Addressing climate change and air quality

Addressing climate change and air quality

Greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations in Earth’s atmosphere are increasing, trapping more heat and changing our climate. A wide range of impacts are under way: shrinking Arctic sea ice, thawing permafrost, rising sea levels, increased risks of severe weather, including heat waves, floods and droughts. These effects pose increasing global risks to human health and safety, the economy, infrastructure, and wildlife.

Goal 1: Climate change

In order to mitigate the effects of climate change, reduce GHG emission levels and adapt to unavoidable impacts.

Progress statements

As of 2013, Canada’s anthropogenic GHG emissions were 23 Mt carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2 eq) below 2005 levels. The Government of Canada continued to pursue a sector-by-sector approach to regulating GHG emissions. It also continued to help Canadians and businesses decrease their GHG emissions through actions such as supporting the development and deployment of innovative clean technologies.

Over the past five years, understanding about adaptation has improved and progress has been made through broadened engagement and policies, plans and practices to increase resilience to climate change.

Remaining challenges

In 2009, the Government of Canada committed under the Copenhagen Accord to reduce Canada’s GHG emissions by 17% below 2005 levels by 2020.

The Government has committed to work with provincial and territorial leaders to develop a pan-Canadian framework for addressing climate change. At the 21st session of the Conference of Parties, the Government joined other countries in committing to limit global average temperature rise to well below two degrees Celsius, and to pursue efforts to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees.

What we know

Canada’s total GHG emissions level in 2013 was 726 Mt CO2 eq, or 3.1% (23 Mt CO2 eq) below the 2005 level of 749 Mt CO2 eq (see Figure 1). This change was driven by decreases in emissions from the electricity generation sector and from emissions-intensive and trade-exposed industries. The steep decline between 2008 and 2009 was partly due to the global economic downturn.

Canada’s level of emissions intensity, or GHG emissions per unit of gross domestic product, was 14% lower in 2013 than in 2005, while GHG emissions per capita decreased from 23.2 tonnes in 2005 to 20.7 tonnes in 2013. These improvements are attributable to factors such as more efficient industrial processes, a shift to a more service-based economy, and reductions in the emissions associated with energy generation-for example, due to fuel-switching from coal and oil to lower-emitting sources like natural gas and non-emitting sources such as hydro, wind and solar.

Learn more: visit the Canadian Environmental Sustainability Indicators (CESI) website.

Figure 1: National greenhouse gas emissions, Canada, 2005 to 2013

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[Long description of Figure 1]

The line graph shows Canada's national greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 to 2013 with the 2020 Copenhagen target.

Climate change mitigation

Climate change is a global problem that requires sustained action by all, including individuals, businesses and governments at all levels and in all countries. Mitigating climate change means reducing our emissions of GHGs and other climate-warming pollutants such as black carbon.

Canada is working alongside other countries to advance international efforts to combat climate change. Within Canada, the federal government is committed to providing national leadership on climate change mitigation, working with provinces and territories to price carbon, reduce our GHG emissions, and meet our international commitments.

Target 1.1: Climate change mitigation

Relative to 2005 emission levels, reduce Canada’s total GHG emissions 17% by 2020.

Progress statement

As of 2013, Canada’s GHG emissions level was 3.1% below the 2005 level of 749 Mt CO2 eq.

What we know

The world reached a historic milestone in December 2015 with the adoption of the Paris Agreement, which aims to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change. The agreement commits Canada and 194 other countries to limit global average temperature rise to well below 2 degrees Celsius, and to pursue efforts to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees.

Parties to the Paris Agreement will establish national GHG emissions reduction targets, update them every five years, and take action to achieve them. The agreement also includes commitments to strengthen climate change adaptation, provide support to developing countries, and regularly assess and report on progress.

Meeting Canada’s international commitments requires action by all levels of government. The federal government is committed to working with provinces and territories to develop a new pan–Canadian climate change framework that will include national GHG emissions reduction targets based on the best economic and scientific analysis.

