Timeline: Major milestones of Environment and Climate Change Canada
Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) has a history dating back 50 years to 1971. Since then, ECCC has continuously evolved to address the increasingly complex and changing environmental priorities of Canada. Follow this timeline to learn about some of the major milestones, achievements and advancements in our Department’s history.
Additional program-specific timelines will follow later this fall focussed on environmental protection, conservation and climate change.
1971 – On June 11, Canada became the second country in the world to establish a formal Department of the Environment. The new ministry incorporated older agencies, such as the Meteorological Service of Canada (1871), Water Survey of Canada (1908) and the Canadian Wildlife Service (1947).
1972 – The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement was signed by Canada and the United States, challenging the two countries to restore and enhance water quality in the Great Lakes system and providing the framework for future binational cooperation.
1973 (Nov 29) – The creation of Emergencies Program by Cabinet Directive in recognition of a need for consolidated scientific advice following the running aground of the SS Arrow in 1970. The directive mandated Environment Canada to take a lead role in the federal government’s response to environmental emergencies.
1975 – Canada ratified the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, an international agreement between countries to ensure the trade of species of wild animals and plants is not harmful to their survival. The Convention is implemented in Canada through The Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act.
1975 – Canada became a party to the Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter (1972). Known as the London Convention, it was among the first global treaties to protect the marine environment from human activities; halting the dumping of industrial and radioactive waste at sea.
1977 – The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) was created to provide independent advice to the Minister of Environment on the status of wildlife species at risk of extinction.
1985 – The Eastern Canada Acid Rain Program committed the federal and provincial governments from Manitoba eastward to reduce 1980 levels of acid rain causing emissions by 50% by 1994 to help protect sensitive lakes and rivers.
1986 (April 26) – The reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the Soviet Union exploded and Environment Canada scientists play an important role in predicting the spread of the radioactive material released into the atmosphere.
1986 – The North American Waterfowl Management Plan was signed by Canada and the United States. This successful plan conserves and protects wetland land and upland habitats and associated waterfowl populations.
1987 – The Federal Water Policy was released following the 1984/85 Inquiry on the management of Canada’s freshwater resources. The Federal Water Policy provided a framework for federal actions on freshwater that continues today.
1987 (Sept 16) – Canada and 23 other countries signed the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer. This agreement is one of the most successful multilateral agreements, eliminating the majority of ozone depleting substances and putting the ozone layer on a path to recovery.
1988 – The Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA) was passed into law amalgamating existing laws and providing new powers to protect human health and the environment from the risks from pollution.
1988 (June 3) – The Governments of Canada and Quebec signed an agreement for intergovernmental cooperation to conserve, restore and protect and enhance the St. Lawrence River with partners and stakeholders that continues today.
1988 – Canada hosts a landmark World Conference “The Changing Atmosphere: Global Implications for Global Security” in Toronto bringing together scientists, heads of state and policy makers from the around the world to discuss the growing problem of global warming.
1990 – The federal government releases Canada’s Green Plan for a healthy environment. The Green Plan aimed “to secure for current and future generations a safe and healthy environment and a sound and prosperous economy." The plan represented a fundamental shift in the federal government’s view of economic development and environmental protection.
1991 – The Canada-United States Air Quality Agreement was signed by Canada and the United States, to address transboundary air pollution leading to acid rain. Both countries agreed to reduce emissions of sulphur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx), the primary precursors to acid rain.
1991 – The Northern River Basins Study was established through an agreement between the governments of Canada, Alberta and the Northwest Territories. Primary objective of the study was to better understand the cumulative ecosystem impacts of developments within the Peace, Athabasca and Slave River basins.
1991 – The Fraser River Action Plan was initiated to reduce pollution, enhance environmental quality, and develop an integrated basin management program. Efforts focused on pollution abatement, environmental quality and research, enforcement and compliance, and habitat restoration and conservation.
1992 – Canada was the first country to develop a nationwide UV index and to issue a daily UV index to warn Canadians about the dangers of overexposure to the sun.
