Canada’s Air Pollutant Emissions Inventory Report 2021: executive summary
This is an inventory of pollutants released into the air from 1990 to 2019.
Canada’s Air Pollutant Emissions Inventory (APEI) has been prepared and published by Environment and Climate Change Canada since 1973. The APEI is a comprehensive inventory of anthropogenic emissions of 17 air pollutants at the national, provincial and territorial levels. This inventory serves many purposes: it fulfills Canada’s international reporting obligations under the 1979 Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution (CLRTAP) and the associated protocols ratified by Canada for the reduction of emissions of sulphur oxides (SOx), nitrogen oxides (NOx), fine particulate matter (PM2.5), cadmium (Cd), lead (Pb), mercury (Hg), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), dioxins and furans, and other persistent organic pollutants (POPs). The APEI also reports emissions of additional air pollutants including ammonia (NH3), carbon monoxide (CO), coarse particulate matter (PM10) and total particulate matter (TPM). In addition, the APEI supports monitoring and reporting obligations under the Canada-U.S. Air Quality Agreement and the development of air quality management strategies, policies and regulations, provides data for air quality forecasting, and informs Canadians about pollutants that affect their health and the environment.
The APEI is compiled from many different data sources. Emission data reported by individual facilities to Environment and Climate Change Canada’s National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI) and, to a lesser extent, data provided directly by the provinces are supplemented with well-documented, science-based estimation tools and methodologies to quantify total emissions. Together, these data sources provide a comprehensive coverage of air pollutant emissions across Canada.
This edition of the APEI Report summarizes the most recent estimates of air pollutant emissions for 1990 to 2019, as of February 2021. The inventory indicates that emissions of 14 of the 17 reported air pollutants are decreasing compared to historical levels, and specifically indicates that:Footnote 1
- Emissions of SOx were 0.7 million tonnes in 2019, 52% below the 2010 emission ceiling under the 1999 Gothenburg Protocol and 66% below 2005 levels—Canada is on track to meet its 55% emission reduction commitment from 2005 levels for 2020, as per the amended Gothenburg Protocol.
- Emissions of NOx were 1.6 million tonnes in 2019, 28% below the 2010 emission ceiling under the 1999 Gothenburg Protocol and 29% below 2005 levels—Canada’s emission reduction commitment for NOx is 35% below 2005 levels by 2020, as per the amended Gothenburg Protocol.
- The next edition of this report, to be published in 2022, will include data for 2020 and provide an update to Canada’s compliance with its 2020 commitments.
- Emissions of non-methane VOCs were 1.7 million tonnes in 2019, 20% below the 2010 emission ceiling under the 1999 Gothenburg Protocol and 27% below 2005 levels—Canada is also on track to meet its 20% emission reduction commitment from 2005 levels for 2020, as per the amended Gothenburg Protocol.
- Emissions of fine particulate matter (particulate matter less than or equal to 2.5 microns in diameter [PM2.5]) were 1.6 million tonnes in 2019, 8% below 1990 levels and 25% above 2005 levels.
- Emissions of PM2.5 decreased from most sources with the notable exceptions of dust (not from combustion) sources such as construction operations and unpaved roads.
- Excluding sources from road dust, construction operations, and crop production, PM2.5 emissions in 2019 were 29% lower compared to 2005; therefore, Canada is on track to meet its 25% emission reduction commitmentFootnote 2 from 2005 levels for 2020, as per the amended Gothenburg Protocol.
- Emissions of Cd, Pb, and Hg in 2019 were 89%, 79% and 81% below the ceilings established under the 1998 Aarhus Protocol on Heavy Metals.
- Emissions of all POPs in 2019 were below the ceilings established under the 1998 Aarhus Protocol on Persistent Organic Pollutants, including the four species of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) (72% below), hexachlorobenzene (HCB) (91% below), and dioxins and furans (88% below).
- Emissions of CO in 2019 had decreased by 55% since 1990 and by 30% since 2005.
Canada’s air pollution emission trends (1990 to 2019)
A few key sources of pollutants account for a significant portion of the downward trends in pollutant emissions in Canada. In particular:
- Non-Ferrous Refining and Smelting is a major contributor to emissions of SOx, Pb, Cd and Hg; emissions of these pollutants from this source have decreased by 95%, 92%, 97% and almost 100%, respectively, over this time period.
