Synthesis report: public consultations on the draft Federal Sustainable Development Strategy 2016–2019

The draft 2016-2019 Federal Sustainable Development Strategy (FSDS) was released for public consultation on February 26, 2016, as required by subsection 9(3) of the Federal Sustainable Development Act (the Act). At the close of consultations on June 24, 2016, more than 540 comments had been received from a broad range of stakeholders such as the general public, industry, professional associations, Indigenous organizations, governments, business representatives, academics and environmental non-governmental organizations. As well, the FSDS received almost 900 posts/replies to posts, 3000 shares and 11,000 likes in social media, with a reach exceeding 400,000 people. This document identifies emerging themes from these comments on the draft 2016-2019 FSDS and does not present them in any order of importance. Specific suggestions have been shared with implicated departments and agencies for their consideration when developing the final FSDS.

1. What You Liked About the draft 2016-2019 FSDS

Many respondents were supportive of the draft 2016-2019 FSDS, noting significant advancements since the first FSDS was tabled in October 2010. A number called the draft 2016-2019 FSDS a “dramatic change” from the first two cycles of the strategy.  Respondents were supportive of the efforts undertaken to make the document more accessible and therefore more transparent through the electronic version of the draft 2016-2019 FSDS, particularly the ability to “sift and sort” the information to find the areas of most importance to them. This utility of the new web interface was demonstrated through respondents’ use of comment boxes on every page of the draft e-Strategy, and the related comments that were particular to a specific area in the draft 2016-2019 FSDS. Respondents also commented positively on the Government’s openness to receiving comments and input, and appreciated the variety of ways they could be heard including through the FSDS itself, webinars on the draft 2016-2019 FSDS, meetings, an interactive consultation web site, social media and emails/letters/videos sent directly to Environment and Climate Change Canada.

Respondents were pleased to see the new Human Health, Well-being and Quality of Life and the Clean Technology, Jobs and Innovation goals, with their related social and economic framing. They responded positively to the contextual information presented for each goal and target and appreciated the information that was pre-sorted by topic in the draft e-Strategy (e.g. the North, Indigenous people, laws and regulations, etc.). Respondents acknowledged improvements in the scope and rigour of the document, noting a number of targets had become more specific and measureable. They also said that the draft 2016-2019 FSDS is the only consolidated source of detailed information on the Government of Canada’s environmental agenda, appreciating that it contains the commitments and actions of 37 departments and agencies, 11 more than were included in the first FSDS.

2. Sustainability Topics of Interest to You

Climate change related comments were the most prevalent with those who participated in the public consultations. Respondents called on the Government of Canada to demonstrate leadership and take action on climate change. A number of respondents noted that the implementation strategies (government actions) under the climate change targets in the draft 2016-2019 FSDS fall short of what is needed to meet its climate change goal. 

Respondents spoke about sustainable energy, noting there is no transition plan to shift from fossil fuels to low-carbon solutions and without it, meeting climate change goals and targets will be challenging. They looked to the federal government to set the stage for this transition and to take the lead on demonstrating and promoting new green technologies (e.g. renewable energy, biofuels). Others asked for more discussion around the interconnectivity among environmental policy, future economic growth and competitiveness. 

Respondents provided suggestions for reducing greenhouse gas emissions including mandating clean technology solutions, carbon sequestration/carbon farming, developing and using more renewable energy, instituting a mandatory carbon tax with revenue used to develop renewable energy technology, using a 1990 base year for emissions reduction, returning to Canada’s Kyoto target, taxing oil production, increasing the gasoline tax, implementing a hard cap on emissions, developing technology to monitor corporations’ and individuals’ emissions, adopting a polluter pays principle, fulfilling Canada’s G20 commitment to phase out subsidies for the fossil fuel industry, and providing innovation incentives. Some suggested developing climate policies that address carbon currently stored and sequestered both above (e.g., Boreal forest) and below ground in natural areas (e.g., wetlands).