Within this common framework, the federal government will support provinces and territories in designing and implementing climate change policies that reflect their unique circumstances, including carbon pricing policies.

Activity under the 2013–2016 FSDS

The federal government has worked to mitigate climate change through international collaboration, regulatory initiatives, voluntary initiatives within the rail, marine and aviation sectors, and investments to advance the development and use of clean technology.

Working with international organizations and partners

Canada continues to work with its global partners to address climate change. For example, Canada played an active and positive role in negotiating the Paris Agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Canada also participates in other international organizations and initiatives that are helping to reduce global GHG emissions. For example:

One way in which Canada helps to advance global efforts to address climate change is by supporting mitigation and adaptation in developing countries, including through climate finance. For example:

Working with North American partners

Canada works with the U.S. and other North American partners to reduce GHG emissions and promote clean energy. For example:

The federal government has worked with North American and other partners to address the world’s most potent GHGs: hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). HFC emissions are expected to increase substantially in the next 10 to 15 years if left unchecked. In 2015, support rose for a phase-down of HFCs with four amendment proposals under the Montreal Protocol, including the North American Proposal. Domestically, the federal government published a Notice of Intent in December 2014 to regulate the manufacture and import of HFCs used in commercial refrigeration systems, foam-blowing agents, vehicle air-conditioning units and consumer aerosols.

Clean energy

Canada has one of the cleanest electricity systems in the G7 and one of the cleanest in the world, with over three quarters of its electricity supply emitting no GHGs. Canada has taken action to further enhance the sustainability of its energy system, including through regulation and investment in clean technologies.

In 2012, Canada published regulations that apply strict emission limits to coal-fired generation, effectively banning construction of new traditional coal-fired electricity generation units and requiring the phase-out of existing coal-fired units without carbon capture and storage. The Reduction of Carbon Dioxide Emissions from Coal-fired Generation of Electricity Regulations, which came into effect on July 1, 2015, sets a stringent performance standard for new and existing coal-fired electricity generating units and units that have reached the end of their economic life. These regulations encourage utilities to transition towards lower emitting technologies, such as high-efficiency natural gas power plants, coal-fired power plants equipped with carbon capture and storage technology, and renewable energy.

To improve industrial productivity and competitiveness, Canada was the first country in the world to adopt the ISO 50001 energy management standard for industry, which establishes an energy management framework for all types of organizations. Companies implementing the standard have reported a drop in energy use of up to 20%, saving them money and improving their ability to compete in global markets.

The federal government has implemented programs that support the development and deployment of clean energy technologies. For example:

The federal government has also supported climate change mitigation and clean energy by funding Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC), a foundation operating at arm’s length from government. In 2014, 66 projects funded by SDTC that were completed that year provided GHG emissions reductions of 4.5 megatonnes, the equivalent of taking 525 000 homes off the grid.


In the transportation sector, a number of key initiatives have laid the groundwork for substantial and ongoing progress. They include regulatory initiatives, voluntary approaches, and investment in research and development.

The federal government continues to develop and implement regulations to limit GHG emissions from the transportation sector.

The government also promotes the adoption of energy-efficient practices and clean technologies for transportation.

The federal government works with the Canadian rail industry to encourage voluntary emission reductions from the Canadian rail sector. The 2013 Locomotive Emissions Monitoring Program Report noted that the rail industry is achieving positive results.

The government also works with the Canadian aviation industry to improve the GHG intensity of aviation. An Action Plan sets an ambitious target to improve the fuel efficiency of Canadian air carriers by an average of 2% per year until 2020, from a 2005 baseline. The 2013 Annual Report prepared under the Action Plan was released in December 2014 and reported that between 2005 and 2013, the domestic aviation sector realized a 1.2% average annual (or an 8.7% cumulative annual) improvement in fuel efficiency.

