POLITICS
04/24/2018 10:05 EDT | Updated 04/25/2018 15:20 EDT

Environment Commissioner: Canada Unable To Fulfill UN Sustainable Development Promise

"It is difficult to move forward with 10 hands on the wheel."

Brendan McDermid / Reuters
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during a news conference after addressing the 72nd United Nations General Assembly at the U.N. Headquarters in New York on Sept. 21, 2017.

OTTAWA — The federal government is all talk and little action when it comes to implementing the United Nations' 2030 goals for sustainable development, according to a report tabled by Canada's environment commissioner.

Canada pledged to adopt the internationally-agreed upon targets in 2015. They are 17 ambitious and broad-scope goals, such as to end poverty and to ensure clean water and sanitation to all. The overarching goal is to increase quality of life and "leave no one behind."

But two-and-a-half years into the Liberals' mandate, commissioner Julie Gelfand found the five federal departments tasked with implementing the "2030 Agenda" operated without leadership or defined roles and responsibilities.

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press
Julie Gelfand, commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, arrives to appear as a witness at Commons committee on Parliament Hill on March 27, 2018.

"Without a clear leader, an implementation plan, and accurate and ongoing measurement and monitoring of results, Canada will not be able to fulfill the commitments it made to its citizens, and to the United Nations," Gelfand said.

"It is difficult to move forward with 10 hands on the wheel."

The 2030 Agenda has been discussed by federal departments, Gelfand found. According to the report, an informal interdepartmental committee of directors had been meeting since 2016 to come up with an implementation strategy.

While it's one thing to call a meeting, Gelfand said the committee failed to keep official minutes of discussions, ideas, and decisions to implement the UN's sustainability goals.

The report notes how the five departments co-leading implementation of the 2030 Agenda — employment and social development, environment and climate change, global affairs, Indigenous and northern affairs, and status of women — all launched consultations last summer, "despite the lack of strategy or plan."

Gelfand concludes that leadership is missing, there is no set national target, and an absence of systems to measure, monitor, and report on progress.

She made three recommendations for the government: define leadership and responsibilities, come up with a communications strategy to raise public awareness of the UN goals, and to work with Statistics Canada and the Privy Council Office to come up with national targets and a system to track progress and results.

Gelfand's report runs in stark contrast to the message Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivered at the United Nations General Assembly last year. He had called the UN's sustainable development goals to be "as meaningful in Canada as they are everywhere else in the world."

Watch: Trudeau on UN speech: Canada must 'walk the talk' on human rights

Trudeau told the international audience that several of his government's existing targets -- such as its commitment to clean water and sanitation ensuring decent work and economic growth -- already align with four of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals.

"We are committed to implementing them at home while we also work with our international partners to achieve them around the world," he said at the time.

Feds pump UN sustainability goals with fresh funds

In February, the federal government announced $49.4 million in funding over 13 years to establish a sustainability goals unit. Statistics Canada will receive a portion of the funding to monitor progress of the UN 2030 agenda.

The budget also earmarked up to $59.8 million of existing resources to help departments implement the sustainability goals.

The UN's sustainability goals have been adopted worldwide, some countries being more transparent about their progress than others. Of the 193 member states that signed on to implement the goals, 65 had submitted voluntary review tracking their progress by November 2017. Canada was not one of those countries.

Canada is expected to table its first voluntary national review in July at the UN's high-level political forum on sustainable development.

The environment commissioner said it will be up to the government to include as much or as little of her spring report in its submission to the UN.

CLARIFICATION: An earlier version of this article stated Statistics Canada will receive $49.4 million in funding over 13 years to help establish a sustainability goals unit. That is incorrect.

Statistics Canada told HuffPost "the bulk of the funds will be used to set up a Sustainable Development Goals unit in the Government of Canada." It is unclear from the budget how much money Statistics Canada will receive. This version has been updated.