Environment Canada's science strategy 2014-2019: chapter 3

3. Future directions: setting priorities and implementing the strategy

To provide leadership on environmental science addressing federal priorities, Environment Canada must identify and communicate its science priorities, maintain the scientific capacity needed to fulfill its mandate, and establish new ways of working to focus the Department’s science on maintaining a clean, safe and sustainable environment for Canadians. The Strategy will guide Environment Canada in selecting science priorities through its existing planning processes by specifying key directions and areas of focus over the next five years, and by putting in place mechanisms to increase collaborative planning.

Ensuring appropriate science capacity is an ongoing focus for the Department; good science requires good science management. Environment Canada will continue to focus on having the right people, facilities, equipment and systems in place to make sure its science is relevant, transparent, responsive, excellent and collaborative. The Strategy aims to strengthen science capacity by focusing on specific mechanisms to improve science infrastructure, by supporting the Department’s workforce and better managing its data.

To stay focused on delivering the science needed to provide a clean, safe and sustainable environment for Canadians, Environment Canada will continue to work to more effectively integrate scientific activities with functions such as policy development, program delivery and service provision.

Below are specific details on how the Department plans to achieve the Strategy’s vision. First are a set of science priorities, followed by science management tools to improve the way the Department performs and supports its science.


Over the next five years, Environment Canada will continue to drive its science to focus on environmental issues of significance to the Government of Canada. The complex and protracted nature of some issues such as eutrophication, the global scope and scale of issues such as air pollution, climate change and loss of biodiversity and the increasing need for multidisciplinary approaches require new ways of thinking and doing. This means undertaking many activities in a horizontal, cross-cutting way, devising innovative tools and approaches, and taking the Department’s science in new directions, where needed, to respond to emerging and persistent issues. In selecting issues and priorities to focus on, Environment Canada will strive to:

  • Focus on current and emerging issues of significance to the Government of Canada;
  • Build on the Department’s existing expertise, knowledge, methods, tools and products;
  • Target science that supports effective solutions to pressing environmental problems;
  • Direct efforts toward activities and topics in line with the federal role for science and technology.

The four broad science issues identified below are issues that the Department anticipates may drive much of its work over the next five years. These are priority issues for Environment Canada that will help fulfill the Government of Canada’s environmental agenda. They are issues of national and global importance; finding solutions to key challenges within these areas will become increasingly important for Canadians. These issues are based on Departmental and government-wide priorities, as well as discussions with Environment Canada staff and key partners and stakeholders that focused on articulating the impacts of the Department’s current science activities and identifying emerging environmental issues the Department should pursue. The specific activities needed to address these priorities may change over time as the issues evolve and scientific understanding matures. To account for this, the Department will evaluate these priorities annually and adjust as relevant and necessary. This will help the Department’s science remain relevant and responsive.

Priority area 1

Reducing the impacts of contaminants and other environmental stressors on the natural environment

One focus for Environment Canada’s science will be on understanding and tracking the origin, fate and impact of critical contaminants on the environment. In particular, the Department will focus on limiting the impacts of harmful substances, including chemicals found in air, water, soil and wildlife, and air pollutants and greenhouse gases. These contaminants can interact with each other to produce different and sometimes unexpected results. The impacts of contaminants can also be exacerbated by interactions with other environmental stressors, such as climate change. Environment Canada will also focus on understanding and tracking the cumulative effects of environmental stressors, including climate change, on wildlife and ecosystems of national interest.

This work on contaminants and environmental stressors will support a broad range of policies, regulations, guidelines, evaluations and enforcement activities across the Department. It will also help inform and advance the integrated management of Canada’s aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, and will provide the science understanding necessary to conserve Canada’s habitat, biodiversity and ecosystem functions.

This priority area is linked to Environment Canada’s programs on Substances and Waste Management (3.1) and Climate Change and Clean Air (3.2).Footnote1

Priority area 2

Providing early warnings about changing weather, climate and other environmental conditions

In order to improve the Department’s prediction, forecasting and warning capabilities for weather, climate, and air and water quality, Environment Canada will focus its science on developing new monitoring and modelling systems and tools, and improving existing systems. This work will also help provide high quality, science-based tools and services to Canadians, policy-makers and targeted economic sectors.

