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Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) is currently preparing its next sustainable development strategy (SDS) for tabling in Parliament by December 2006. Federal departments and agencies are required to prepare SDSs every three years further to the 1995 amendments to the Auditor General Act. The strategies are audited annually by the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development. This approach enables departments and agencies to outline a series of commitments and actions over a three-year planning cycle on how each organization will promote sustainable development within the context of their mandate. The SDS is a key document for NRCan, given the contribution of natural resources to Canada’s economy and society, and the importance of science and technology for informed sustainable development decision-making.
NRCan’s SDS is intended to be a ‘change management’ document that enables us to review our actions within a three-year cycle of continuous improvement. The SDS also provides an important opportunity to lead by example and reflect the Department’s longstanding commitment to improving its performance with respect to the environmental management of its own operations and to contribute to government-wide efforts to green its operations. The purpose of this document is to describe NRCan’s contribution to sustainable development in Canada and internationally, discuss current challenges to sustainable development, and discuss directions for the next strategy.
Sustainable development and natural resources—the role of NRCan
The natural resource sectors and allied industries have been an engine of economic growth and job creation for generations. Today, millions of Canadians, in over 650 Canadian communities—many in northern, rural or remote areas—depend on the natural resource sectors for their livelihoods. Together with related equipment, supply and service industries, Canada’s forestry, minerals and metals, and energy sectors are vital components of our overall economy and society. Natural resources and related industries account for 13% of Canada’s GDP and directly employ close to one million Canadians. Our landscape supplies us with the resources that are the foundation of a significant portion of our economic activity; it also provides essential ecological services, such as clean air and water, which are essential to our economy, environment and quality of life.
NRCan is mandated with the federal responsibility for ensuring the sustainable development and responsible use of Canada’s energy resources, minerals and metals, and forests, and for providing the geographical and geological information base that supports decisions about Canada’s land-based and offshore resources. The federal role in natural resources complements the work of the provinces, which own and control much of Canada’s land and resources. Sustainable development is embedded within the Department of Natural Resources Act, and we apply the Brundtland definition (1987): "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."
In recent discussions with stakeholders—NGOs, other governments, industry representatives and communities— we have been encouraged to clarify whether we are talking about sustainability or sustainable development. At NRCan, we consider sustainability to be long-term capacity for continuance into the future; by contrast, sustainable development is the process by which we move towards sustainability. It is ‘sustainable development’ that is embedded within the mandate of NRCan, and it best reflects the work that we do.
At NRCan, we have come to understand sustainable development as an important process that enables us to address challenges of environmental protection and add value to our communities by providing an important engine of job creation and source of wealth. It can include:
- finding, extracting, producing, using and reusing, recycling and when necessary, disposing of minerals and metals products in efficient, competitive and environmentally responsible ways;
- identifying and developing the transformative technologies needed for accessing and adopting the energy sources of the future, developing new, more environmentally benign technologies for current energy production and use, using energy more efficiently, and ensuring that future generations enjoy an equally secure energy future and unimpaired environmental quality;
- sustainable long-term management and use of Canada’s forest resources through improved decision-making approaches, enhanced product qualities and durability, more energy efficient manufacturing processes and improved understanding of social, economic and environmental aspects of the production and use of forest products;
- providing knowledge and tools to make decisions about resources, to provide insight into sustainable development issues, and improving our understanding of natural hazards.
Sustainable development in Canada’s natural resource sectors is about possibilities – derived from our wealth of resources while continually working to find new and better ways to use and develop them, in a manner that respects a diverse range of values and allows for participation from all segments of society in the decision-making process.
NRCan’s 2004 SDS, Moving Forward articulated the Department’s vision for a sustainable future and sought to address the threats to this vision through strategy commitments. This was in response to the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development’s expectation that departments focus on significant and essential outcomes. Moving Forward and its predecessor, Now and for the Future (2001) fulfilled a role as an important strategic planning document, linked to departmental planning and reporting documents, that has enabled us to focus our efforts around anticipated outcomes for sustainable development. The first strategy in 1997 established the foundation for this work.
In 2005, NRCan launched a process to develop a new strategic plan for the Department that would encompass all the Department’s activities, and has developed a new planning framework. With this framework, we have been able to re-evaluate the role of the SDS, to bring greater focus. The prior role of the SDS as strategic plan has been effective as it has enabled us to work with our colleagues throughout the Department to weave sustainable development into the fabric of the organization.