At the International Civil Aviation Organization, work focuses on measures such as the development of a CO2 emissions standard for new aircraft and a global market-based measure for consideration by the International Civil Aviation Organization’s Assembly in 2016. This effort should support the international civil aviation sector’s aspirational goal of carbon-neutral growth by 2020.

Work is also under way at the International Maritime Organization on measures to improve the energy efficiency of international maritime shipping. Progress has included the adoption of the Energy Efficiency Design Index, which requires ships above 400 gross tonnage (GT) built after 2015 to comply with increasingly stringent efficiency standards, as well as the Ship Energy Efficiency Management Plan, which requires ships above 400 GT to monitor their energy efficiency.

Other sectors

In addition to energy and transportation, the federal government is taking action to reduce GHG emissions from other sectors such as agriculture, mining and buildings.

For example, the government has extended the terms and conditions of the $5.4M per year Agricultural Greenhouse Gases Program (AGGP) for five years beginning April 1, 2016. The program helps Canadian farmers improve access to practices that reduce GHGs. For example, under the current program, researchers at McGill University were awarded close to $2 million to determine the effects on nitrous oxide, CO2 and methane emissions, and carbon sequestration in relation to different irrigation and drainage management practices on horticultural crop production in Eastern Canada. The University of Guelph received almost $3 million under the AGGP to study GHG mitigation strategies in feeding, manure management and cropping systems.

In the mining sector, the government continued to make progress through the Green Mining Initiative, which supports sustainable mining practices as well as the development and commercialization of green mining technologies. For example, a ventilation-on-demand demonstration project was completed at a Sudbury nickel mine site. This project helped reduce the mine’s energy usage, results that could be replicated in other mines.

In the building sector, the ecoENERGY Efficiency for Buildings program provides technical, policy and financial support to National Research Council Canada to upgrade the 2011 National Energy Code of Canada for Buildings. The updated code will be published in 2015 to ensure improved minimum performance for new buildings, which will make up 25% of the building stock in 2020. Meanwhile, five provinces and one charter city, representing 69% of projected new floor space in Canada, have adopted the National Energy Code of Canada for Buildings, while the other provinces and two territories are currently examining its adoption (or the adoption of an equivalent code).

In August 2013, NRCan launched the ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager Benchmarking Tool for Buildings, developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and adapted for the Canadian context. As of the end of fiscal year 2014–2015, over 10 500 Canadian buildings representing 17% of floor space were registered with the tool to save money and attract higher rents.

In the residential sector, the ecoENERGY Efficiency for Housing program provides advice to homeowners on the best retrofits to save energy on their homes and is a means for homebuyers to recognize more energy-efficient homes. In 2014–2015, over 17 000 EnerGuide, ENERGY STAR and R-2000 labelled new homes were built in Canada, saving owners on their energy costs. This brought the total number of efficient new homes that have been built since the initiatives’ inception to over 70 000. ENERGY STAR qualified homes and R-2000 homes consume on average 20 to 50% less energy than typical homes. Additionally, over 65 000 EnerGuide home evaluations were undertaken in 2014–2015. Since the inception of the program, 1 in 20 homes in Canada have benefited from an evaluation.

Detailed information about the plans and performance of federal departments and agencies respecting their FSDS commitments for climate change may be found in their Departmental Sustainable Development Strategies. Responsible departments and agencies: Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) (lead), Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC), Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA), Canada Economic Development for Quebec Regions (CED), Department of Finance Canada (FIN), Global Affairs Canada (GAC), Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC), Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED), Natural Resources Canada (NRCan), Transport Canada (TC), and Western Economic Diversification Canada (WD).

Climate change adaptation

Canada’s climate is changing, and the impacts have been observed across the country and around the globe. This includes effects on air quality from the changing climate. The economic impacts of these changes are difficult to assess, but are likely significant. Even if GHG emissions stopped increasing today, the climate would continue to change. As a result, adaptation is a necessary complement to global measures to reduce GHG emissions. It involves making adjustments in our decisions, activities and thinking because of observed or expected changes in climate.

