What We Heard: Draft 2022 to 2026 Federal Sustainable Development Strategy

On March 11, 2022, Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) released the draft 2022 to 2026 Federal Sustainable Development Strategy (the Strategy, FSDS) for a 120-day public consultation period. The draft 2022-2026 FSDS was the first strategy released under the strengthened Federal Sustainable Development Act (the Act) and the first to be framed using the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), with a focus on their environmental aspects.

When consultations closed on July 9, 2022, ECCC had received more than 700 comments through a variety of platforms including the online version of the Strategy, the interactive engagement website PlaceSpeak, email, and social media. The Department also engaged with over 1500 people through presentations, workshops, and an FSDS webinar series. Social media reached more than 3.5 million users.

ECCC heard from Canadians across the country, including all levels of government, Indigenous organizations, youth, non-governmental organizations, academics, businesses, and individuals.

The Department also heard from the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, who provided two letters with observations and recommendations for the 2022-2026 Strategy, and from the Sustainable Development Advisory Council whose members represent:

ECCC reviewed and considered all comments when finalizing the 2022-2026 Strategy. The comments provided insights, ideas, and suggestions that helped strengthen the Strategy. The Department shared this consultation input with all implicated federal organizations for consideration when developing their contributions to the final Strategy, and for their own policies and programs.

This report summarizes "what we heard" during public consultations on the draft 2022-2026 Strategy.

What you liked

Respondents supported using the SDGs as a frame for the Strategy and noted that these goals provide a common ground for Canadians to engage with a broad set of sustainable development issues. A few respondents said that they saw the SDGs as universal in nature and resonating with Canadians, noting that they are well thought out and widely published.

Respondents also supported changes brought about by the strengthened Act. Many applauded the whole-of-government approach, whereby 101 federal organizations will contribute to the FSDS and describe progress on their commitments annually through Departmental Sustainable Development Strategies and reports. Many respondents were pleased to see new principles included in the strengthened Act, especially the principles of involving Indigenous peoples in sustainable development and of intergenerational equity.

Your sustainable development priorities

Indigenous perspectives

Indigenous participants and representatives reiterated the importance of applying a distinctions-based approach to address the priorities and challenges of Indigenous communities. Many asked the federal government to recognize Indigenous self-governance and support for Indigenous ownership and leadership in projects involving renewable energy and conservation. Respondents also called for the federal government to re-evaluate how natural resource development projects are conducted. ECCC was asked to re-conceptualize the meaning of "natural capital" in the context of the SDGs. Comments on the Strategy reaffirmed that collaboration and engagement with Indigenous peoples should include free, prior, and informed consent on matters impacting Indigenous rights and take place at a nation-to-nation level with appropriate rights-holders. Respondents also noted that financial and human resource capacity can be a barrier to Indigenous consultation.

Indigenous knowledge was also a major priority for respondents who asked that Indigenous knowledge and cultural traditions be integrated into FSDS targets, milestones, and implementation strategies. Respondents said this was particularly important for Government of Canada work on water management, wildlife and marine conservation, and stewardship of green spaces in traditional territories. Canadians also described how Indigenous knowledge and traditional knowledge can be held in many different forms and practices.

Youth perspectives

Young respondents were passionate about climate change and asked the federal government to continue advancing climate mitigation and exploring carbon reduction strategies, such as clean energy technologies. Other young respondents advocated for more research and action to support climate resiliency for marginalized communities, as they are often the first to feel climate change impacts on their access to clean water and air quality.

Young Canadians highlighted the role of sustainable development education in Canada. They asked the federal government to support climate action by educating young people on climate literacy. They also asked for increased training and green employment opportunities. Youth in Canada wanted to see sustainable development education added to all levels of curriculum and supported through accessible resources.

Young respondents asked to be engaged through regional and national organizations and to be included in decision-making processes and leadership meetings related to sustainable development. They asked for more accessible forms of the FSDS, such as short summaries of all chapters, and suggested that popular social media platforms can help to spread awareness.

Cost of living, affordable housing, and the just transition

Social and economic considerations were a dominant sustainable development concern during consultations. Many respondents raised concerns around the lack of content related to alleviating poverty in the FSDS goal related to SDG 1 (No Poverty). Respondents also commented on rising housing prices and asked the federal government to address homelessness by increasing access to affordable housing. Others asked for more content about the rising cost of living and suggested that Universal Basic Income should be added to existing measures to reduce poverty.

Respondents wanted more substantive action on the just transition. Some suggested that Canada should incorporate measures related to the just transition into legal and regulatory instruments, and others suggested that the needs of those living in the most disadvantaged circumstances should be prioritized. To support the just transition, Canadians suggested adding more social and cultural indicators including gender equality.

