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Sustainable Development Strategy, 1997-2001
Safeguarding our Assets, Securing our Future

Executive Summary

Natural resources epitomize the very essence of sustainable development. Few sectors have more direct impact on the natural environment. Yet few are more integral to the economic and social well-being of every region in Canada.

Sustainable development - the integration of environmental, economic and social considerations - necessarily means reconciling sometimes competing interests when deciding whether and how development should proceed. It requires that we factor in social concerns such as health, equity and community sustainability when making environmental and economic decisions.

In a country as resource dependent as Canada, this is a major challenge. Resource development is crucial to the Canadian economy, generating $95 billion or nearly 14 per cent of Gross Domestic Product and 38 per cent of this country's exports. The energy, mining and forestry sectors employ 0.75 million people across the country. Natural resources provide the essential raw materials for products used by all segments of society, from the lumber to build our houses and metals to manufacture machinery, to the oil and natural gas to heat our schools and offices.

Canada's natural resources are equally important environmental assets. They are essential to the air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat. Ecosystem health is pivotal to the life support systems of the planet.

Canada accounts for almost 10 per cent of the world's fresh water, 10 per cent of its forests and an estimated 300,000 species of wildlife. Our wilderness lands provide recreational areas for all Canadians and international visitors.

The issue confronting Canadians is how to continue to develop our resources for the benefit of both present and future generations. Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) sees sustainable development as the key to protecting the health of the natural environment and landmass, while efficiently meeting human needs for energy, forest and mineral-based products, and providing similar opportunities for future generations.

The federal role in natural resources complements the work of the provinces, which own and control much of Canada's land and resources. NRCan is mandated to promote sustainable development in all areas of its jurisdiction including: international and interprovincial trade; science and technology; federal regulatory duties; Aboriginal issues; federal Crown lands and offshore; environment; national statistics; and, public health and safety in areas including nuclear energy, explosives and natural hazards.

The Department has shifted away from financing resource megaprojects to funding research and facilitating partnerships that result in action on sustainable development. Its role is to advance scientific knowledge, develop and transfer technology, and formulate policies that foster sustainable development. NRCan promotes the research, development and use of clean and energy-efficient technologies, renewable energy, the sustainable management of mineral, energy and forest resources, and the protection of biological diversity. The Department is also building a national knowledge infrastructure on Canada's land and resources that will provide Canadians with ready access to economic, environmental and scientific information from a wide variety of national and international sources.

Following consultations with other federal government departments, provincial governments, utilities, industry and environmental organizations, NRCan has prepared this Sustainable Development Strategy to guide departmental activities over the coming three years.

This document provides:

  • a summary of the key issues surrounding the sustainable development of natural resources;
  • a framework of goals and objectives; and,
  • an action plan for the next three years.

The paper provides a view of sustainable development which recognizes Canada will continue to use and develop its resources, in a way that protects the health of the natural environment and landmass, and ensures a legacy for future generations.

NRCan endorses a series of principles to guide its work, including a commitment to: integrate social, economic and environmental considerations into its decisions; rely on sound science as the basis for decision-making; protect the health of the environment by maximizing the efficient use of resources and reducing adverse impacts on the environment; and, consult with Canadians and work in productive partnerships to achieve sustainable development.

This strategy identifies four key areas where NRCan will focus its activities:

Making Better Decisions - Enabling Canadians to make balanced decisions regarding natural resources by: creating easily accessible and integrated knowledge on the state and use of Canada's landmass and natural resources, and the economic, environmental, and social dimensions of their use; promoting greater national and international cooperation and consensus on sustainable development issues and actions; and, developing and promoting the fiscal, regulatory and voluntary approaches that encourage the sustainable development of natural resources.

Enhancing Long-term Social and Economic Benefits - Sustaining the economic and social benefits from natural resources for present and future generations by creating economic opportunities and encouraging investment in innovative and higher-value uses of natural resources; maintaining and expanding access to international markets for Canadian resource-based products, knowledge, technologies and services; and, building the capacity of Aboriginal, rural and northern communities to generate sustainable economic activity based on natural resources.

Maintaining a Healthy and Safe Environment - Minimizing the impacts of natural resource development and use on the environment and the safety of Canadians by: helping them limit and adapt to climate change; promoting technologies and stewardship practices that reduce environmental impacts, conserve biodiversity and increase the efficiency of resource development and use; and, safeguarding Canadians from natural hazards and the risks associated with natural resource development and use.

Putting our House in Order - Establishing NRCan as a leader in the federal government in managing its operations in line with the principles of sustainable development by using leading-edge environmental management tools and practices for NRCan operations; reducing wastes from NRCan operations; increasing the efficiency of energy and other resource use within NRCan operations; and, promoting the use of goods and services that are eco-efficient.

Sustainable development is a work in progress. Priorities will need to be constantly updated and adapted to reflect new knowledge, technology, information and ideas.