- Home Firewood Burning is a major contributor to emissions of PM2.5, VOCs, CO and PAHs; emissions of these pollutants from this source have decreased by 43%, 39%, 19% and 4%, respectively, over this time period, in part owing to the adoption of more recent wood combustion equipment.
- Coal-fired electric power generation is a major contributor to emissions of SOx, Hg and HCB; emissions of these pollutants from this source have decreased by 62%, 72% and 98%, respectively, over this time period, as coal-fired power plants have closed down and have been replaced by lower-emission sources such as natural gas power plants.
- Light-Duty Gasoline Trucks and Vehicles are major contributors to emissions of NOx and PAHs; emissions of these pollutants from these sources have decreased by 58% and 63%, respectively, over this time period.
- The decrease in emissions is despite a 76% increase in the number of these vehicles on the road, and is due to regulations that have effectively decreased sulphur level in fuels and lowered NOx and hydrocarbon emissions from engines.
- Transportation associated with the combustion of gasolineFootnote 3 is a major contributor to emissions of VOCs and CO; emissions of these pollutants from this source have decreased by 79% and 64%, respectively, over this time period.
- The decrease in emissions is despite a 64% increase in on-road and off-road spark-ignition engines, and is due to regulations that have effectively decreased sulphur level in fuels and lowered NOx and hydrocarbon emissions from engines.
- Waste Incineration is a major contributor to emissions of HCB and dioxins and furans; emissions of these pollutants from this source have decreased by 93% and 94%, respectively, over this time period, in part owing to improvements in incineration technologies.
Despite significant decreases in emissions of most pollutants, since 2005 emissions of particulate matter have risen by 49% (TPM), 44% (PM10) and 25% (PM2.5). These increases are largely due to increased transportation on unpaved roads as well as construction operations. Another exception to the general downward trends is the steady increase in emissions of NH3, which in 2019 were 20% above 1990 levels although 3% below 2005 levels. The upward trend in NH3 emissions is driven by fertilizer use and animal production.
Irrespective of the downward trends observed in Canadian emissions, air quality issues may still arise when emissions sources are spatially concentrated. While the APEI provides valuable information on emissions within Canada, it does not distinguish localized sources of emissions within the provincial and territorial level aggregations.
Canada’s air emissions regulations and non-regulatory measures
Downward trends in emissions of air pollutants reflect the ongoing implementation of a wide range of regulatory and non-regulatory instruments that aim to reduce or eliminate pollutants in order to improve and maintain air quality in Canada. Regulations under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA 1999) related to the 17 APEI pollutants include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Multi-Sector Air Pollutants Regulations
- Export of Substances on the Export Control List Regulations
- On-Road Vehicle and Engine Emission Regulations
- Sulphur in Gasoline Regulations
- Products Containing Mercury Regulations
- Renewable Fuels Regulations
- Off-Road Compression-Ignition Engine Emission Regulations
- Sulphur in Diesel Fuel Regulations
- Benzene in Gasoline Regulations
- Marine Spark-Ignition Engine, Vessel and Off-Road Recreational Vehicle Emission Regulations
- Gasoline Regulations
- Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) Concentration Limits for Automotive Refinishing Products Regulations
- Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) Concentration Limits for Architectural Coatings Regulations
- Off-Road Small Spark-Ignition Engine Emission Regulations
- Gasoline and Gasoline Blend Dispensing Flow Rate Regulations
- Pulp and Paper Mill Effluent Chlorinated Dioxins and Furans Regulations
- Contaminated Fuel Regulations
- Secondary Lead Smelter Release Regulations
A number of greenhouse gas regulations are also expected to achieve significant co-benefit reductions in air pollutants, including Canada’s Reduction of Carbon Dioxide Emissions from Coal-fired Generation of Electricity Regulations.
Non-regulatory instruments include guidelines for stationary combustion turbines, as well as codes of practice, performance agreements, and/or pollution prevention planning notices for various sectors. These instruments address emissions from a number of sectors including aluminium, iron, steel and ilmenite, iron ore pellets, potash, base-metals smelting and refining, and pulp and paper.
All regulations and non-regulatory instruments administered under CEPA 1999 are available on the registry and on the Department of Justice’s online consolidation of federal acts and regulations.
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