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

Sustainable Development Office
Environment Canada

October 2010

Chapter 3: Framework for sustainable development planning and reporting

The FSDS fulfils the requirements of the Act by rendering environmental decision-making more transparent and accountable to Parliament. It does so by establishing a framework for sustainable development planning and reporting with three key elements:

  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 of Canada’s core expenditure planning and reporting system; and,
  3. Effective measurement, monitoring and reporting in order to track and report on progress to Canadians.

The development and implementation of the FSDS is a collaborative process across the whole of the Government of Canada that is based on an approach to improve transparency and accountability. The Minister of the Environment has overall responsibility for the development of the FSDS.

The goals, targets and implementation strategies in the first three themes of the FSDS have been drawn from existing policy and legislative authorities to ensure transparent accounting of existing decisions taken to support environmental sustainability. Future decisions on policy related to environmental sustainability will be captured in subsequent FSDSs.

The Federal Sustainable Development Act requires a Sustainable Development Office within Environment Canada to develop and maintain systems and procedures to monitor progress on the FSDS’s implementation.

The Treasury Board Secretariat (TBS) also plays a key role by ensuring that the Government of Canada is well managed and accountable. TBS is responsible for the Government of Canada’s Expenditure Management System (EMS) and thus oversees using the EMS to support the FSDS through the Reports on Plans and Priorities (Departmental Sustainable Development Strategies) and the Departmental Performance Reports (progress reporting).

Public Works and Government Services Canada (PWGSC), under Environment Canada’s guidance, leads on theme four of the FSDS, “Shrinking the environmental footprint – Beginning with government." As the department responsible for providing oversight of the greening of federal government operations, PWGSC has been working with the federal community to establish targets, implementation strategies, and performance measures to reduce the Government of Canada’s environmental footprint. Importantly, however, each department is responsible for minimizing its own environmental footprint.

Finally, the Federal Sustainable Development Act provides a specific role for Cabinet by requiring that a Cabinet committee provide oversight of the development and implementation of the FSDS. The Privy Council Office is therefore engaged in its role as the Government of Canada’s official secretary to the Cabinet. The responsibilities of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development are also clearly outlined in the Act. The Commissioner has a mandate to review the draft FSDS and comment on whether the targets and implementation strategies can be assessed.

1. Integrated whole-of-government picture

For the first time, the FSDS integrates the federal government’s actions to achieve environmental sustainability and provides a new level of transparency to government decision-making. This approach lays out the Government of Canada’s priorities and will also help to identify where gaps exist and where goals need to be strengthened.

The first three themes chosen for this FSDS are:

  • I. Addressing climate change and air quality;
  • II. Maintaining water quality and availability; and
  • III. Protecting nature.

These themes are not new to government because, for many years, they have been the priority of Canadians. However providing a horizontal overview of the three themes across government is new in Canada.

The fourth theme reinforces the importance of the whole-of-government approach; it is:

  • IV. Shrinking the environmental footprint - Beginning with government.

Under this theme, the FSDS lays out goals and targets that will help to reduce its own environmental footprint including, for example, setting targets for reducing emissions of greenhouse gases and making the federal government’s purchasing more environmentally-friendly.

2. Linking to the core expenditure planning and reporting system

The second key element connects sustainable development planning and reporting to the federal government’s core expenditure planning and reporting system. This responds to criticisms from the CESD and suggestions from stakeholders.

Linking the FSDS to the Expenditure Management System (EMS) provides a much stronger basis for improving the transparency and accountability of environmental decision-making under the FSDS. Linking to the EMS will provide access to reliable financial and non-financial performance information over time related to environmental sustainability.  It brings together and enhances information on existing federal government activities and links them to environmental decisions.

The Government of Canada commits to producing the FSDS and a subsequent Progress Report each three years, as outlined in the Act. The FSDS and the Progress Report will be standalone documents describing the whole of government planning and reporting of sustainable development.