No single party can take on the sustainable development challenge alone. This strategy will only succeed with the active participation and support of all Canadians. Each of us must assume some of the responsibility for making sustainable development a part of our daily practice.

Ultimately, sustainable development will result from our individual and collective efforts to find solutions to resource development challenges that are good for the environment, good for the economy and good for our communities.

NRCan Sustainable Development Strategy - Summary
Setting the Stage
Issues What is Sustainable Development NRCan's Role Principles
  • Maintaining a healthy environment
  • Creating jobs and building stable communities
  • Balancing demands for land use
  • Changing consumption
  • Meeting our global responsibilities
  • Understanding and mitigating climate change
  • Conserving biodiversity
  • Assuring a role for Aboriginal people
  • Leaving a legacy for the future
  • Public participation in decisions

The sustainable development of natural resources enables us to protect the health of the natural environment and landmass, while efficiently meeting human needs for energy-, forest- and mineral-based products and providing similar opportunities for future generations.

The sustainable development of natural resources requires that Canada:
  • Maintain up-to-date knowledge as the basis for responsible decision making;
  • Locate and harvest or extract resources in a way that maintains the integrity of natural ecosystems and protects soil, water, air and wildlife;
  • Produce, use, recycle and dispose of natural resource products throughout their life cycle, in the most efficient manner possible, minimizing adverse human-caused impacts on the environment;
  • Maintain innovative, globally competitive and ecologically responsible resource-based industries;
  • Respect the needs, values and property rights of diverse users of the land and resources;
  • Involve local communities in making decisions that affect their quality of life and long-term viability; and
  • Safeguard the well-being of Canadians in developing and using natural resources.

NRCan will provide leading- edge science, knowledge and expertise to position Canada as a world leader in the sustainable development of its land, energy, forest and mineral resources, and a quality producer of resource-related products, technologies, services and research.

NRCan provides service to Canadians in four principal areas:
  • Science and technology;
  • Federal policies and regulations;
  • Knowledge infrastructure; and
  • Doing business in a global market.
  • Partnership and consultation
  • Integrated decision-making (socio-economic and environmental)
  • Decisions based on sound science
  • Ecosystem integrity
  • Efficient use of resources
  • Continuous improvement and innovation
  • Accountability
  • Equity
A Framework for Action
Goals Objectives Action Highlights

1 Enabling Canadians to make balanced decisions regarding natural resources.

1.1 Creating easily accessible and integrated knowledge on the state of Canada's landmass and natural resources, and the economic, environmental, and social dimensions of their use.

1.2 Promoting greater national and international cooperation and consensus on sustainable development issues and actions.

1.3 Developing and promoting fiscal, regulatory and voluntary approaches that encourage the sustainable development of natural resources.

  • National dialogue on natural resources
  • Knowledge Initiative
  • Canadian Geospatial Data Infrastructure
  • Criteria and indicators
  • Renew National Forest Strategy
  • Baseline study (taxes, grants and subsidies)
  • Regulatory reform and innovation
  • UN Intergovernmental Forum on Forests

2 Sustaining the economic and social benefits from natural resources for present and future generations.

2.1 Creating economic opportunities and encouraging investment in innovative and higher-value uses of natural resources.

2.2 Maintaining and expanding access to international markets for Canadian resource-based products, knowledge, technologies and services.

2.3 Building the capacity of Aboriginal, rural and northern communities to generate sustainable economic activity based on natural resources.

  • S&T for value added
  • International trade missions
  • Competitiveness of frontier areas
  • Safe use of minerals internationally
  • Legal surveys for land claims
  • First Nation Forestry Program
  • Renewable energy for remote communities
  • Northern geoscience

3 Minimizing the impacts of natural resource development and use on the environment and the safety of Canadians.

3.1 Helping limit and adapt to climate change.

3.2 Promoting technologies and stewardship practices that reduce environmental impacts, conserve biodiversity and increase the efficiency of resource development and use.

3.3 Safeguarding Canadians from natural hazards and the risks associated with natural resource development and use.

  • Update Canada's National Action Program on Climate Change
  • Launch a new renewable energy program
  • S&T to reduce greenhouse gases and understand climate change
  • Implement Phase 2 of Model Forests
  • Modernize regulations governing nuclear industry
  • Metals and Environment Research Program
  • Atlas of geological hazards

4 Establishing NRCan as a leader in the federal government in managing its operations in line with the principles of sustainable development.

4.1 Using leading-edge environmental management tools and practices for NRCan operations.

4.2 Reducing wastes from NRCan operations.

4.3 Increasing the efficiency of energy and other resource use in NRCan operations.

4.4 Promoting the use of goods and services that are eco-efficient.

  • Upgrade Environmental Management System to international standards (ISO 14000 series)
  • Reduce energy and water consumption
  • Reduce and convert automobile fleet
  • Safely dispose of remaining PCBs
  • Purchase green power