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Sustainable Development Strategy 2007- 2009
Achieving Results

Issue Scan

Natural resources are at the centre of the sustainable development debate. They play a significant role in the strength of the Canadian economy and to the social well-being of Canadians in all regions of the country. At the same time, the resource sectors face difficult challenges in taking advantage of natural resource wealth while operating in a manner that is consistent with environmental objectives, is manageable with labour supply and aligns with social objectives.

After revisiting the challenges outlined in NRCan’s third SDS, considering the results of a broader environmental scan undertaken by the Department in September 2005, and listening to the advice provided by consultation participants, the following challenges were identified as the most strategically important for the Department to address over the next three years.

There is a need to establish and support a market for Canadian sustainable development innovation and technology advancements in natural resource sectors.

There are significant 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 eliminate obstacles that stand in the way of greater commercialization of Canadian innovations in the resource sectors and allied industries.

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 strong corporate leadership championing sustainable development approaches for Canada’s resource sectors. However, there is also an identified need to encourage a commitment to sustainable development among all businesses operating in the resource and allied industries.

There is increasing recognition that one of the keys to advancing sustainable development lies in the development of "breakthrough " technologies that will transform the ways in which we manage and use natural resources. Moving towards smarter and more efficient use of resources, enabled by advanced technology, will assist our longer-term transition to a more sustainable society. Also related to technological innovation, Canada must seek new opportunities to manufacture and process our resources to create additional value and benefits for Canadians.

Governments, working in cooperation with their counterparts at other levels and in close consultation with industry and interest groups, need to accelerate their efforts to renew regulatory approaches to natural resource development and use. In the context of SD, regulation should efficiently and effectively balance the immediate and long-term benefits provided by economic growth, social development and environmental protection.

Aboriginal and resource-based communities are particularly vulnerable to unsustainable resource development; capacity building is needed in these areas.

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, high levels of unemployment and workforce migration away from these communities. Aboriginal communities face challenges similar to these, while also dealing with issues of natural resource access, management and land tenure on traditional lands, and acceptance of Aboriginal traditions, governance structures, language and culture.

Where resource development opportunities exist, many rural, remote and Aboriginal communities will need support in order to effectively participate as partners in the development process. With leadership capacity, training, community-building, and a focus on long-term economic development, natural resource-based projects have the potential to be a driving force in the development of many strong and sustainable small communities.

A disconnect exists between individual daily consumption practices and their subsequent global impact.

Stock of Passenger Light Trucks in Canada

Opinion research demonstrates that Canadians highly value environmental quality and understand 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.

The development and deployment of new technologies offer promising prospects for improving the sustainability of personal transportation and housing for Canadians. By building efficiencies into industrial practices and products, changing consumer behaviour remains an important goal but becomes less critical. Widespread update of products and services based on technologies that improve performance and reduce waste has the potential to significantly reduce the impacts of consumption practices, even without changing the behaviour of end-users. Improving the availability of alternative technologies and consumer access to them can provide positive options for consumers who are motivated to make more sustainable choices.

In some regions of Canada, water may soon become a limiting factor for resource extraction and development in key sectors such as forestry, mining and energy.

A reliable supply of water is critical for natural resource development. Variations in supply and increased demand are the result of a complex combination of factors. In some areas where resource development is a major economic force, particularly in Alberta, growing demand has come up against the limits of the natural water supply. It is likely that problems related to water shortfalls and competing demands for water use will become increasingly common and more high-profile in the future, and may be exacerbated by climate change. Canada needs to take concerted action to deepen our knowledge of surface and groundwater supply and use trends to ensure that this precious resource is properly protected and managed.

Sensitivity of River Regions to Climate Change

The linkages between energy, the environment and sustainability are critical, as a considerable portion of greenhouse gas emissions come from energy production and consumption.

Energy supply presents particularly lucrative opportunities for Canadians. Energy is now our leading resource export sector with its share of exports more than doubling from 8 percent in 1998 to 20 percent in 2005.

At the same time, energy production and use results in a large proportion of emissions that affect the quality of the air and, by extension, human health (cardio-pulmonary disease and respiratory ailments such as asthma and bronchitis) and the environment. Transportation, fossil fuel-fired electric power and upstream oil and gas activities produce over 80 percent of domestic emissions of nitrogen oxides, key to the formation of ground-level ozone and particulate matter (the main components of urban smog). These same sources also account for 40 percent of Canada’s emissions of sulphur oxide, an important precursor to acid rain. Coal-fired electric power alone is responsible for 34 percent of domestic mercury emissions.

Energy production and use also accounts for over 80 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, which cause climate change. Rising concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are blamed for melting polar ice, retreating alpine glaciers, drying rivers and increasingly frequent extreme weather. Clearly, if we want the benefits of sustainability, Canada must find ways to develop, produce and use energy in a manner that minimizes its environmental footprint.

