At the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Canada and numerous other participants committed to developing national strategies for sustainable development. Canada chose to make selected federal departments and agencies responsible for sustainable development within the sphere of their mandates. The aim was to ensure that environmental, economic, and social considerations would be systematically taken into account in their decision making, and lead to changes in policies, programs and operations that would further sustainable development.
Departmental Sustainable Development Strategies
Since 1995, designated departments and agencies have been required by law to prepare sustainable development strategies, then update them and present them to Parliament every three years. These strategies are meant to be the main vehicle to drive responsible management, from an environmental and sustainable development perspective, throughout the federal government.
Requirements for departmental strategies are detailed in the federal government publication A Guide to Green Government. The Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development has also established certain expectations. The sustainable development strategies of federal departments and agencies are available on their websites, which can be accessed through links in the Government of Canada website. These documents are not published by the Office of the Auditor General of Canada, and are the responsibility of each department.
The Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development assesses the quality of departmental sustainable development strategies and whether the plans set out in the strategies have been implemented. The results are presented in various reports of the Office of the Auditor General of Canada, including the Commissioner’s reports to the House of Commons.
Federal Sustainable Development Strategy
The Federal Sustainable Development Act, which was passed in 2008, requires the Minister of the Environment to develop an overarching federal sustainable development strategy that includes sustainable development goals and targets as well as an implementation plan for meeting each target. The strategy will also identify the minister responsible for meeting each target. Departmental sustainable development strategies must now include plans and objectives that comply with and contribute to the new Federal Sustainable Development Strategy.
The Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development provided comments to the Minister of the Environment on whether the targets and goals in the draft strategy can be assessed. He will monitor and report on how well federal departments and agencies meet the targets and goals that will be set out in the Federal Sustainable Development Strategy. The Commissioner will also report to Parliament on the fairness of the information in the progress report that the federal government will provide on the strategy.