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Three Ways Canada Can Make Progress With the Sustainable Development Goals

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By Livia Bizikova, November 24, 2016

The 2030 Agenda sets out an “ambitious vision of the future,” tackling critical challenges that are important for Canadians.

These include reducing poverty and inequality, protecting biodiversity and water resources, building green infrastructure and making our production and consumption patterns more sustainable.

Implementing the 2030 Agenda entails an equally ambitious vision for governance systems (such as coordination across departments, integrated strategy development and tracking progress) so that they better integrate economic, environmental and social factors into decision making.

Many developed and developing countries already recognize the SDGs as a clear opportunity for generating greater coherence in government policy to advance long-term sustainability. This is evidenced by the fact that 22 countries had already voluntarily reported on progress toward implementation by the end of the first year of the SDGs.

Finland, for example, decided to put SDG implementation under the direct responsibility of the Prime Minister’s Office and has already developed a baseline and targets for the country’s SDG implementation efforts. China has developed its implementation strategy and assigned SDGs to specific departments connected through a coordinate mechanism. In its report to the UN’s High-Level Political Forum, Switzerland outlined a two-year strategy to prepare for implementation with actions such as multistakeholder consultations, clarifying institutional arrangements and conducting a baseline study and gap analysis to identify future areas of action to implement the 2030 Agenda. In addition, the German Council for Sustainable Development (RNE) submitted its statement on “Germany’s Sustainability Architecture and the SDGs” to the federal government outlining implementation efforts (RNE, 2015).

Canada, home to IISD’s headquarters, has yet to clearly articulate what its federal government’s leadership on the 2030 Agenda will look like. So far, all we have seen are mentions of the SDGs in speeches by Prime Minister Trudeau and references to a limited number of SDGs in the new Federal Sustainable Development Strategy for 2016–2019.

So what can Canada do to take the 2030 Agenda seriously and show specific actions on SDG implementation?

  • First, following the example of other countries, Prime Minister Trudeau should take leadership for SDG implementation under his Office and develop a process for effective interministerial coordination. This needs to happen in order to integrate the government’s social, economic and environmental policies into a coherent approach, in the true spirit of the 2030 Agenda.
  • Second, Canada should establish a multistakeholder National Round Table or Commission to engage Canadians with solutions to sustainable development issues and approaches to implementing the SDGs.
  • Third, Canada should expand the current Canadian Environmental Sustainability Indicators to a comprehensive set of national sustainable development indicators that reflect economic, social and environmental issues and thus enable a sound method for consistent measurement of progress toward the SDGs. This can then be used to create Canada’s own baseline and begin reporting on progress with SDGs to the UN HLPF.

Finally, when implementing these steps, we need to pay close attention to the inequality and well-being challenges that exist for many First Nations peoples in Canada. For example, while the average per capita income of Canadians is approximately $77,000 a year, for Canada’s Inuit population it is $17,000 a year. The SDGs make several references to First Nations peoples, including SDG 2, which relates to food, and SDG 4 regarding access to education. The recommendations of the historic Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TGC) report should be cross-referenced with the suite of targets in the SDGs, beginning with the overarching recommendation that the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples be the framework for reconciliation (TRC 43). With regards to SDG 3 on health and well-being for all, at every stage of life, the TRC report recommends “measurable goals to identify and close the gaps in health outcomes between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities,” including indicators such as infant mortality, maternal health, suicide, mental health, addictions, life expectancy, birth rates, chronic diseases and the availability of appropriate health services.

To successfully implement the SDGs in Canada, we need to focus on developing a national SDG strategy, conducting consultations and selecting indicators so that the deep-rooted challenges of Canada’s First Nations peoples are recognized and can become an integral part of the strategy and the monitoring framework.