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Action Area Policy: Environment and Climate Action


The state of the environment around the world is deteriorating at an alarming pace, and communities are experiencing the destabilizing effects of climate change in dramatic and costly ways.

Climate change and environmental degradation disproportionately affect women and girls. Yet women and girls can be powerful agents of change if given access and control over environmental resources.

Long-term development gains are diminished when the environment is threatened, because people living in poverty are disproportionately affected by climate change and environmental degradation, and their livelihoods and well-being depend on accessing a healthy and sustainably managed environment.

Providing assistance to countries that are vulnerable to the effects of climate change is a key focus of Canada’s international assistance. Canada is committed to supporting developing countries in their efforts to transition to a low-carbon, climate-resilient world.

To eradicate poverty and gender inequality and support the transition to a low-carbon, climate-resilient world, the following issues must be addressed:

Average global temperatures have risen by one degree Celsius above pre-industrial times and are set to continue rising. Developing and fragile countries are disproportionately affected by the resulting shifts in weather patterns, because they often lack sufficient capacity to respond to more frequent and intense natural disasters, droughts, flooding, heat waves, health impacts and infrastructure damage. In many contexts, women are more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, due to unequal access to productive resources, gendered divisions of labour (e.g. greater responsibility to obtain water, fuel and food), gender gaps in employment and education, and more limited mobility.

Air and water pollution leads to premature deaths. Severe air, land and water pollution causes millions of premature deaths worldwide, particularly in urban areas. Respiratory and heart diseases are linked to indoor and outdoor air pollution, while the lack of clean drinking water contributes to the majority of deaths from diarrheal diseases. In many developing countries, women and girls are the most exposed to toxic indoor air pollution in households relying on carbon-based fuels for cooking and heating.

Sea levels and temperatures are rising, destroying coastal communities. Sea-level changes resulting from climate change cause destructive reef and coastal erosion and flooding in low-lying communities, which must dedicate significant resources and effort to protect coastal habitats, homes and businesses. Flooding and eroded lands affect women and men in different ways. Disadvantaged women are more likely to become unemployed during and after floods, have more limited access to food, shelter and protection, and are more vulnerable to domestic violence and harassment when they are displaced by flooding.

Freshwater supplies — both groundwater and surface water — are under significant threat. Causes include poor management, overconsumption, pollution and climate change. The number of countries facing absolute water scarcity is rising, and the problem is particularly acute in Africa, the Middle East and small island states. In developing countries, water scarcity significantly affects women and girls, who tend to be the main providers of water for household use and who shoulder a greater burden of care when family members contract water-borne diseases.

Deforestation, desertification and land degradation threaten rural livelihoods. When not provided with alternatives, smallholder farmers a majority of whom are women along with local and Indigenous populations, may resort to unsustainable agriculture, livestock and resource management practices, including overgrazing, over-cultivation, deforestation and inefficient irrigation methods that threaten the long-term sustainability of their livelihoods. Industrial activities can also pose a threat to sustainable development, such as through pollution, unsustainable, illegal or uncontrolled logging, land degradation, and the loss of mangroves and other native plant species. Unsustainable resource management practices at all levels contribute to the loss of biodiversity, with serious consequences for environmental resilience and adaptation to climate change. 

Climate change and climate-induced disasters affect rural and urban areas in different ways. Persistent drought causes farmers to migrate to urban centres in search of jobs, yet many smallholder farmers in particular women have limited options for alternative livelihoods and continue to be excluded from wider infrastructure and economic development. Urban residents suffer from increasingly severe air and water pollution, extreme heat and other climate-related impacts, such as flooding.

Climate change and environmental degradation disproportionately affect women and girls. These trends exacerbate social inequalities. Yet women can be powerful agents of change if given access and control over environmental resources, and if supported to use their strong body of knowledge and expertise in climate change mitigation, disaster risk reduction and adaptation strategies.

Canada’s priorities

Canada is committed to helping achieve the SDGs in Canada and in developing countries. SDG 5—achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls—is at the heart of Canada’s approach to implementing the 2030 Agenda because it will drive progress toward achieving the other SDGs.

Canada will support developing countries’ efforts to transition to low-carbon, environmentally sustainable and climate-resilient economies and societies, through initiatives that will reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, improve climate resilience, and protect and sustainably manage natural resources and ecosystems, such as by addressing pollution, which disproportionately affects the poorest and most vulnerable.

Canada’s approach to environment and climate action is consistent with and will complement broader Government of Canada priorities in the areas of diplomacy, trade and investments. Efforts will support Canada’s commitments under the Paris Agreement, including the achievement of the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change. 

