Environmental Sustainability

Global environmental sustainability depends on intact and healthy ecosystems. However, many of the Earth's ecosystems have been stressed or degraded, some to the point where they cannot recover.

The poor, who depend most directly on their natural environment for food, shelter, and income, are the first to feel the effects of environmental deterioration. Forced to live on marginal lands, the poor are at greatest risk from external factors such as climate change. Without financial resources or the knowledge to manage vulnerable resources in a sustainable way, they are often forced to degrade their lands in order to survive, thus contributing to the problem and perpetuating their poverty.

The global community has been collaborating to preserve the environment for more than 30 years, reaching agreements and achieving some progress in key areas such as carbon emissions, desertification, organic pollutants, and biodiversity. As a party to the related conventions, Canada is obligated to help its developing country partners implement them.

Increasing environmental sustainability is one of Canada's crosscutting themes for international development.

Canada assesses all of its development assistance activities for potential risks and opportunities with respect to environmental sustainability and works with its partner countries to ensure that they have the capacity to do the same. This includes enhancing partners' abilities to manage natural resources and address issues like desertification and climate change.


The nine countries bordering the Nile River have united to manage their shared resource collectively, giving special attention to environment, watershed management, communications, energy, and institutional capacity building. Canadian companies are sharing clean production technology with industries in China and Honduras. Communities from Guyana to Senegal to Bangladesh are improving their local environment, building their capacity to adapt to climate change, and creating sustainable sources of income.

These initiatives and many more are being supported by Global affairs Canada to help its partners manage their natural resources, adopt appropriate, environmentally friendly technology, and prepare for natural disasters.

The global development challenge

Ecosystems play a decisive role in maintaining health, food security, economic growth, and social peace. Environmental sustainability-the ability of communities of plants, animals, micro-organisms, and their non-living surroundings to sustain themselves, and people, far into the future-depends on intact and healthy ecosystems. However, the natural resources that ecosystems provide-such as potable water and local food sources-have been compromised and phenomena such as climate change and natural disasters are compounding these problems.

The connection between the physical environment and survival is most direct for the poor, who contribute positively to the environment through indigenous knowledge and practices that protect natural resources:

  • The poor are often the first to feel the impacts of environmental deterioration.
  • Many live on marginal lands or high-risk areas that are susceptible to flooding or landslides and are vulnerable to natural disasters.
  • The poor typically do not have secure rights to environmental resources.
  • They have inadequate access to information and expertise, which limits their capacity to protect their environment and improve their livelihoods and well-being.
  • Many are often forced to use natural resources beyond sustainable levels in order to survive, thus leading to environmental degradation and deepening their poverty.
  • Women, the world's main food producers and fuel and water collectors, are especially affected by environmental deterioration and lack of rights to land tenure and control over resources.

The international vision

The international community has been collaborating to preserve the environment for more than 30 years. Canada played a major role in negotiating a number of important international agreements, including:

As a party to these conventions, Canada also helps developing country partners implement them. These agreements underscore the connection between poverty, equity, and environmental sustainability and the need for countries to work together to address global environmental issues.

The strategy

Environmental sustainability is systematically integrated into all aspects of its development work. Global Affairs Canada's approach is to help its partner countries create, maintain, and enhance environmental sustainability, particularly in relation to:

  • Climate change: including emissions reduction, protection of carbon-absorbing vegetation, and adaptation to climate change;
    • Without action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, average global temperatures will rise by 1.4oC to 5.8oC between 1990 and 2100.
    • Along with increases in precipitation, average global sea levels will rise between 9 and 88 cm by 2100, which has implications for the 50 to 70 percent of the world's population that currently live in low-lying coastal areas, mainly in developing countries.
  • Land degradation: including improved natural resource management, land rehabilitation, and conservation through local participation, and increased access by women to land, credit, and training/information;
    • Each year, nearly 10 million hectares of land are permanently degraded.
    • The impact is most severe in dryland regions, especially in Africa.
    • Land degradation affects some 250 million people directly, and the livelihoods of nearly a billion more may be at some risk.
    • Yearly losses are estimated at some $50 billion worldwide.
  • Access to Clean Water and Sanitation: including water and sanitation programs developed and implemented by the poor, with increased participation by women, and strengthened institutions that govern water resource management; and
    • Globally, 783 million people do not have access to safe drinking water. However, between 1990 and 2010, more than 2 billion people gained access to improved drinking water sources, such as piped supplies and protected wells.
    • 2.5 billion people lack access to basic sanitation, contributing to the deaths of more than 1.5 million children each year.
  • Urbanization: including improved access to essential services such as water and sanitation for the urban poor, and to clean technology.
    • By the year 2015, over half of the world's people will live in urban communities; by 2030 that figure is estimated to rise to 95 percent.
    • In developing countries, the majority will live in under-equipped, substandard housing and will suffer from the environmental impacts of over-crowding and lack of basic infrastructure.

Canada will also work to strengthen global environmental agreements and build the capacity of its partners to implement them. In addition, Global affairs Canada will continue to implement its legal obligations under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act 2012 and the 2010 Cabinet Directive on Strategic Environmental Assessment to help ensure that environmental considerations remain a fundamental aspect of development work undertaken by the Department and its development partners.

Gender Equality is integrated into all activities supporting environmental sustainability to ensure that women have equal access to resources and to decision making.

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