What we heard: public consultations on the draft 2019 to 2022 Federal Sustainable Development Strategy

On December 3, 2018, we released the draft 2019 to 2022 Federal Sustainable Development Strategy (FSDS) for a 120-day public consultation period. Consultation is an important part of developing each new FSDS and is a requirement of the Federal Sustainable Development Act.

When consultations closed on April 2, 2019, we had received more than 850 total comments. These included more than 300 submissions provided through the online version of the strategy, our interactive engagement website Get Involved, and email, as well as more than 190 submissions provided as part of a letter-writing campaign on nuclear energy. We also received over 200 social media posts and replies. More than 1000 people engaged in dialogue with us by participating in webinars and presentations. Through all communication channels, our consultations reached more than 250,000 Canadians.

We heard from Canadians across the country, including governments, Indigenous organizations, non-governmental organizations, academics, businesses and individuals. We also heard from the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development and from the Sustainable Development Advisory Council, whose members represent:

These comments provided insights, ideas and suggestions that helped us build on past progress and strengthen our strategy.

Environment and Climate Change Canada reviewed and considered all comments when developing the final version of the FSDS. We also shared suggestions provided during consultations with other departments and agencies for their consideration.

This report summarizes, in no particular order, what we heard during public consultations on the draft 2019 to 2022 FSDS.

What you liked about the draft 2019 to 2022 FSDS

Many participants in the consultations supported the draft 2019 to 2022 FSDS. They noted that it builds on the 2016 to 2019 strategy and provides improvements over previous cycles.

Canadians were pleased that the Government of Canada is showing leadership in sustainable development and that Canada is taking action in important areas such as climate change and clean energy. In past consultations, Canadians told us that the FSDS is the only consolidated source of detailed information on the Government of Canada’s environmental agenda. In consultations on the current draft, they said that they continue to look to the federal government to build the foundational partnerships that will support sustainable development across the country.

A few participants commented on the interactivity of the draft FSDS. They said that the online version of the draft strategy and the engagement website complemented each other to provide a holistic forum for sharing information. Canadians also said that most of the suggestions laid out in the Take Action section of each goal were informative and easy to follow.

Your sustainable development priorities

Across their written submissions, Canadians identified a number of sustainable development priorities for action by the Government of Canada. While many people commented on the language of the goals themselves, advocating for or against specific items within the draft FSDS, some also took the opportunity to identify larger topics of conversation related to environmental action.

Many of these broad topics touch on relationships between the federal government and the provinces, territories, municipalities, and Indigenous groups who are also taking action in sustainable development. Canadians asked us to consider the balance between economic growth and environmental protection. While some preferred that we prioritize efforts to place ecological safety at the heart of what we do, others suggested that we concentrate on existing Canadian efforts to remain economically competitive, create jobs and diversify the economy.

Not surprisingly, climate change was one of the main topics highlighted during the consultations. We heard support for the Government’s approach to addressing climate change. We also heard that federal actions such as putting a price on carbon pollution will impose costs and regulatory burdens that could  negatively impact Canadians. Many told us that municipalities are on the front lines of climate change, and that faster and more transparent timelines and mechanisms for supporting municipal action and sustainable technology adoption are important across many sustainable development priorities. The following sections present more detail on these priorities and other key topics raised by Canadians.

Climate change

Comments on the draft 2019 to 2022 FSDS indicated that many Canadians want urgent and ambitious action on climate change. Canadians told us that a sustainable future is important, and said that climate change threatens that future. Some participants emphasized that climate change is especially critical for northern Canada. Canadians recognize that climate change is a defining issue of our time and that progress on other sustainability issues depends on addressing it. Whether it involves federal actions such as putting a price on carbon, or alternate plans for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, all agree  that they want to leave a safe and healthy Canada for future generations, and that we cannot get there using a “business as usual” approach.

Canadians asked us to get the timing right. Some were pleased to see short-term milestones such as implementing regulations to reduce methane emissions. Many called for more ambitious action to meet Canada’s Paris Agreement commitments. Canadians also called for renewed efforts to decarbonize and electrify Canada’s energy sector. While Canadians recognize that major change takes time and resources, they asked us to move with speed and deliberation toward a sustainable future.

Some participants wanted more attention paid to climate change adaptation and more detail about efforts to build resilience. With a clear voice, Canadians urged us to take action to help Canadian communities adapt to unavoidable climate change impacts—especially those communities that are most vulnerable.