Respondents looked to the Government to set an ambitious GHG emission reduction target for its federal buildings that is beyond what is already committed to by the rest of Canada, even suggesting doubling this target or going carbon neutral. There were numerous suggestions to reduce emissions generally by adding climate change considerations to federal government procurement processes; developing enviro-friendly infrastructure in federal facilities, increasing energy efficiency in custodian departments and reducing government air travel. To help implement these ideas, respondents suggested developing an internal funding program for sustainable projects.

Respondents also mentioned the need to be more resilient to the effects of climate change. They suggested the FSDS develop a new target focusing on urban ecosystems/urban parks to help with the heat island effect and air quality, as well as help coastal areas deal with sea level rise. Others wanted more information on quantifying losses of ecosystem services due to environmental incidents such as extreme weather events.

As well, there was some discussion around the social impacts of climate change, including recognizing the heightened impacts on vulnerable populations such as those living in poverty, in the North, etc.; detailing the impacts of increased population/ overpopulation on GHG emissions, water, etc.; and, outlining the potential impacts of extreme weather, melting permafrost, and increased marine traffic, tourism and development on northern communities. Some called for a differentiation in the draft 2016-2019 FSDS between climate change actions for north and south of 60. Others suggested involving people who live in the North, such as supplementing information for ice statistics with that of Inuk hunters and engaging students living in the North for measurement and other projects.

Respondents spoke about the importance of carbon capture and storage. They were looking at research on the rate of sequestrations of habitats as a measure to mitigate the effects of climate change. They also spoke about the importance of forests as a carbon sink, and wanted the role of forest in carbon storage captured in the draft 2016-2019 FSDS.

Respondents next commentated on issues of importance to them where they live. Many comments suggested that urban sprawl and lack of green transportation options and infrastructure were issues that should be discussed in the draft 2016-2019 FSDS.  Suggestions to promote green transportation included implementing mass transit, light rail, electric buses, electric charging stations, and investigating the plausibility of a high-speed mode of transportation such as the Hyperloop. Some respondents noted that expanding transportation infrastructure, specifically highways, destroys farmland and encourages emissions. Some respondents wanted a place in the draft 2016-2019 FSDS to recognize partner contributions to emission reduction in the transportation sector such as the aviation/aerospace industry.

Some respondents noted that innovation and infrastructure are highlighted as priorities in the draft 2016-2019 FSDS; however, there was no explanation about how these areas will contribute to Canada’s competitiveness and demonstrate environmental leadership. A number of respondents called for a stronger and more forward-looking message around sustainable development being good for the economy.

Some respondents suggested the building sector could help meet GHG emission reduction targets by enhancing some existing levers such as the federal government’s Model National Energy Code for Buildings. They suggested the FSDS could make a commitment whereby this Code would be enhanced to include more environmental controls, particularly around energy efficiency. They also wanted the federal government to show leadership in the buildings area by developing and demonstrating “net zero” or “near zero” energy buildings and by working with landlords to decrease the environmental footprint in buildings where the federal government is a tenant.

The health and wellness goal generated some discussion as well. There was a great deal of support for developing green technology to improve air quality, with some respondents suggesting that the progress made under the Clean Air Regulatory Agenda should be enhanced. Respondents also raised issues around indoor air quality (e.g. mold, database on key indoor air quality indicators, funding for monitoring indoor air quality).

Some suggested creating a national pesticide monitoring system and a post-registration surveillance regime, and others encouraged discontinuing pesticide use on all federal lands. Some respondents asked for more explicit commentary in the draft 2016-2019 FSDS on the effects of chemicals on humans. 

A number of respondents called for the draft 2016-2019 FSDS to include waste, addressing food waste, municipal/solid waste, recycling, and marine plastics. They indicated that this was a major gap in the draft 2016-2019 FSDS and an area of increasing importance and focus. Others suggested redefining waste as a potential valuable resource that can realize cost-savings, boost innovation and create jobs in a circular economy.

