Sustainable Development Goals


What are the SDGs?

In September 2015, all the member states of the United Nations adopted 17 goals: the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), aiming to address social, economic and environmental challenges. By bringing together both developed and developing countries, these SDGs are a roadmap for the health of people and the planet. The timeline for achieving the goals is 2030 – only ten years away.

Canada is among the countries that has committed to this ambitious agenda which includes goals to improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth – all while tackling climate change and working to preserve our oceans and forests.

As a framework for guiding action, the SDGs are non-partisan, time-limited and measurable. Designed to be interlinked and indivisible, they lend weight to transformative change. However, since the goals are so wide-ranging and were negotiated so that every country could agree to them, achieving these outcomes will depend largely on how governments actually put policies in place, and how they prioritise. While imperfect, the SDGs are among the best global frameworks that we have.

To achieve these goals, all departments across government need to work together. At the federal level, the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development is taking the lead. With SDGs such as eradicating both poverty and food insecurity, these ambitious goals will require visionary action and systemic change. With a close knowledge of the needs in communities as well as the levers for change, civil society organizations are uniquely poised to help Canada meet these goals.



The SDGs in the context of Covid-19

Covid-19 is magnifying the structural inequalities in our food systems, the insufficiencies of our social protection programs, and the challenges with the dominant food supply chains. In Canada and globally, the necessity to accelerate attainment of the goals has only been underlined by the pandemic crisis.

In response, Food Secure Canada has published an action plan for renewing the country’s food system, which situates its policy proposals within the SDG framework. It is grounded in food movement proposals from across the country, laying out concrete policy pathways to meeting multiple and interlinked SDG goals.

With an inclusive public interest based approach to food policy and programming, Canada can:

  • Address the root causes of food insecurity 
  • Build resilient local food systems
  • Support Indigenous food sovereignty 
  • Champion decent work and justice for workers all along the food chain 
  • Ensure everyone is at the policy-making table
  • Advance a National School Food Program


What is the food movement’s role?

Many of the SDGs are directly or indirectly relevant to food systems. For those working in the food movement, the SDGs represent objectives to which we can hold our governments accountable, provide a yardstick for progress, and act as a common ground as we work for change in partnership with actors across sectors, departments, and levels of government.

There are four goals which apply especially to Canada’s food system and are referenced in the new Food Policy for Canada:

Goal 2 -Zero Hunger: End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture
Goal 3 - Good Health and Well-Being: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages

Goal 12 - Responsible Production and Consumption: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns

Goal 13 - Climate Action: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impact


The Food Policy for Canada, announced in 2019 and named in the budget, states that its actions will support meeting the SDGs, and that its forthcoming measurable targets and sub-targets towards meeting its outcomes will be aligned with the SDG framework.


Leave no one behind

The SDGs are explicit about the obligation to leave no one behind. We cannot meet the SDGs without taking into account the unique needs of potentially vulnerable groups of  people both nationally and globally. As the UN states, while the world has made progress in reducing poverty, lowering child mortality rates and improving access to clean water, hundreds of millions of people continue to live in poverty. “As the poorest and most marginalized people slip further behind, inequalities have been pushed to new heights between and within countries.

Here in Canada, it is vital to acknowledge systemic inequalities, which disproportionately affect Indigenous peoples and people of colour and their right to healthy, just, and sustainable food. For example, those who identify as Indigenous or Black are far more likely to face food insecurity in Canada.

While food was often used as a tool of colonization, it has the potential to be a tool for healing and asserting Indigenous food sovereignty. As we work towards the SDGs, we must aim for not only food security, but food sovereignty of Indigenous communities, which is inseparable from access to land and water. In addition to being a principle named in the Food Policy, the calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada is another tool that should be used in reaching not only the SDGs, but also the goals as set forth in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).

The SDGs can only be met if the rights of Indigenous peoples to respond to their own needs for adequate amounts of healthy, culturally appropriate foods in the forests, fields and waterways, are fully addressed.


Where does Canada stand on meeting its obligations?

Since each SDG is quite broad, each goal is accompanied by a detailed checklist of smaller goals, and ways to measure them. The smaller goals are called targets and the ways to measure them are called indicators. For example, SDG 2 “Zero Hunger” includes the specific target to ensure universal access to safe and nutritious food, and one of the indicators is the prevalence of moderate and severe food insecurity.

In Canada, the government is measuring progress on meeting the SDGs by using a checklist called the Canadian Indicator Framework (CIF), which is used in combination with the United Nations’ Global Indicators Framework. In June 2019, Canada published the CIF as part of its interim 2030 Agenda National Strategy, which outlines an initial roadmap to meet the goals.


Aligning the Food Policy with SDG targets and indicators

The Food Policy for Canada already highlights four SDGs and a selection of associated targets. It is important to note that these are indicative, and once the Canadian Food Policy Advisory Council is active, part of its mandate is to suggest and develop measurable targets, in alignment with the SDGs.

The old adage “we measure what we value and we value what we measure” reminds us that the choice of targets and indicators is political, not neutral. The kind of information and knowledge that measurements can highlight or render invisible in food systems is discussed in this CAFS article Food Counts: Food systems report cards, food sovereignty and the politics of indicators.

This table shows the SDGs and targets already highlighted in the Food Policy, as well as the associated ambitions, targets and indicators prioritised in the Canadian Indicators Framework.



Communities lead the way in meeting targets

Across Canada, individuals and organizations are leading their communities to work towards  goals such as zero hunger, good health and well-being, responsible consumption and production, and climate action. FSC spoke with leaders from across the country to highlight their work:




This project is funded by the Government of Canada's Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Funding Program. The opinions and interpretations on this page are those of Food Secure Canada and do not necessarily reflect those of the Government of Canada.