For the next SDS, we have proposed a more streamlined approach: the SDS is envisaged as the document to influence meaningful change that will continue to support the shift towards sustainability. It will comprise a few essential, long-term outcomes that clearly define NRCan’s contribution to sustainable development, and a limited number of actions and targets in the three-year planning horizon that will move us towards those outcomes. Given that sustainable development figures prominently in all NRCan planning and reporting documents, the SDS is the place to focus on the essential pieces – addressing the real challenges to sustainable development that the Department is positioned to address.
In this regard, an examination of the current challenges is an important step in the SDS process. The challenges identified in SDS 2004 were reviewed, and considered along with the results of a broader environmental scan undertaken by the Department in September 2005. The following four challenges were identified as relevant as we approach the next SDS. Through the consultation process, we hope to narrow down these challenges to identify those of greatest strategic importance to advance sustainable development through NRCan’s SDS.
Challenge 1: Strengthening the foundation for sustainable development
Industry has made important investments in innovations to improve environmental performance and their resource management practices. Despite these improvements, significant challenges remain. Investments must be focused to yield significant results for advancing sustainable development. Markets are increasingly demanding environmentally friendly products and processing, and social criteria such as labour practices and business ethics are increasingly considered as guides to investment and purchasing decisions.
There are important opportunities for industry, governments and universities to work more closely together to increase knowledge performance and the commercialization, transfer and adoption of its results. There is a need to enhance incentives and eliminate obstacles that stand in the way of greater commercialization of Canadian innovations in the resource sectors and allied industries.
There is strong corporate leadership championing sustainable development approaches for Canada’s resource sectors. However, there is an identified need to encourage a commitment to sustainable development among all businesses operating in the resource and allied industries.
Canada has many small communities in rural or remote areas where the challenges to sustainable development are formidable, such as lack of a knowledge base and leadership capacity for decision making and high levels of unemployment. Many Aboriginal communities face challenges similar to these, while also dealing with issues of natural resource access, management and land tenure on traditional lands, and struggling to gain respect for Aboriginal traditions, governance structures, language and culture. Ensuring a skilled labour force is also required to support sustainable development in the resource sectors. But in Canada, like in many western countries, the population is growing older and the working population is declining.
There is an increasing awareness of natural hazards as public safety and security issues. Explosives detection, identification, and regulation, research on the mitigation of blast effects on buildings, the development of early detection, communication and response systems for natural disasters and preparation for human-induced scenarios have become international public policy priorities, and are areas where Canada maintains expertise.
Globally, the freshwater supply is a growing international concern. While the world population has tripled over the last century, water consumption has increased six fold. And water use is expected to increase by 50% in the next 30 years. With 7% of the world’s renewable freshwater, Canada needs to take concerted action to deepen our knowledge base to ensure that this precious resource is properly protected and managed.
Opinion research demonstrates that Canadians highly value environmental quality and are acquiring an understanding of the concept of sustainable development. However, trends in transportation and housing choices, and patterns of energy use, show that consumers are making choices that are not in line with emerging sustainable development goals.
Challenge 2: Greenhouse gas emissions and energy
With our vast resource base, mounting global demand and high commodity prices, Canadians stand to reap significant direct and indirect economic rewards from continued or expanded resource development. Energy supply presents a particularly lucrative opportunity – from oil sands to offshore, the North, natural gas, gas hydrates and hydroelectricity. Energy is now our leading resource export sector with its share of exports more than doubling from 8% in 1998 to 20% in 2005.
The linkages between energy, the environment and sustainability are critical, as a considerable portion of greenhouse gas emissions comes from energy production and consumption. Globally, this is increasing concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, with significant consequences, including the melting of polar ice, the retreat of alpine glaciers, the drying out of rivers, and the increasing frequency of extreme weather. Taking action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is a challenge for all Canadians. Water consumption and management, the storage of waste products, air quality, and the preservation of wildlife habitat are among other challenges that must be dealt with as we explore energy options, such as the oil sands and other resource development prospects.
Optimizing the way we use energy in Canada is key to sustainable development. Improving energy efficiency through leadership, policies, programs, and research and development, maximizes the economic benefits of energy use, while minimizing the environmental impact associated with that use. In addition to the environmental benefits associated with reduced energy consumption, such as reduced emissions, energy efficiency contributes to sustainability through cost savings to Canadians, health benefits, and increased competitiveness of Canadian industry.
While reducing emissions is essential to slow down the anticipated impacts and may reduce their severity, Canadians will still need to adapt to a changing climate. While concentrated efforts have greatly increased our understanding of the anticipated impacts, the process of building capacity in the relatively new, cross-cutting field of impacts and adaptation research has just begun.