Lifestyle and consumption issues were discussed as well. For example, a number of suggestions came forward for broadening the discussion of chemicals management in the draft 2016-2019 FSDS to include explicit mention of fertilizers, cosmetics, cleaning products, and other consumer use products. Some also suggested there should be mention of removing nanoparticles from all commonly used products. Some suggested embedding the concept of the “circular economy” into policies and regulations. 

A number of comments related to adopting sustainable lifestyles by promoting recycling and reducing packaging, providing tools to individuals to calculate their environmental footprint, and supporting local businesses; however, there was some skepticism that citizens would willingly replace cars with bicycles as this is viewed as a large individual sacrifice. Waste reduction and composting were also suggested as means to promote sustainable lifestyles.

Another area of interest was food safety and security. Respondents noted that we currently live in a society of overconsumption and that food sovereignty and security should be addressed in the draft 2016-2019 FSDS. These respondents promoted local, organic produce and suggested shifting society away from genetically modified foods and high levels of animal proteins. Other wanted to see urban agriculture promoted in schools so that Canadians would be able to grow their own food. Suggestions were put forward for the draft 2016-2019 FSDS to promote developing urban green spaces such as rooftop and community gardens and urban parks.

Freshwater and oceans were of interest to respondents, particularly in the areas of marine pollution (polluter pay), northern sovereignty, incentives for water and sewage infrastructure and improvements in water management technology. A number of comments related to fresh water systems (Great Lakes, St. Lawrence, Lake Simcoe and Lake Winnipeg) were received, including adding more detailed information related to nutrient loading and water basin management. A few suggested the final Strategy should contain a specific surface water aspirational goal related to “fresh water health”. Other areas some thought should be addressed include freshwater systems that do not fall within the existing basins mentioned in the draft  2016-2019 FSDS, “wild rivers”, the beluga whale and ocean acidification. Water security, particularly around the sale of Canadian water resources, was another area some said should be included in the draft 2016-2019 FSDS. Protecting fish and fish stocks was another area of concern for respondents

While some were supportive of developing clean technology, others were worried about economic and sectorial impacts of “green technology” (e.g. loss of agricultural land to wind farms), and “green jobs” that might displace those in more traditional employment. Some suggested adding a clean technology/innovation-related target for the oil and gas sector as it transitions from traditional practices to new ways of doing business. A number of respondents were looking for a specific target and/or clear direction on where the Government of Canada is heading with respect to renewable energy.

Respondents noted that the federal government should apply the precautionary principle to species and ecosystem management (marine and terrestrial ecosystems) and that habitat protection for migratory birds is a key objective. There was also a focus on connecting with nature, with more emphasis on access to ensuring that all have access to national parks. Respondents noted, however, that there should be clarification on the intention to limit development of national parks. There were also comments about taking the quality of habitats into account and including good management practices for protected areas in the draft 2016-2019 FSDS. Invasive alien species were also mentioned as areas of concern.

Sustainable agriculture was another sector discussed in relation to the draft 2016-2019 FSDS, with a number of respondents asking for more emphasis on sector activities. Some noted that animal management/livestock feed processing and production were factors in climate change and should be addressed in the draft 2016-2019 FSDS. Others were looking for more of a focus on organic and other forms of sustainable agriculture (e.g. biofuels, non-fossil fuel farm machinery, farm biodiversity) to be fleshed out in the draft 2016-2019 FSDS’s sustainable agriculture target. Some submissions noted that some of the agricultural best management practices (e.g. to preserve soil quality) should be mentioned, and encouraged the federal government to continue to support agricultural round tables. They also called for more alignment with existing sector strategies, particularly in the area of investing in sustainable agriculture technologies. Bees were also a focus of several consultation submissions, with respondents expecting pollinators would be part of the sustainable agriculture target, as well as the chemical management target.