Canada’s approach to environment and climate action is human rights-based, and aims to challenge the discrimination faced by women and girls, and by all marginalized and vulnerable individuals, such as Indigenous people, migrants and people with disabilities. Effective action against climate change and environmental degradation will support the rights of people living in developing and fragile states, whose basic needs are threatened by the effects of climate change, including conflict over the growing shortage of natural resources.

Canada works with all actors in society to create enabling environments that promote investment in climate-smart and environmentally sustainable practices and technologies. Canada also supports innovative perspectives, policies, approaches, models, technologies and partnerships to more effectively address the complex challenges faced by people who are most vulnerable to climate change and environmental degradation.

Environmental Integration Process 

Canada applies an environmental integration process (EIP) to its international assistance. The EIP includes an environmental analysis of proposed policies and programming initiatives, and is the main tool used to ensure that appropriate environmental sustainability considerations are integrated in their design, implementation and monitoring. This process helps ensure that Canada’s international assistance protects and enhances the state of the environment, and does not result in significant adverse environmental effects in accordance with the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (2012).

Recognizing that women and girls are uniquely affected by the damaging effects of climate change, and also that they can be stewards of change, Canada works with all sectors of society, including international organizations, government institutions, businesses and civil society, to ensure that women and girls play a leadership role in designing, developing and implementing strategic responses to climate change and other key environmental and resource issues.

This policy also guides the mainstreaming of environment and climate change considerations in all sectors of Canadian international assistance programming to ensure its environmental sustainability. This environmental integration process ensures not only that international assistance efforts do not harm the environment, but also that environmental degradation does not erode development gains and that opportunities linked to environment, climate change and natural-resource management are identified and seized.

Canada pursues its efforts in three paths to action:

  1. Strengthening environmental governance and enhancing women’s participation in decision-making
  2. Investing in low-carbon and climate-resilient economies
  3. Environmental practices that support healthy, resilient, adaptive communities 

1. Strengthening environmental governance and enhancing women’s participation in decision-making

Canada’s objective in this path is to support the efforts of government institutions and international organizations to develop, finance, implement and enforce strong environment-related and environmentally responsive diplomacy, laws, policies, plans, frameworks and services. This path has a strategic focus on engaging representatives of the private sector and civil society, particularly women and vulnerable people, as active leaders and participants. This approach supports evidence-based decision making grounded in reliable environmental data and analysis.  

To ensure that developing countries are supported in their efforts to safeguard the environment and reduce greenhouse gas emissions and pollution, and that women and vulnerable people actively participate in climate mitigation and adaptation efforts, Canada:

2. Investing in low-carbon and climate-resilient economies

Canada’s objective in this path is to promote the transition toward low-carbon and climate-resilient economies. This goal is pursued by working with a full range of financial partners, as well as with think tanks, universities and civil society, to increase investment and business opportunities and enhance livelihoods, including for women and vulnerable people, in low-carbon, clean-growth sectors. Canada  aims to improve access to, and the availability of, gender-responsive financing for climate change mitigation and adaptation initiatives, and of innovative environmentally sustainable technologies, prioritizing those that respond to the needs and priorities of women.

Given the scope and scale of global climate change challenges, it is essential to engage private-sector players through innovative approaches to climate finance, such as leveraging private investment in mitigation and adaptation activities.

To support the transition towards low-carbon and climate-resilient economies, Canada:

3. Environmental practices that support healthy, resilient, adaptive communities

Canada’s objective in this path is to support the adoption of environmentally sound practices to build resilience, strengthen climate change adaptation and mitigation, reduce pollution, and improve sustainable natural resource management. This path strategically focuses on supporting the leadership and ownership of women, youth and vulnerable groups in developing local practices and technologies, such as climate-smart agriculture and food systems, sustainable agriculture and forestry, and comprehensive land and water management, that equip them to plan, prepare and respond to sustainability challenges. This approach also incorporates disaster-risk reduction, including strategies to improve climate resilience.

Addressing environmental and climate challenges requires harnessing traditional ecological knowledge and experiences, particularly those of women, who, as stewards of natural resources at the household and community levels, play a unique role in agriculture, food security, livelihoods and management of natural resources. Involving youth in these efforts is critical to ensuring that environmental benefits are sustained for future generations, as well as to foster economic opportunities.

To ensure that its development assistance helps build healthy, resilient and adaptive communities, Canada:

Selected sources

General sources

Rise in global average temperatures

Link between pollution and disease

Relevant Canadian laws and policies and international commitments

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