1992 – The Government of Canada participated in the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro which brought together 172 countries and focused world attention on environmental issues. The accomplishments of the “Earth Summit” included the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Convention on Biological Diversity.
1994 – The National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy (NRTEE), established in 1994, to promote sustainable development across Canada.
1994 – The New Substances Notification Regulations under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act came into force. These regulations were created to ensure that no new substances (chemicals, polymers or organisms) are introduced into the Canadian marketplace before undergoing ecological and human health assessments.
1995 – Ecological Gifts Program is established to offer tax benefits to landowners for donating ecological valuable lands to qualified recipients. By 2020, more than 1400 ecological gifts valued at over $900 million were donated across Canada, protecting 195,000 hectares of important habitat.
1995 – Canada launches the National Action Program on Climate Change marking the beginning of a national strategy designed to address climate change science, mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, and adapt to climate change.
1996 (September) – Environment Canada participated in the inaugural meeting of The Arctic Council founded to address the issues of sustainable development and environmental protection, common to the Arctic States of Canada, Denmark/Greenland, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States and four international organizations representing Indigenous Peoples.
1999 – The Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 was updated to provide the Ministers of Environment and Health with new tools and powers to reduce pollution and to eliminate and regulate releases of toxic substances. The new act required the federal government to undertake a review of the 23,000 substances in commerce in Canada by 2006 to determine their risks to human health or the environment.
2000 – The Ozone Annex to the Canada-U.S. Air Quality Agreement was signed to reduce the transboundary flows of air pollutants that cause smog.
2001 – Canada was the first country to ratify the Stockholm Convention, a global agreement aimed at protecting human health and the environment from persistent organic pollutants (POPs) such as PCBs, DDT and others. POPs are a particular concern in the Arctic where Indigenous People rely on country foods that can contain harmful levels of POPs.
2002 – The Species at Risk Act was passed to help prevent wildlife species in Canada from disappearing, to provide for the recovery of wildlife species that are extirpated, endangered, or threatened as a result of human activity, and to manage species of special concern to prevent them from becoming endangered or threatened.
2005 – Canada hosts the 11th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Montreal (COP 11). More than 40 important decisions were taken to reinforce international efforts to fight climate change. Over 10,000 participants attended.
2005 – The Enforcement Branch was created at Environment Canada, combining existing wildlife and pollution enforcement programs, and led by an independent Chief Enforcement Officer (CEO).
2005 – The Federal Contaminated Sites Action Plan was established to reduce environmental and human health risks from federal contaminated sites. The program was renewed in 2019 to continue the work on approximately 5000 active sites.
2006 – Environment Canada and Health Canada launched the Chemicals Management Plan under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 to systemically assess the risks to health and the environment of the 23,000 substances in commerce before there were laws on managing the risks of chemicals.
2007 (January) – The Government of Canada and the Government of Nova Scotia announce funding for the clean up of the Sydney Tar Ponds on Cape Breton Island, a hazardous waste site associated with the historical steel mill operations. Environment Canada played an important role in developing the clean-up plan. The clean up was completed in 2013.
2008 – The Federal Sustainable Development Act came into force providing the legal framework for developing and implementing a Federal Sustainable Development Strategy every three years. Amendments to the Act came into force in 2019 expanding the number of federal organizations that must contribute to developing the Federal Sustainable Development Strategy.
2010 – The Environmental Enforcement Act was passed to strengthen and harmonize the enforcement regimes of nine key environmental acts.
2012 (February) – The Oil Sands Monitoring Program was initiated to assess the cumulative effects of oil sands development activities in the oil sands area. The program is jointly managed by the Government of Canada and the Government of Alberta with participation with local First Nations.
2013 (December) – First Emergency Protection Order was issued under the Species at Risk Act to protect the Greater Sage Grouse on public land in southeastern Alberta and southwestern Saskatchewan. At the time there were less than 140 adult birds in Canada. The population had declined by 98% since 1988 and sage-grouse were occupying only 7% of their historic range in Canada.
2014 – The National Conservation Plan was launched to provide a more coordinated approach to conservation efforts across the country with an emphasis on enabling Canadians to conserve and restore lands and waters.