Canada is still at an early stage of integrating climate change impacts into decision-making and implementing adaptation measures. The federal government will work to provide support for provincial, territorial and local governments, public health officials, civil society, and individual Canadians to share knowledge about climate change and its impacts, build awareness about the need to reduce GHGs, and provide information about adaptation measures.

Target 1.2: Climate change adaptation

Facilitate reduced vulnerability of individuals, communities, regions and economic sectors to the impacts of climate change through the development and provision of information and tools.

Progress statement

The federal government continued to develop and share scientific knowledge and tools to help provinces and territories, communities, sectors and individual Canadians manage climate risks.

What we know

Adaptation indicators can be as diverse as climate change impacts, spanning a range of health and economic outcomes. While the federal government continues to work toward a meaningful summative indicator of adaptation, several departmental indicators associated with programs under the Clean Air Agenda Adaptation Theme provide a snapshot of progress to date. For example:

Learn more: see the Departmental Sustainable Development Strategies of the listed responsible departments and agencies for this Target.

Activity under the 2013–2016 FSDS

Health Canada expanded efforts to develop community-based HARS in at-risk communities with the development of provincial-level systems, such as the system in Manitoba. Existing community-level partnerships in Ontario have been merged under a new initiative to establish a province-wide consistent approach to HARS, to be fully operational by 2016. Establishment of a provincial system in Alberta is also under way, with a pilot project launched in 2014. The system is expected to be operational by 2016.

Through the national Adaptation Platform, the federal government facilitates the development and exchange of knowledge and tools on themes such as coastal management, mining and energy. In 2014–2015, the platform delivered more new products to help Canadians adapt to a changing climate, including the national-scale assessment Canada in a Changing Climate: Sector Perspectives on Impacts and Adaptation. The government is also modelling the impacts of climate change on forests and the forest sector, developing adaptation tools and tracking indicators of forest change.

The federal government funds projects to support Indigenous and northern communities in planning for adaptation measures and making decisions to protect community health and safety. The government also provides up to $500 000 per year (between 2012–2013 and 2015–2016) to each territorial government to support communities in managing climate risks. Federal funding helps individuals and communities build capacity in climate change and health research as well as in adaptation planning in areas such as food security, traditional harvesting and medicine, safe route accessibility, and emergency preparedness.

The Northern Infrastructure Standardization Initiative is supporting pan-Northern consultation, decision-making and technical expert committees engaged in the development of infrastructure standards to consider impacts on the thermosyphons, community drainage, permafrost on existing foundations and snow loading on roofs. All four standards were completed in 2014–2015 and are available to the public on the Canadian Standards Association Group website. A fifth standard is currently under development which will be completed in 2015–2016. This initiative also engages with stakeholders, partners and collaborators to share climate change geoscience expertise and tools on northern infrastructure requirements and constraints, enabling stakeholders with knowledge to make informed decisions relating to climate change.

Through the Northern Transportation Adaptation Initiative, the federal government is addressing transportation challenges in the North related to permafrost degradation and Arctic marine shipping in partnership with territorial and provincial governments, university researchers, the private sector, and others. This initiative is designed to improve understanding of climate impacts on transportation throughout the North and to facilitate better and more integrated transportation planning and adaptation measures. For example, it includes a multi-year project to investigate techniques for constructing and operating a new public highway in a permafrost environment in northern Canada. In addition, Transport Canada (TC) and NRCan are co-leading an assessment of climate risks and adaptation practices for the Canadian transportation sector.

The federal government is using Inuit Traditional Knowledge and advanced spatial modelling with remote sensing techniques to develop detailed ecological maps and predict how plants and animals might respond to different climate change scenarios. In 2014–2015, this work was expanded to include three additional national parks (Vuntut, Tuktut Nogait and Auyuittuq). Mapping for two other northern national parks (Sirmilik and Quttinirpaaq) will be completed in 2015–2016.