Challenge 3: Positioning Canada as a world leader on sustainable development
Canada is linked to the other countries of the world economically, socially, and environmentally. Our trade-dependent economy defines our prosperity in the context of global economic conditions and events. Imported environmental problems, such as acid rain and persistent organic pollutants, can damage our natural resources and impact the well-being of Canadians. Climate change poses significant threats to ecosystems and the health and safety of human populations worldwide. Our security is linked to regional inequities and conflicts involving countries that once seemed remote and unrelated to our national well-being.
It is clear that Canada has a stake in the sustainable development of the world, as well as a responsibility as a steward of significant natural resources. Further, Canada is a comparatively wealthy nation and a large per-capita resource user. It is in our best interest to adopt and implement sustainable development at home and promote it abroad. The rise of emerging economies such as China, India, Brazil and Russia, coupled with the continued demand for commodities from the United States, is increasing demand for Canada’s resources.
The development and use of natural resources elsewhere can have detrimental effects on Canada’s environment and economy, by adding to global environmental problems or affecting commodities markets in which Canada competes. In some cases there may also be security implications affecting markets and increasing costs to Canadian businesses. In developing countries enjoying relative social and political stability there may be knowledge gaps or economic barriers to sustainable development that can be overcome with assistance.
On the policy front, Canada advocates the effective engagement of developing countries in international fora where trade, environment and the advancement of sustainable development issues are negotiated and fostered. Participating in international dialogue provides the opportunity to raise awareness of Canadian values internationally, promoting our commitment to sustainable development and supporting the development of other countries, particularly those with significant economic activity in their natural resource sectors.
Canada exports approximately $150 billion worth of energy, minerals and forest products every year, accounting for almost 40 percent of our exports. Trade barriers that deny Canadian products access to international markets are serious issues for Canada. Trade barriers deny opportunities to Canadian exporters, preventing Canadians from enjoying the benefits that could be derived from international trade of natural resource products. Denying industry sectors access to revenues from foreign trade can also result in slowing progress on innovation.
Some trade barriers are raised based on assessments which find that Canadian products are not suitable for importation based on selective environmental/social criteria. Canada’s natural resource industries are aggressively pursuing sustainable development and NRCan is supporting the private sector in this effort, but the journey is not over. As actors in international markets where there are few agreed global standards, but a great deal of criticism, Canadian governments and industry must work together to address criticisms levelled against Canadian products or producers.
Challenge 4: Demonstrating leadership and commitment to sustainable development in our operations
NRCan has a mandate to promote the sustainable development and responsible use of our nation’s natural resources. In order to effectively carry out its statutory responsibilities and successfully promote its vision for the future, the Department must be able to lead with authority and credibility. To promote sustainable development effectively, government must work to improve the performance of its operations, with clear measurable results, and lead by example. Challenges for NRCan and other federal departments include building energy, the federal vehicle fleet, and working to implement the new Policy on Green Procurement.
NRCan first identified a vision of a sustainable future in 2001. This vision was later updated in 2004 to reflect the current thinking and priorities, and condensed to focus on the issues of greatest importance to Canadians that relate to sustainable development and Canada’s natural resources. In 2005, as part of the development of NRCan’s Strategic Plan, a revised, concise vision has been drafted: Lasting benefits from natural resources. This vision meets the expectation that has been stated in preliminary consultations for the SDS – that is, that the vision be short, memorable and inspirational.
In the previous section, we have identified four broad challenges, each with various elements. Among these challenges, how should we focus our efforts, given our mandate? Where can we build on our departmental strengths? Preliminary external consultations and internal discussions have identified three potential areas where NRCan can seek results:
Key Result 1) Advance technologies and practices to reduce environmental impacts, strengthen Canada’s competitiveness and contribute to sustainable communities
- building tools for sustainable production and consumption
- encouraging greater energy and resource efficiency
Key Result 2) Position Canada as a world leader in sustainable development
- supporting leading-edge practices at home
- encouraging socially and environmentally responsible practices among Canadian companies operating abroad
Key Result 3) Create a ‘culture of sustainability’ within NRCan
- contributing to horizontal efforts to green federal operations
- leading the pack: demonstrating leadership in greening our own operations through targeted actions
These key results are intentionally ‘open-ended’ so that we may fine-tune them through our discussions with stakeholders. Over the next few months, we will be seeking to narrow down the challenges, refine the key results, and identify actions and targets for each of the key result areas.
We would appreciate your input to the process, by way of your response to this questionnaire:
- PDF [43 KB]
Please submit your completed questionnaire to:
Sustainable Development and International Affairs
Strategic Policy Branch
Natural Resources Canada
580 Booth Street, 20th Floor
Fax: (613) 996-0478