2015 – Environment Canada, the Government of Ontario and other partners announced funding for the remediation of Randle Reef, in Hamilton Harbour. Randle Reef is the largest contaminated site on the Canadian side of the Great Lakes resulting from years of industrial pollution dating back to the 1800s is expected to be cleaned up by 2023.
2015 – Canada's federal, provincial, and territorial governments released the 2020 Biodiversity Goals and Targets for Canada in response to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity's Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 and its global Aichi Biodiversity Targets. A key target was the conservation of 17% of Canada’s terrestrial areas and inland water and 10% of coastal and marine areas, through networks of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures.
2015 – Canada is one of 196 Parties at the 21st UN Climate Change Conference (COP21) in Paris, France, to adopt the Paris Agreement, a legally binding international treaty on climate change. The goal of the Agreement is to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius, preferably to 1.5 degrees, compared to pre-industrial levels.
2016 (May) – Canadian Wildlife Service becomes its own branch within the department in recognition of the department’s increased responsibilities to protect nature.
2016 (December) – Canada’s First Ministers adopt the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change (PCF). It is the first climate plan developed with provinces and territories and in consultation with Indigenous Peoples. The plan focused on growing Canada's economy, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and building resilience to climate change.
2017 – Canada ratified the Minamata Convention on Mercury, in order to reduce the long-range transport of mercury from foreign sources into Canada, especially to Canada’s Arctic where it adversely impacts the health of Northern people and our fragile ecosystem.
2017 – A new branch called the Pan-Canadian Framework Implementation Office is created within ECCC to implement the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Clean Change. $2 billion Low Carbon Economy Fund is created to support projects to generate clean growth and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
2018 – The Government of Canada announced the Nature Legacy initiative to meet its international commitments on biodiversity and put Canada on a solid path to protecting its lands and oceans. It also committed to transforming the way it protects and recovers species at risk and to advance reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples through meaningful partnerships on conservation.
2018 (June) – The Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act, the federal carbon pollution pricing system, came into force providing a federal backstop for provinces or territories that request it or fail to implement its own system consistent with federal standards.
2018 (June) – The Ocean Plastics Charter was launched by Canada and its international partners at the G7 Leaders Summit held in Charlevoix, Quebec. It committed signatory governments, business and organizations to taking action to move toward a more resource efficient and sustainable approach to the management of plastics. In November of 2018 Canadian federal, provincial and territorial environment Ministers approved a strategy on Zero Plastic Waste which outlined a vision to keep plastics in the economy and out of the environment.
2018 (October) – The Dehcho First Nations and the Government of Canada signed an Agreement committing to co-manage the Edehzhie Indigenous Protected and Conserved Area in the Northwest Territories, the first such area established under the Nature Legacy initiative.
2018 (October) – Collaborative decision making Agreement was signed between Tsleil-Waututh Nation and Environment and Climate Change Canada regarding disposal-at-sea.
2018 – Canada announced final regulations to phase-out traditional coal-fired electricity by 2030. Canada also published final greenhouse gas regulations for natural gas-fired electricity. By phasing out coal-fired electricity early, Canada strives to have 90 per cent of electricity from non-emitting sources by 2030.
2020 (February) – The Government of Canada, the Government of British Columbia the Saulteau First Nation and West Moberly First Nation sign a partnership agreement to protect important habitat in northeastern BC for Southern Mountain Caribou, a threatened species.
2020 (November) – To legislate Canada’s goal of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 the Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act is tabled in the House of Commons. The requirement to set interim targets and plans at 5 year intervals will ensure that Canada reduces emissions and achieves net zero emissions by 2050 in order to contribute to the global action needed to keeping the global mean temperature rise to well below 2 degrees, which is necessary to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.
2020 (December) – The Government of Canada introduced A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy, Canada’s strengthened climate plan of new and strengthened federal measures and $15 billion in investments to build a stronger, cleaner, more resilient, and inclusive economy. The plan builds off the successes of the Pan-Canadian Framework for Clean Growth and Climate Change and enable Canada to exceed its original 2030 greenhouse-gas reduction target of 30% below 2005 levels.
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