Sustainable Development

Sustainable development is about meeting the needs of today without compromising the needs of future generations. It is about improving our standard of living by protecting human health, conserving the environment, using resources efficiently and advancing long-term economic competitiveness. It requires the integration of environmental, economic and social priorities into policies and programs and requires action at all levels - citizens, industry, and governments.

Achieving sustainable development in Canada is intimately connected with achieving sustainable development around the world. There is growing understanding of the interconnection between global ecological, economic and political/social systems. It has become an imperative to consider economic prosperity in an integrated way with social development and environmental protection. It is also an imperative to consider the long-term as well as the short term impacts of any action. To make sustainable development a reality, there must be cooperation and change by governments, businesses and communities around the world.

Sustainable development is about ensuring that the decisions we make as citizens, consumers, investors and governments contribute to an excellent quality of life for us and for future generations. Reaching this goal requires striking a careful balance on a range of issues, namely economic growth, environmental protection and social development, and implementing policies and programs that support our commitment to this balance.

Our vision

To include sustainable development as an overarching objective of Canadian Foreign and Trade policy, DFATD applies a focused and principled approach to policy development and implementation, fostering the integration of economic, social, and environmental considerations into all areas of its decision making. In seeking innovative and collective solutions to global challenges, the Department works to ensure that Canada’s values, interests and aspirations are appropriately taken into account when developing effective international strategies.

Strategic Environmental Assessment

To make informed decisions in support of sustainable development, decision makers at all levels must be able to integrate economic, social and environmental considerations. The environmental assessment of policy, plan and program proposals, also known as strategic environmental assessment (SEA), is a tool to help decision makers promote sustainable development. It provides a systematic approach for identifying the environmental impacts of proposals for policies, plans, and programs early in the planning process. By identifying adverse environmental impacts before they occur, SEAs allow decision makers to modify the design of policies, plans and programs so that the negative impacts can be minimized or eliminated and the positive impacts optimized. 

The Cabinet Directive on the Environmental Assessment of Policy, Plan and Program Proposals  is the key policy that integrates environmental considerations into federal government decision-making. Under the Directive, ministers expect that a SEA of a policy, plan or program proposal be conducted when the following two conditions are met:

  • the proposal is submitted to an individual minister or Cabinet for approval; and
  • implementation of the proposal may result in important environmental effects, either positive or negative. 

DFATD has put in place an internal process to ensure that all its Cabinet submissions are subject to a strategic environmental assessment.

Federal Sustainable Development Strategy (FSDS)

The Federal Sustainable Development Strategy (FSDS) is mandated by the Federal Sustainable Development Act (the Act), which received Royal Assent on June 26, 2008. The Act responds to a number of international commitments Canada has made to produce such a strategy, including at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1992 and at the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa.

The FSDS focuses on environmental sustainability as a first step in integrating environmental concerns with economic and social considerations and sets in motion a process that will over time improve the way in which environmental, economic, and social issues are considered.

The 2010-2013 FSDS continues to guide the Government of Canada’s sustainable development activities. During 2013-2014, the Government will be consulting the public regarding the second three-year cycle of the FSDS (2013-2016). This FSDS will then be finalized to provide the basis for the 2013-2014 year end performance reporting.

The Government of Canada is looking for input from Canadians on the draft second cycle of the Federal Sustainable Development Strategy (FSDS), covering the period 2013 to 2016. Canadians are encouraged to submit comments before June 14, 2013 on the advancement of federal sustainable development initiatives by visiting Environment Canada’s website.

Find out more on Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada's (DFATD) Role in the Federal Sustainable Development Strategy (FSDS)