In order to explicitly link the FSDS to the EMS, all departments and agencies named in the annex of the Federal Sustainable Development Act or under schedule 1 of the Financial Administration Act (see Annex 5), will use the existing federal government core planning and reporting system to plan, monitor and report on their respective sustainable development activities. Under the EMS, the reporting on plans and the tracking of progress on results occurs through two key documents:

Given this level of integration with the EMS's subsequent reporting requirements, in developing their annual RPPs, departments will effectively be completing their Departmental Sustainable Development Strategies. This RPP reporting will contain objectives and plans that comply with, and contribute to, the FSDS.  Each year, departments will report on their respective implementation strategies through their existing DPR. The RPP and DPR will identify departmental activities and programs contributing to the federal goals and targets by:

  • Using icons and written text (Figure 1);
  • Linking to departmental websites with more details on the departmental contributions to the FSDS and, where applicable, to broader contributions to the social, economic, and environmental pillars of sustainable development;
  • Considering the precautionary principle when developing programs, policies, and initiatives; and
  • Committing to strengthen SEA.

Currently, the implementation strategies (see Annexes 1 to 4) in the FSDS reflect existing departmental and agency initiatives related to the federal goals and targets. Over time, departments and agencies will contribute to the development of new goals and targets by leading new initiatives which are appropriate to their mandate. The FSDS also strives for further improvements to how the Government of Canada plans and reports on sustainable development.  Environment Canada will continue to benchmark progress for public service managers to fulfil their departmental contributions to the FSDS.

The Treasury Board Secretariat, in consultation with the Sustainable Development Office, will assess whether the FSDS can make use of existing reporting tools, such as Canada’s Performance Report, to better demonstrate the integration of environmental, economic, and social dimensions of reporting on results to Canadians.

Figure 1: Example of how departments will integrate sustainable development into their respective RPPs

Transport Canada

2.2.1 Program Activity: Clean air from transportation
Transport Canada’s Clean Air from Transportation Program Activity advances the federal government’s clean air agenda in the transportation sector and complements other federal programs designed to reduce air emissions for the health of Canadians and the environment for generations to come. The program regulates air emissions from the transportation sector; oversees Transport Canada’s clean air program obligations and commitments; demonstrates and promotes clean transportation technologies; promotes environmentally responsible best practices and behaviours; and builds stakeholders knowledge and capacity to reduce air emissions.

Program Activity: Clean air from transportation
FTEsPlanned spendingFTEsPlanned spendingFTEsPlanned spending
Program Activity
expected results
Performance indicatorsTargets
A transportation system that is less intensive in its emissions of greenhouse gases and air pollutantsLevel of intensity of emissions from freight and passenger transportation, as measured in tons of CO2 equivalent per passenger-km.An intensity improvement that is consistent with targets established under the government's horizontal approach for clean air

The image of the letter “a”. Details can be found below.- The image of the letter “a” above a leaf indicates programming in this area contributes to the Climate change and air quality goal of the Federal Sustainable Development Strategy

Planning Highlights
During the planning period, the program will:

  • continue to implement the Clean Air Agenda announced by the Government of Canada in 2007 by:
  • developing emission regulations for Criteria Air Contaminants (CAC) for the rail sector to take effect in 2011, aligned with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency emissions standards; The image of the letter “a”. Details can be found above.
  • developing enhanced emissions regulations for vessels operating in Canadian waters; The image of the letter “a”. Details can be found above.
  • partnering with the United States to establish an Emission Control Area for North American coastal areas by 2012; and
  • concluding the implementation of the programs under the ecoTRANSPORT Strategy.
  • Programming in this area contributes to the Climate change and air quality goal of the Federal Sustainable Development Strategy. For more information on the Federal Sustainable Development Strategy see the following website.

3. Measuring, monitoring and reporting on progress

In the third element of the approach – effective measurement, monitoring and reporting on progress to Canadians – the FSDS provides a more concerted effort to report and track progress of the goals, targets, and implementation strategies. For themes 1-3, environmental indicators will be selected to assess progress of the FSDS goals and targets while existing departmental performance measures will be used for the implementation strategies.