Participants highlighted the role of partnerships in addressing on climate change. They supported national coordination and noted the importance of federal leadership and collaboration with provinces, territories, and municipalities. They said that the FSDS should clarify and support the role of industry in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Some discussed the role that strategic investments could play and referred to the Government of Canada’s Expert Panel on Sustainable Finance. Others said they wanted to see more content in the FSDS on what partners outside government are doing on climate change and outlined some of the actions they were taking.

Clean and renewable energy

Canadians expressed strong support for renewable energy and were interested in thinking about a low-carbon future. At the same time, there continues to be strong support for existing energy sources, especially for ensuring a smooth transition to renewable energy. Many advocated for more generation and use of solar, wind and geothermal energy, and for more green jobs. Canadians emphasized the need for a just transition for workers moving between industries. They also spoke about training programs to help workers take advantage of opportunities presented by clean technology.

Some mentioned a need to reduce barriers to new technology, calling for a more streamlined process to support innovation and more integration of developed technologies. Others brought up the potential for communities to harness small-scale electricity production using renewable energy sources. Comments also touched on the importance of increasing energy efficiency through smart technology.

Many participants wanted to discuss ways to finance the transition to more renewable energy, including the need to simplify approvals processes for government funding. Others called for governments to encourage cross-sector collaboration for a more effective transition.

Canadians talked frankly to us about competing priorities and questioned whether fossil fuel subsidies and investments in pipeline projects can be reconciled with sustainable development and the price on carbon pollution. While many participants advocated moving away from use of fossil fuels and subsidies, a few expressed support for continued fossil fuel production to provide affordable, reliable energy. Some suggested that fossil fuel development in the short term could help to finance a longer-term transition to clean energy.

Many asked us to reconsider whether nuclear energy should be part of our clean energy vision. In support of this request, Canadians raised concerns over the safety and environmental impacts of nuclear energy and advocated for the “polluter pays” principle. Overall, Canadians emphasized that it is important to achieve an appropriate mix of energy sources.

Zero-emission vehicles

Many Canadians highlighted the role of zero-emission vehicles in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. They called for incentives for consumers to buy electric vehicles and install charging stations at home. Canadians also asked the Government of Canada to support the ongoing development of electric vehicle charging infrastructure across Canada.

The zero-emission vehicles target set out in the FSDS Greening Government goal was interesting to many participants. Some said there should be more action to encourage government employees to buy zero-emission vehicles and install more charging stations in government buildings.

Sustainable lifestyles and consumption

Many comments discussed the need for environmental awareness and education. Some suggested that elementary and high school curricula include environmental issues. Others suggested that green infrastructure in schools and government buildings would be a great way to lead by example.

Participants discussed the need to raise environmental awareness for all Canadians, and told us that recycling continues to be an important part of living sustainably. Some highlighted consumer education as an important way to promote more sustainable choices—for example, by providing information on the environmental costs of making and disposing of products. Since everyone has a part to play, Canadians asked us to help make sustainable choices a part of everyday life.

Other participants wanted Canada to promote a circular economy in which producers and consumers minimize the use of raw materials, maximize the useful life of materials, and reduce waste generated at the end of life of products and packaging. We heard that circular economy principles could apply to areas such as food production. Canadians told us that they want decreased use of plastics, especially single-use plastics. They also said that the federal government could lead the way in plastic reduction.

Participants connected the need for consumer education with Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 12, Responsible Consumption and Production. They noted that there is room for improvement on this goal in Canada and that the federal government could lead the way through green procurement. They also suggested that if Canada sought to emphasize one SDG, SDG 12 would be a good one to focus on.

Sustainable food and agriculture

Participants talked about ways to make sustainable and healthy food a reality for more Canadians. Some said that the FSDS should acknowledge linkages between diet and climate change. Others emphasized the importance of healthy and sustainable diets. Participants suggested that the government promote plant-based diets through resources such as the revised Canada’s Food Guide.

Canadians noted that climate change has potential to raise food costs—for example, through changing weather patterns. A number of participants emphasized the relationship between food production and human health. Canadians called for more farming practices that alleviate environmental impacts, such as regenerative agriculture and reducing pesticide use. Some advocated for more local growing practices to provide healthy food for communities and reduce emissions from transportation.

