. Maintaining water quality and availability,
  3. Protecting nature, and
  4. Shrinking the environmental footprint - Beginning with government.

The FSDS focuses on environmental sustainability as a first step in integrating environmental concerns with economic and social considerations and sets in motion a process that will over time improve the way in which environmental, economic and social issues are considered. The FSDS will be updated every three years to report on what measures have been taken to address sustainable development, and which priorities remain to be addressed.

Public consultation has guided the FSDS throughout its development. From the beginning stakeholders have supported the adoption of a whole-of-government approach. In his response to the consultation draft, the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development noted: “An overarching strategy is welcome both to help set Canada on a sustainable development pathway and to ensure policy coherence.” (CESD, 2010) Support was also expressed for linking sustainable development to the Government’s planning and reporting processes through the Expenditure Management System (EMS), using environmental indicators to measure and report on progress of the FSDS, and using SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound) criteria to establish the targets in the FSDS.

Particular attention has been paid to commentary surrounding concerns and suggested improvements. Although the purpose of the Act is environmental decision-making, the FSDS now clearly lays out for everyone that environmental, economic and social goals are connected. Air quality, for example, affects health – pollution worsens asthma which adds to health care costs and lowers productivity. Solutions for clean air cannot be decided in isolation – the impact on industry and trading partners needs to be considered.

The integration of environmental, social and economic decision-making involves many jurisdictions – governments at all levels, industry, and citizens all have a role to play. The FSDS lays out in detail the areas where the federal government is actively addressing environmental issues across departments. As well, it has examples of areas where the government is working to support industry and citizens in their efforts, e.g. support for industry efforts in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).

The FSDS outlines the government’s commitment to strengthen the application of strategic environmental assessments (SEA). This will improve the consideration of environmental concerns when making economic or social decisions by applying the FSDS goals and targets when undertaking SEAs, reporting on the results of SEAs in Departmental Performance Reports (DPR), and describing the contribution of a proposal to the achievement of the FSDS goals and targets in the SEA public statements.

Goals, targets and implementation strategies outlined in the Annex give a detailed description of federal government activities under each heading, so for the first time it is possible to see all activities in one place. The FSDS describes in detail how departments will report using the Expenditure Management System and what their Reports on Plans and Priorities (RPP) and DPRs will look like using the FSDS goals and targets. It illustrates how the Canadian Environmental Sustainability Indicators (CESI) will be used to report progress on goals and targets.  The first progress report is planned for spring 2011.

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