The information needed to report on the results of environmental programs and policies will come from the Canadian Environmental Sustainability Indicators (CESI) initiative, with additional indicators coming from other federal departments such as Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Health Canada, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, Natural Resources Canada, Parks Canada, Statistics Canada, and Transport Canada.

For theme 4, a performance reporting framework has been developed that establishes common performance measures that each FSDS department will report on in their Reports on Plans and Priorities and Departmental Performance Reports.

Some of the information in CESI is based on long-term monitoring programs with more than 15 years of data, which provides the required reference point for key environmental issues such as air, water, greenhouse gas emissions, and protected areas. Since CESI includes information from federal, provincial, and territorial governments and an assessment of key socio-economic drivers and impacts, it provides national coverage over a wide range of issues. Over the next few years, CESI will work closely with programs in Environment Canada and other federal government departments and agencies to expand the current suite of indicators in order to monitor progress on the environment.

The indicators and data to support them will be evaluated to ensure that they are methodologically sound and can effectively measure progress on the goals and targets of the FSDS. The criteria for selecting indicators are:

  • Policy relevance (represents the FSDS goals and targets);
  • Utility (meets the needs of decision-makers and the public);
  • Soundness (provides consistent and solid methodology, comparable over time); and
  • Data availability (uses existing high-quality data with adequate coverage).

Figure 2 below provides an example of how the indicators for air quality currently tracked by CESI, ground-level ozone and fine particulate matter (PM2.5), meet the indicator criteria.

Figure 2: CESI tracking of air quality indicators
FSDS ThemeTheme I: Addressing climate change and air quality
GoalGoal 2: Air pollution – Minimize the threats to air quality so that the air Canadians breathe is clean and supports healthy ecosystems
Selected indicatorsAmbient air concentration indicators - CESI currently reports on ground-level ozone and PM2.5
Indicator criteria

Policy relevance

  • Air quality indicators track measures of long-term exposure to Canadians of ground-level ozone and fine particulate matter (PM2.5).
  • These indicators include measures of two key elements of smog and are two of the most widespread air pollutants to which people are exposed leading to serious health problems.


  • Selected indicators inform policy analysts, decision-makers, and the public as to whether progress is being made towards improved air quality, in terms of reduced population exposure to ground-level ozone and PM2.5 over the longer term.


  • Strict standards in place to measure air quality pollutants (endorsed by the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment).

Data availability

  • Environment Canada has 188 monitoring stations for ground-level ozone and 146 for fine particulates (PM2.5). This provides adequate national coverage for these two substances.

It is expected that some indicators will be more mature than others and that some will need further development. The Sustainable Development Office will use the selected indicators to show progress on the FSDS when it prepares its Progress Reports. Figure 3 provides an example of the type of data that is available through CESI to measure progress. The indicators will be finalized and outlined in the FSDS Progress Report due in 2011.

Figure 3: Example of CESI: Air quality indicators

Air quality indicators including ground-level ozone and fine particulates (PM2.5) are key components of smog which can cause human health concerns.

  • Average levels of ground-level ozone increased in Canada by 13% between 1990 and 2007; and 2% between 2006 and 2007. While ground-level ozone has increased since 1990, the rate of that increase is slowing down.
  • There were no significant changes in average levels of fine particulates (PM2.5) between 2000 and 2007. The PM2.5 in 2007 increased by 4% compared to 2006 but at this time, the variability in the data from year to year makes it difficult to determine whether the trend is going up or down.
  • The Federal-Provincial Working Group on Air Quality Objectives and Guidelines established reference levels for ozone and PM2.5: 20 parts per billion 1-hour daily maximum for ozone and 15 µg/m3 for PM2.5 averaged over a 24 hour period.

For more information on these air quality indicators and other CESI indicators, please visit:

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