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 a growing understanding of the interconnection between global ecological, economic and political/social systems. It has become imperative to consider economic prosperity in an integrated way with social development and environmental protection. It is also 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.

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.

Significant progress has been made since the first FSDS covering 2010-2013. Canada's second Federal Sustainable Development Strategy 2013-2016 builds on progress already achieved, further advancing our objectives of making environmental decision making more transparent and accountable and ensuring Canada is on a path to environmental sustainability.

Further information on the advancement of sustainable development initiatives can be obtained by visiting the Environment Canada website.

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 consider sustainable development. It provides a systematic approach for identifying important, potential (positive or negative) environmental impacts early in the planning process, before they occur. SEAs help inform decision makers so they can modify the proposal design to optimize positive impacts and minimize or eliminate negative impacts.

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 detailed analysis level 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.
  • The 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 and ministerial submissions are subject to the application of the directive. The directive requires that federal departments and agencies, upon the completion of a detailed analysis level SEA, prepare public statements of environmental effects. These can be found at:

Environmental Assessments of Trade Negotiations

Environmental assessments of trade negotiations are an important decision-making tool for promoting sustainable development. Environmental assessments of trade negotiations contribute to more open decision-making within the federal government by engaging representatives from other levels of government, the public, the private sector and non-governmental organizations in this process. Environmental assessments also improve overall policy coherence at the national level by assisting decision-makers to understand the environmental implications of trade policy.

For more information, please visit Environmental Assessments of Trade Negotiations.

Project-Level Environmental Assessment

Environmental assessment (EA) is a planning and decision-making tool. The objectives of an EA are to minimize or avoid adverse environmental effects before they occur; and incorporate environmental factors into decision making. An EA should be conducted as early as possible in the planning stage of a project in order for the proponent to be able to reflect the analysis in the proposed plans, including the incorporation of mitigation measures to address adverse environmental effects. By considering environmental effects and mitigation measures early in the project planning cycle, an EA can support better decision making and result in many benefits, such as:

  • avoidance or minimization of adverse environmental effects;
  • opportunities for public participation and community consultation;
  • increased protection of quality of life and  human health;
  • better management of natural resources;
  • reduced project costs and delays;
  • reduced risks of environmental harm or disasters;
  • increased government accountability and harmonization;
  • lessened probability of trans-boundary environmental effects; and
  • informed decisions that contribute to responsible development of natural resources.

Under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012 environmental assessments are only conducted for projects designated under regulations. Projects outside Canada are not subject to these regulations so to avoid confusion related to the legal implications we may refer to environmental reviews instead.

Additionally, environmental reviews for projects outside Canada must be conducted with respect for foreign sovereignty, international law, and international agreements to which Canada is a party.