This priority area is linked to Environment Canada’s programs delivering Weather and Environmental Services for Canadians (2.1) and Weather and Environmental Services for Targeted Users (2.2).

Priority area 3

Climate change mitigation and adaptation

Environment Canada develops and implements regulations and other control measures to address greenhouse gas emissions and improve air quality. In order to support these measures, Environment Canada will focus its science on understanding, tracking and predicting the emissions and atmospheric processes that affect climate change. The Department also provides historical climate data and develops climate models to help Canadians adapt to climatic changes as they occur. Environment Canada will also focus its science on providing the foundational knowledge to understand anticipated climate change to help Canadians plan and adapt to future change. In order to further support adaptive management across Canada, the Department will also focus its science on understanding, tracking and predicting the impacts of climate change on species and ecosystems.

This priority area is linked to Environment Canada’s programs on Climate Change and Clean Air (3.2), and Weather and Environmental Services for Canadians (2.1).

Priority area 4

Strengthening environmental conservation and protection to support responsible resource development

In order to work toward the sustainability of Canada’s natural environment, including preventing biodiversity loss, protecting water resources and sustaining ecosystems over the long term, Environment Canada will focus its science on proactively understanding, tracking and providing information on the environmental impacts of selected resource development projects. The science will look at both primary and cumulative impacts, and will help minimize disturbance of ecosystems and wildlife, inform landscape and habitat management, and support environmental restoration where needed.

This priority area is linked to Environment Canada’s programs on Biodiversity - Wildlife and Habitat (1.1), Water Resources (1.2) and Sustainable Ecosystems (1.3).

Please see Appendix I for a detailed list of specific science activities in each priority area.

Science management

Putting the Strategy’s vision, mission, and principles into practice will affect how Environment Canada plans, communicates and manages its science. It will impact how we work internally, but also the linkages and partnerships we build to work more effectively and efficiently. It will require using existing governance structures effectively as well as implementing mechanisms to strengthen linkages and communication across the Department, as well as bolster support for key organizational assets such as people and data. Some of these mechanisms are new to this strategy; others will draw on current processes to build on existing capacity.


In order to successfully implement the Strategy, the Department will bring key science decision-makers together to put the Strategy into practice. A senior group of Assistant Deputy Ministers will meet 1-2 times per year to provide broad strategic direction and report to the Deputy Minister on progress. Environment Canada’s existing Executive Management Committee could be the forum for these tasks. A managerial (Director General-level) committee, supported by a working group, will deal with operational issues, such as assigning responsibility for specific initiatives, developing and maintaining an implementation plan, and monitoring progress.


Enhancing linkages between science producers, science users and decision-makers

This Science Strategy will facilitate effective, on-going internal dialogue between scientists, policy makers and program managers across Environment Canada to plan science activities together where appropriate. It will also focus on bringing relevant science information to senior decision-makers, such as the Department’s Executive Management Committee, which will help Environment Canada’s policies and priorities respond to new scientific developments.

Improving science infrastructure

Environment Canada maintains important infrastructure and resources to carry out and support its science activities, from its world-class scientific and technical workforce to its wealth of scientific data to the specialized laboratories, facilities and instruments that monitor environmental conditions across the country. This Strategy will help strengthen these resources by improving data management, facilitating greater external access to Departmental science, investing in weather and monitoring instrumentation, and developing tools and policies to support leadership development and quality management across the Department. Environment Canada is committed to maintaining cutting-edge infrastructure to support its world-class science. Partnerships are an important part of this goal. The sharing of our knowledge and data with collaborators and partners helps to advance scientific understanding and increase the impact of our science, thereby enhancing the effectiveness and relevance of our work. In addition, an important part of performing science efficiently and in a responsive manner is working with partners, be it other federal departments, provinces or universities, to maximize world-class infrastructure and resources.

Please see Appendix II for more details on the proposed mechanisms.

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