A range of actions can be taken domestically that serve both air quality and other broad energy objectives. In particular, energy efficiency and clean/alternative fuels offer significant air quality benefits while addressing climate change and providing new economic opportunities. 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, heath benefits and increased competitiveness of Canadian industry. Looking forward, Canada will need to continue supporting the development, demonstration and deployment of energy efficiency and alternative energy technologies while funding research into options to clean up more traditional fuels such as coal. Canada must also provide its citizens with the knowledge and tools to make informed and responsible energy choices.

While reducing emissions is essential to slowing down the anticipated impacts of climate change and may reduce their severity, Canadians will also need to adapt to changing climate conditions. 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 adaptation has just begun.

Many issues impacting sustainable development cannot be addressed by one country acting alone.

Canada is linked to the other countries of the world economically, socially, and environmentally. Our prosperity is defined in the context of global economic conditions and events. Climate change poses significant threats to ecosystems and the health and safety of human populations worldwide, while air pollutants affecting ambient air may have traveled hundreds, even thousands of kilometers with no regard to international borders. Canada’s success in dealing with its domestic air quality and climate change challenges, therefore, will depend on international engagement and action.

There are existing barriers to the international trade of natural resources that negatively impact Canada’s economy.

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 a serious issue for Canada. These barriers remove opportunities for Canadian exporters, preventing Canada from optimizing social and economic benefits that could be derived from the international trade of natural resource products. Denying industry sectors access to revenues from foreign trade can also result in slowing progress on innovation. Canadian business and governments will continue their efforts to promote international markets that work well, with transparent regulations based on sound science.

Canada has a global responsibility to ensure the sustainable development of its natural resources, and to share our knowledge with other countries.

Natural resource development can have global impacts. The development and use of natural resources in other countries 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.

Canada is a comparatively wealthy nation and a large per-capita resource user. We are also a major resource producer. 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.

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 export Canadian experience internationally, share our successes, promote our commitment to sustainable development and ensure commitment from other countries. It also enables Canada to support sustainable development in other countries, particularly those with significant economic activity in their natural resource sectors. SD is a common platform to approach global issues, and find solutions.

Before NRCan can expect external organizations and the broader public to adopt sustainablility, the Department needs to provide measurable examples of sustainability actions implemented internally.

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. Government must work to improve the performance, on a broad scale, of its day-to-day activities, to lead by example. Meeting this challenge requires that federal departments, including NRCan, continue to build internal capacity related to sustainable development. There is a need to improve the penetration of knowledge about sustainable development principles and practices throughout the federal workforce. Increased understanding will enable public servants to better apply SD tools and practices, and to integrate sustainability into daily decision-making. Awareness of and access to verified and useful information to inform decision-making is a crucial factor.

Government must work to improve the performance of its operations as well, with clear measurable results. Challenges for NRCan and other federal departments include building energy, the federal vehicle fleet, and implementing the new federal Policy on Green Procurement.

Environmental liabilities are one of the largest risks to any organization. The legal, reputation, and financial consequences of poor environmental management practices have made headlines several times in recent years. Poor environmental practices can lead to contaminating real property, dangerous chemical spills, and serious long term damage to the environment. As in any risk, good controls ensure that the intended outcomes are met. ISO 14001-Environmental Management Systems (EMS) is internationally recognized as the standard that provides a framework for positive environmental outcomes. NRCan has partially met the ISO 14001 requirements over the last 10 years; however a need for a more integrated approach to environmental management was recognized in 2004. Since 2004, the Department has been working to develop and implement that approach.

Stakeholder Engagement and NRCan’s SDS

Each and every Canadian has a role to play in sustainable development. Our individual and collective efforts will enable us to find solutions to resource development challenges that are good for our communities, good for the economy, and good for the environment.

A diverse cross-section of individuals, public and private organizations, and interest groups have been asked to participate in the Department’s Sustainable Development Strategy dialogue. The Department has reached out to other relevant federal and provincial departments and agencies, municipalities, private industry, non-government and Aboriginal organizations, and industry associations to ensure the development of a credible strategy.

As a result of relying on a variety of engagement tools, a rich exchange of information occurred and stakeholders reconfirmed that they are supportive of the Department’s efforts. Stakeholders have provided useful input to the issue scan and helped the Department to select a few priorities to focus on. Please refer to Appendix 3 for more information.

Raising the bar and capitalizing on our previous success is important for each strategy. Throughout the period of developing this SDS, it was made clear that NRCan’s stakeholders place a considerable amount of importance on the transparency of the consultation/engagement process. In response, a concerted effort in this area is planned with the intent of establishing a consultation policy for the Department.

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