Respondents encouraged the federal government to continue to educate Canadians on sustainable development. They asked for an on-going conversation between the Government and civil society about things that matter to them. Seeing the FSDS as the flagship for sustainable development in Canada, they thought it should inspire action and that if more people were aware of it, more action would be taken.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development outlines 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to “end poverty, fight inequality and injustice, and tackle climate change by 2030”. Currently, the draft FSDS addresses 12 of these goals; however, it does not account for socio-economic goals, such as poverty, education, or gender equality. Some respondents asked that the final Strategy clarify who within the Canadian Government is looking at the integration of the multiple elements of sustainable development and the overall ownership of the SDGs. Some respondents suggested that the timing of final FSDS 2016-2019 provides an opportunity to signal that Canada is moving towards the SDGs domestically. They suggested that, in the first instance, the FSDS highlight priority areas and environmental goals, with a focus on alignment and some social and economic measures. Subsequent strategies could build on that platform and add more of the social and economic goals and measures. Others called for better integration of all SDGs into the FSDS. Detailed suggestions to further the FSDS and SDGs linkage include expanding the draft 2016-2019 FSDS to include a longer term outlook (i.e. 2030) to align with the SDGs and increasing the current Canadian Environmental Sustainability Indicators (CESI) to include more social and economic indicators. 

Respondents were supportive of the renewed emphasis on strategic environmental assessments (SEAs), indicating that environmental sustainability considerations should be incorporated on a day-to-day basis into key areas of social and economic policy. They called for strengthening internal policies and guidelines, e.g., the Cabinet Directive on Environmental Assessment and guidance for SEAs. Some also indicated that the environmental assessment process needed to be reworked to include quantification of losses of ecosystem services and expected losses based on historical probabilities of major incidents. They also supported including environmental effects of proposed capital projects in the approval process and mandating environmentally-enhancing projects to offset these effects. Some suggested that Regional Environmental Assessments should be introduced for projects that potentially have broader impacts than just the direct area of the project (e.g. pipelines, mineral extraction).

Some noted that there were areas missing from the draft 2016-2019 FSDS, such as tourism. They said there is an opportunity to connect Canadians with nature through national parks, as well as by protecting natural habitat and landscapes and managing protected areas. This could foster tourism and economic opportunities for neighbouring communities. They suggested the draft 2016-2019 FSDS should include something on Sustainable Tourism, an opportunity that could be developed over the next 20 years. Others wanted to ensure that if tourism in national parks is promoted and expanded that the national parks business plans focus on maximizing sustainability, ensuring that tourism concessions and licensed operators operate sustainably as well.

The new target on sustainable mineral resource development generated several suggestions and sometimes contradictory comments. For example, while there were comments on banning coal in Canada, there were also comments on making sure “clean coal” was part of Canada’s energy mix. Pipelines also came up as a topic under this target, with a number of respondents indicating this was an area of concern, particularly with respect to potential environmental disasters. Others, however, noted that pipelines are part of an economic engine for Canada and should be supported. Some respondents wanted the draft 2016-2019 FSDS to include mention of the activities of Canadian mining companies abroad as an important link to the SDGs.

Some respondents said the precautionary principle was missing from the draft 2016-2019 FSDS, although it is part of the Act, and they were looking for more emphasis on it. Respondents noted that the federal government should apply the precautionary principle to species and ecosystem management (marine and terrestrial ecosystems). 

3. You Called for Improvements

While a number of respondents acknowledged that there have been improvements in the scope and rigour of the draft 2016-2019 FSDS, they had some suggestions for improvements.

There was support for a broad, comprehensive, national strategy that encompasses not only the Agenda 2030 Sustainable Development Goals but the actions of all key players that contribute to sustainable development in Canada. Comments ranged from suggesting that the  draft 2016-2019 FSDS focus on specific examples within the existing five goals and prioritize actions based on Canada’s strengths and weaknesses, to including the actions and contributions all facets of civil society. Some respondents called for the FSDS to provide a longer term vision of sustainable development for Canada. They noted the FSDS should remind Canadians that the draft 2016-2019 FSDS is but one step in moving toward this vision--that everyone has a role to play--all levels of government, the private sector, non-governmental organizations and civil society. With that in mind, some wanted the draft 2016-2019 FSDS to be a more priorities-based communications and engagement document that would help all players know their role in making Canada a more sustainable country. A number, however, said that the document also needed to have a detailed implementation plan that outlines clearly the actions being taken to achieve the goals and targets.