Ecosystem protection and land use

We received a number of comments related to conserving Canada’s land and forests. Canadians spoke about the role of grasslands in storing carbon and discussed the need to conserve these ecosystems for future generations to experience and enjoy.

Canadians also expressed concern about clear-cut logging and deforestation, emphasizing the importance of sustainable timber harvesting and reforestation. They told us that using the language of “natural infrastructure” would be a useful step in recognizing the value of ecosystem services provided by woodland areas, wetlands, and other natural sites.

Some participants welcomed attention to invasive species across different regions, especially as climate change impacts ecosystem resiliency. Others made it clear to us that species at risk protection efforts and partnerships are crucial to managing Canada’s ecosystems.

Canadians supported the creation of marine protected areas and told us that it is important to balance conservation, economic, and social needs across Canada’s oceanic ecosystems. Some requested more coverage of conservation efforts in lakes and rivers across the country in addition to those areas already represented in the FSDS. Canadians also called for continued action on protecting our oceans, coasts, and waterways from the effects of plastic waste.

Water management

Participants suggested that the FSDS include support for sustainable water management practices. They told us in clear and certain terms that all Canadians should have access to clean drinking water. Some said that it was important to consider the quantity of water as well as the quality of water available, as climate change may incite droughts and make water access difficult.

Other suggestions included adding initiatives around managing storm water, conserving drinking water and reducing the amount of chemicals entering the water cycle.

Sustainable urban planning

Some Canadians asked about sustainable urban planning and the federal government’s relationship with municipalities. They noted that it is through municipalities that real change can happen. Participants discussed the need for strategic urban developments that focus on pedestrian and public transit routes as well as urban green space. Some suggested the government take a leadership role in developing sustainable development tools and training for municipalities and small business owners. Others expressed concern about environmental harm from urban sprawl.

Reconciliation and the rights of Indigenous peoples

Participants emphasized that the FSDS should more strongly support reconciliation and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Others suggested ways to accomplish our goals by incorporating Indigenous values and working with Indigenous governments and communities.

Your suggestions for improvement

While many acknowledged the improvements and heightened aspirations in the draft 2019 to 2022 FSDS over previous strategies, Canadians also suggested further improvements. For example, they asked us to consider the strategy’s vision and priorities to reconcile environmental protection with economic development.

Many Canadians submitted questions and comments related to adding or refining terms, definitions, and targets. Some suggested that improvements in distributing educational information could complement the FSDS. This information could be on general topics—such as the concept of sustainability—or on specific topics such as energy efficiency.

Canadians told us that intergenerational considerations guide their visions of sustainability and should continue to improve the strategy.

Some said that FSDS goals should be more ambitious and that actions should be more urgent. Some expressed concern about whether the strategy’s actions are sufficient to reach the goals and targets, and asked about contingency plans.  Others inquired about emerging carbon capture technologies. A few participants wanted to consolidate goals, particularly the Clean Growth and Clean Energy goals. Commenters also asked for more clarity about the responsibility of different jurisdictions for achieving environmental outcomes.

When discussing the FSDS, many Canadians referred to the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Some suggested that the FSDS increase coverage of the Sustainable Development Goals  from the 12 currently reflected in the FSDS to all 17 set out in the 2030 Agenda. In particular, many participants referred to SDG 12, Responsible Consumption and Production. Others disagreed and preferred domestic goals and priorities. A number asked about the relationship of the FSDS to the forthcoming National Strategy on the 2030 Agenda.

Canadians expressed a great deal of interest in Bill C-57, An Act to amend the Federal Sustainable Development Act (which has not yet come into force). Some participants asked about the opportunity for the 2019 to 2022 FSDS to proactively account for changes resulting from this legislation.

Participants also suggested that the FSDS could better address the social and economic dimensions of sustainable development. In particular, Canadians expressed interest in seeing more attention to issues of poverty, gender, and inequality.

Finally, some said that the government should increase transparency and accountability. For example, we heard the suggestion to report more often on progress toward FSDS goals and targets. Others suggested that policies should be better coordinated to avoid duplicating effort and funding.

We understand that there is always room to improve. Comments from Canadians have been considered and have helped shape the final version of the 2019 to 2022 FSDS. We also want to continue the conversation on sustainable development. We invite Canadians to continue talking with us about their ideas, hopes and concerns as we implement our strategy and continue to look to the future.

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