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Sustainable Development Strategy
Moving Forward

Issues

Building the foundation for sustainable development

In order to make the choices that can advance sustainable development, it is essential to have the required information to support sound decision-making and the ability to use it. Building Canada’s capacity for sustainable development is about improving knowledge and ability at all levels of Canadian society. Improving the knowledge base on Canada’s landmass and natural resources, developing new tools and applications for monitoring and managing our resources, supporting advanced technology development, enhancing the capacity of communities to engage in sustainable development, and encouraging consumer choices that support sustainable development—all of these NRCan activities contribute to building Canada’s capacity for sustainable development.

There are significant information gaps in the baseline knowledge that feeds decision making, both in Canada and abroad.

NRCan has a leading role in providing the increasingly comprehensive and integrated knowledge bases that are required for sustainable development decision making. As a world-class organization with a strong history of scientific excellence, NRCan will dedicate significant efforts to identifying and filling these knowledge gaps. For example, a national groundwater database and a national forest information system are under development.

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 significant need to enhance incentives and eliminate the obstacles that stand in the way of greater commercialization of Canadian innovations in the resource sectors and allied industries. Locating knowledge investments (both public and private) more systematically and strategically in regional clusters has the potential to generate significant benefits and encourage new spin-offs and innovation.

There are many indirect impacts associated with enhancing and integrating our knowledge bases, and expanding Canadian knowledge partnerships. These may include increased investment and new employment generation. In addition, promoting Canadian knowledge and experience in international markets can open the doors to new opportunities for Canadian companies and technologies, and build on Canada’s reputation as a responsible steward of our natural resources.

More work needs to be done on the development and refinement of indicators for the resource sectors.

Sustainable development indicators can be generally described as a system of measures that provides a sound basis for decision-making and a means of measuring progress towards sustainable development. To be effective tools for advancing sustainable development, indicator sets must characterize the essential components of sustainable resource management in Canada. They must meet tests of scientific accuracy, be meaningful, and be able to convey readily understandable information to decision makers and the Canadian public. NRCan is actively working to expand and improve the use of indicators, within Canada’s resource sectors and internationally. A notable success is the Criteria and Indicators of Sustainable Forest Management, developed in partnership with forestry stakeholders under the authority of the Canadian Council of Forest Ministers (CCFM). Since 1993, the CCFM has developed and refined its criteria and indicators, publishing a technical report in 1997, establishing the Canadian baseline in the National Status 2000 Report, and reviewing and improving the relevancy of the indicators in 2003.

As well as supporting ongoing measurement and monitoring to identify national trends, the continuous evolution of indicators is itself a process that builds capacity by encouraging decision makers, stakeholders, and all Canadians to focus on priority issues. Indicator-based reporting can also have the effect of building capacity by raising public awareness and focussing attention on what sustainable development means.

Increases in efficiency alone will not be enough to meet Canada’s sustainable development objectives; innovations in science and technology must provide solutions.

More than any other sector of the economy, the natural resources sectors and allied industries in Canada and globally are at the forefront of sustainable development. Industry has made important investments in innovations to improve environmental performance and their resource management practices. Despite these improvements, significant challenges remain, including Canada’s international commitments under the Kyoto Protocol. 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 is growing public awareness of sustainable development issues and their links to quality of life.

The natural resource sectors are major drivers of innovation, spending more than $34 billion annually on advanced technology and other capital investments (22% of Canada’s total), more than any other industrial sector in Canada. NRCan has a unique role to play in providing the vision, coordination, knowledge and strong leadership needed to catalyze a more strategic approach to creating innovations with transformative potential. Increases in efficiency alone will not be enough to meet Canada’s sustainable development objectives. Investments in advanced technology must be focussed to yield significant results for advancing sustainable development.

For example, NRCan’s Photovoltaic Research Group is working with its partners to develop and apply photovoltaic (PV) solar energy technologies in Canada. Their efforts aim to advance technology deployment in Canada, and improve the ability of Canadians to exploit the technology’s potential nationally and internationally.

There is a need to increase understanding and uptake of sustainable development among small- and medium-sized businesses in Canada’s resource sectors.

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. It will be essential to make and promote a strong business case for sustainable development; NRCan will support Canadian industry in this effort, and work to improve the mechanisms for effective dialogue among stakeholders.

Aboriginal communities, and small, northern and rural communities, often face unique and difficult development challenges.

Canada has many small communities in rural or remote areas where the challenges to sustainable development are formidable. Some towns have had a long history of economic ups and downs, others have had to cope with the loss of a major employer or an entire industry; for some the social issues arising from economic uncertainty are urgent concerns. Communities in these situations often face similar issues: lack of a knowledge base and leadership capacity for decision making, an exodus of young people and skilled labour, high levels of unemployment, low incomes, and difficulty attracting development capital. 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.

In working to improve their quality of life, these communities need to create new and meaningful employment that will not threaten their future well-being. Many small communities have great potential for economic growth and diversification, including resource development. Improving their capacity to act as effective partners in resource development decision-making will increase the benefits to communities derived from the development of local resources. This can be an important step in building forward-looking communities with the confidence to address issues effectively and work towards a better future.

Canadians’ understanding of sustainable development is increasing; yet this growing knowledge has not been reflected in consumer trends on the ground.

Opinion research has demonstrated 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 (for example, decreasing urban sprawl, improving vehicle fuel-efficiency, increasing use of public transit, and reducing demand for electricity). The challenge for governments will be to develop a better understanding of this apparent contradiction, then take action to remove barriers and promote better consumer choices. It will be important to examine cost factors and assess the potential of economic instruments to encourage consumers to act in ways more compatible with sustainable development.

Average size of New Housing Units by Construction Year (m2/unit)
  Light Trucks as a percentage of Passenger Vehicle Fleet, 19922002

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