While sustainable development is viewed as a global issue, respondents said it was important to include everyday Canadians in making Canada a more sustainable country. They called for maximizing the impact of sustainable practices by engaging Canadians and appealing to their core values of wanting to make a difference in the world. Some indicated the draft 2016-2019 FSDS should include a “call to action”, with suggestions for Canadians on how to lessen their environmental footprint and to live more sustainably in order to make the draft 2016-2019 FSDS more accessible to the general public. Others called for explicit real-life examples of the impacts of targets (i.e. “what does it mean for me?”).

Canadians commended the improved draft e-Strategy for its online accessibility; however, they had a number of suggestions for improving the draft 2016-2019 FSDS to make it more of a communications tool: add an index to the PDF, map previous strategies to the current draft using clickable infographics, add more visual appeal, and make an eBook and audio book available. In addition, respondents called for improved clarity of public messaging, particularly making indicator results more meaningful for Canadians. They also indicated that some of the language and terms were not familiar to Canadians (e.g. resilience) or required some clarification/definition (e.g. “light pollution”, FSDS goals versus the Sustainable Development Goals, “clean technology”, “level of biodiversity” and “sustainable agriculture”.)

Some were looking for more compelling and inspiring goals that all aspects of Canadian society could aspire to, while others said the new goals on Clean Technology, Jobs and Innovation, and Human Health, Well-being and Quality of Life mark a significant step forward. They applauded the measures taken to “SMARTen” a number of the targets, but thought more work could be done to make more of them measureable and time-bound. Some suggested it would be prudent for the Government of Canada to focus on a few key priority areas/targets, while others had recommendations for several more targets that could be added to the draft 2016-2019 FSDS (e.g. renewable energy, tourism, clean transportation, etc.). Some respondents recognized that the draft 2016-2019 FSDS was released for public consultation early on in the new Government’s mandate and acknowledged that it was understandable that the implementation strategies (government actions) in the document were presented at a general level. Others, however, were looking for more specificity and clarity on government actions to support the targets.

Measurement was another area respondents spoke about, noting that there is a wide range of indicators in the draft 2016-2019 FSDS. They said that tracking and communicating progress enhances transparency and accountability. They called for more direct connections between the Canadian Environmental Sustainability Indicators (CESI) and the FSDS goals and targets (e.g. progress statements, charts). “We need a way of creating a picture out of the pieces.” They also suggested the document clarify differences between, for example, state of the environment indicators and performance measures. Some also suggested that while a number of the indicators measure what the targets are trying to achieve and are better explained in the draft 2016-2019 FSDS, some are “indirect proxies” and require further clarification or better indicators (if data exists). They noted that using the SDG indicators, where appropriate, would benefit future reporting and benchmarking. Some called for more collaboration with other jurisdictions on metrics so that they are aligned federally and provincially (e.g. reporting on the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement).

Respondents called for strengthened accountability, specifically asking for costing and available program funding to be outlined in the draft 2016-2019 FSDS. Other suggestions to improve accountability include appointing an advocate for “Future Generations”, creating a Parliamentary Standing Committee for the Future, articulating principles and long-term objectives for sustainability, and continuing to clearly identify accountable Ministers for each target, and departments for each implementation strategy (federal actions). Finally, respondents suggested using benchmarking as a way to increase transparency, specifically citing corporate sustainability reporting as a best practice. They also suggested reporting on progress on an annual basis, identifying actions as existing or new, and ensuring open access to scientific research and data as further measures to demonstrate government transparency and accountability.

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