Improving Environmental Data and Science to Support Evidence-Based Decisions

Accessible, current and coordinated science and data are vital to enable evidence-based decision making and to evaluate and inform effective public policy. Joint federal and provincial leadership in this area is overdue and new investments are urgently needed to implement an environmental science and data management strategy that addresses Canada’s emerging and longstanding environmental data challenges and needs. These include:

  • overlapping and fragmented data collection and management responsibilities among federal departments and other levels of government;
  • incomplete and outdated datasets (particularly geospatial habitat inventory data);
  • lack of integration and poor coordination of data-sharing across jurisdictions and sectors;
  • inconsistent collaboration with outside organizations and academia
  • inadequate resources to fully embrace international standards in data collection or analysis, particularly with respect to international environmental  asset accounting;
  • limited public accessibility;
  • large time lags between policy implementation and evaluation data; and
  • inadequate science, data and quantification methodologies needed to inform the effective implementation of nature-based climate solutions, achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, price carbon emissions, and manage the risk of severe weather events such as flooding.

To address these needs and support the federal government’s commitment to evidence-based decision making, the GBC recommends the following investments.

a. Coordinated and Updated National Geospatial Habitat Inventories

Canada’s open Federal Geospatial Data Platform aggregates individual geospatial data layers into a national geodatabase. However, many of the individual base layers are outdated, incomplete, inaccessible to the public, and when publicly available, are often spread across multiple data platforms and governments.

Building on current efforts to develop an integrated Federal Geospatial Platform, the Green Budget Coalition recommends that the federal government invest in undertaking an audit and inventory of existing geospatial datasets (and gaps) across federal departments and other levels of government, in addition to updating geographic and landscape feature data to complete Canada’s national habitat inventories. This includes completing the Canadian Wetland Inventory, creating a critical fish habitat inventory, native grasslands inventories and national groundwater mapping. In addition to enabling Canada to make well informed land-use and management decisions, these investments can be leveraged to improve evidence-based decision making in other areas, including better understanding the diverse values and benefits we gain from conserving our natural assets (and the values we lose when natural assets are lost); and informing the implementation of climate policies and our understanding of how policies are working.

Coordinated and updated national geospatial habitat inventories are essential for enabling Canada to effectively and efficiently implement nature-based climate solutions as part of its approach to meet its biodiversity and 2030 and 2050 GHG mitigation reduction targets. These inventories provide important baseline information needed to expand Canada’s quantification of GHG emissions and sequestration from human activities beyond those currently captured in the national GHG inventory (e.g., wetland drainage, compaction of peatlands from roads and other activities, removal of native grasslands, changes in grassland management), and to assess potential strategies to quantify emission reduction opportunities.

Recommended Investment:
$2 million over three years for an inventory and audit, and $125 million over four years to update and complete national habitat inventories [NRCan and ECCC]

b. A National Census of the Environment

Effectively managing Canada’s natural assets and the essential ecological functions and services they provide requires full accounting of our environmental health and assets. A census of the environment with baseline accounting of Canada’s environmental assets and regular status and trends reporting (similar to the way GDP and employment statistics are published) will generate the critical data that is needed to measure the diverse values and benefits Canada gains from its ecosystem services – most of which are often overlooked until the service is lost or degrades. Calls to action for a national environmental census are emerging in other countries with similar environmental challenges and data gaps, including recommendations made in the United Kingdom’s 2019 State of Natural Capital Annual Report.

The Green Budget Coalition recommends new investments to launch an initiative led by Statistics Canada to work with federal departments and other levels of government to advance the development of a robust and full accounting of Canada’s environmental  assets. This includes building a central registry and framework for a national census of the environment.

Recommended Investment:
$16 million over four years

c. External Advisory Panel on Integrating Environmental Data

The GBC recommends establishing an external advisory panel, co-led by ECCC and StatsCan, and comprised of public and private data collectors, users and processors, including representatives from all levels of governments, industry, Indigenous groups, environmental organizations and the public. The panel would be similar to Statistics Canada’s National Accounts Advisory Committee, and would have a mandate to provide strategic advice to governments on data collection and management issues. A key deliverable would be recommendations to the federal government on actions to help close Canada’s growing environmental information gap and enable evidence-based decision making.

Recommended Investment:
$3 million over three years

James Brennan –
Cameron Mack –