Climate action

Respondents were asked to rank SDGs in order of importance during each FSDS public webinar. SDG 13 (Climate Action) was consistently cited as a top priority. Canadians asked for greater climate change mitigation investments, including nature-based solutions and carbon capture technology. Canadians also encouraged the Government of Canada to work more closely with partners such as provinces and territories, municipalities, Indigenous peoples, industry, and the international community to advance climate change mitigation and adaptation.

Respondents wanted to understand how Canada's Emissions Reduction Plan (ERP) and carbon neutrality target support Canada's commitments under the Paris Agreement to limit global warming. Some called for more ERP content to be included, such as its "interim objective" to reduce Canada's GHG emissions 20% below 2005 levels by 2026. Respondents also cited increased data availability, climate change education, and supports for adaptation as integral measures to help the private sector and individuals to transition to climate-friendly practices.

Sustainable food and agriculture

A number of respondents advocated for change in the food industry. Canadians specified that they were concerned about livestock living conditions, reporting on phosphorus leaching, conditions for workers, greenhouse gas emissions, and pollution of local waterways. Many respondents advocated for a transition to plant-based diets and asked that subsidies for livestock-based agriculture be reviewed. Others advocated for access to healthy and affordable food, food security, sustainable food systems, and regenerative farming practices.

Many respondents in the agricultural sector asked the Government of Canada to consider the impact of sustainable development policies on agri-food and agricultural production, and asked for increased federal engagement with the agricultural sector. They outlined current practices in sustainability, noted that they are stewards of the land, and asked for more support to replace old equipment.

Sustainable production and consumption

In addition to efforts to reduce waste, respondents sought an increased emphasis on circular economy in the FSDS. Respondents emphasized the importance of regulating industry production practices to ensure their efficiency. Canadians also asked for the Government of Canada to support small businesses adopt circular economy principles and consumers minimize overconsumption and waste. Respondents advocated for consumer-friendly regulations and favourable media representations of eco-friendly lifestyles, such as plant-based diets, lower prices for electric vehicles, extended warranties, and right-to-repair laws.

Many respondents called for more green procurement policies. Some, for example, urged the Government of Canada to work with domestic partners and stakeholders to establish national standards for minimum recycled content in products, or for producer reporting requirements consistent with Extended Producer Responsibility. Respondents also asked the Government of Canada to implement "net-zero procurement" in its operations to support its commitments and partners to meet net zero emissions together.

Access to clean energy

Respondents made it clear that energy efficiency was a priority and that there needs to be increased support for lower-income households to upgrade the efficiency of their homes. Canadians wanted more ambitious targets for renewable and non-emitting sources of electricity and called for an increase in the share of renewables in Canada's electricity mix. Respondents also noted the importance of improving energy literacy among Canadians.

A number of comments supported nuclear generation as a non-emitting source of energy and described it as an important part of Canada's clean energy future.

Water in Canada

Many Canadians said that clean water for all Canadians is a priority issue, especially when they considered SDG 6 ("Clean water and sanitation for all"). Respondents expressed a desire for regulations to limit corporate access to clean water and to prevent water shortages. Some encouraged further exploration of the relationships between clean water, the circular economy, agriculture, health, and well-being.

Respondents also asked for more protection of watersheds and restoration of aquifers. They promoted reuse of wastewater and asked for reductions in phosphorous and nitrogen leaching from farms as well as raw sewage and industrial pollution into the country's waters.

Respondents pointed out that melting ice and glaciers may have consequences for water access. Respondents also encouraged the Government of Canada to collaborate further with Indigenous peoples to protect Canadian waters, and to consider how important lakes and rivers are for cultural transmission, food security, and stewardship.

Suggestions for improvement

While expressing support for FSDS, Canadians called for urgent action and funding to fight climate change, address biodiversity loss, and assist with the transition to net-zero emissions.

ECCC heard support for greater emphasis on social and economic dimensions of sustainable development—as well as environmental sustainability—and closer alignment with the 17 SDGs of the 2030 Agenda.

Finally, Canadians clearly noted the need for strong accountability and reporting, and asked for targets that extend beyond the timeframe established for the 2022-2026 FSDS. Respondents said they wanted more outcome-based targets rather than output-based targets. There were calls to make individual FSDS targets, indicators, and implementation strategies stronger by ensuring that targets are specific and measurable, and include a baseline measure and an indicator to measure progress.

Overall, Canadians demonstrated their commitment and desire to build a cleaner, greener, healthier, and more prosperous future for generations to come.

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