Detailed information about the plans and performance of federal departments and agencies respecting their FSDS commitments for this target may be found in their Departmental Sustainable Development Strategies. Responsible departments and agencies: ECCC (lead), Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), Health Canada (HC), INAC, NRCan, Parks Canada (PC), Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), Standards Council of Canada (SCC–CCN), TC.

Air pollution

Pollutants from domestic and international sources negatively affect air quality. Poor air quality can have a significant impact on human health, the environment and our economy.

Elevated air pollutant levels can cause significant damage to the environment, buildings and infrastructure. For example, ozone can damage trees, crops and other vegetation, leading to reduced harvest yields, extinction of sensitive plants and reduced wildlife populations as a result of lower production of seeds and fruits. It can also damage materials such as rubber and plastics.

Goal 2: Air pollution

Minimize the threats to air quality so that the air Canadians breathe is clean and supports healthy ecosystems.

Progress statements

Many threats to air quality have been reduced: the outdoor concentrations of sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and peak concentrations of ground-level ozone (O3) have decreased substantially over the past two decades.

National annual average concentrations of O3 and annual average and peak concentrations of fine particulate matter (PM2.5)—the main components of smog—have remained relatively stable since 2000.

Remaining challenges

National annual average O3 and PM2.5 concentrations have shown little change since 2000.

Continued collaborative work with provinces and territories is needed to set stringent air quality standards, monitor emissions, and provide incentives that lead to cleaner air and healthier communities.

Outdoor air pollution continues to harm the health of Canadians, leading to higher medical costs, reduced productivity and quality of life, and premature death.

Air quality in homes and other buildings can be compromised by chemical and biological contaminants, some of which have serious health effects. For example, radon, a naturally occurring radioactive gas, is the second leading cause of lung cancer after smoking. Ongoing work is needed to ensure that all Canadians have access to information on indoor air contaminants, their impact on health, and how to reduce them.

What we know

National average outdoor concentrations of PM2.5, O3, SO2, NO2 and VOCs are indicators for this goal.

Outdoor average concentrations of most major air pollutants were lower in 2013 than in 1999 (or 2000 for PM2.5). The exceptions were average and peak PM2.5 concentrations and average O3 concentration where there was little change.

The annual average concentration of PM2.5 in ambient air in Canada in 2013 was 16% higher than in 2012, while the annual peak (98th percentile) 24-hours concentration was 6% higher than in 2012. Both average and annual peak concentrations were below the 2015 standards, and no significant increasing or decreasing trend was detected (see Figure 2).

In 2013, the annual average concentration of O3 in ambient air in Canada was 2% lower than the 2012 value, and the annual peak (fourth-highest) eight-hour O3 concentration was 7% lower. A trend was not detected in the annual average concentrations between 1999 and 2013. From 1999 to 2013, peak concentrations of O3 decreased by 0.8 parts per billion per year on average (see Figure 3).

Learn more: visit the CESI website.

Figure 2: Fine particulate matter concentrations, Canada, 2000 to 2013

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[Long description of Figure 2]

The line chart shows the national annual average and peak (98th percentile) 24-hour concentrations of fine particulate matter in the air in Canada from 2000 to 2013. It also shows two 2015 Canadian Air Ambient Quality Standards, the 24-hour standard (28.0 micrograms per cubic metre) for peak and the annual standard (10.0 micrograms per cubic metre) for the average.

Figure 3: Ozone concentrations, Canada, 1999 to 2013

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[Long description of Figure 3]

The line chart shows the national annual average and peak (4th-highest) 8-hour concentrations of ozone in the air in Canada from 1999 to 2013. It also shows the 2015 Canadian Air Ambient Quality Standards 8-hour standard (peak) of 63 parts per billion.

Outdoor air pollutants

Air pollution problems such as smog and acid rain result from the presence and interactions among various air pollutants in the atmosphere. These air pollutants are released through natural processes and human activities such as transportation (for example, cars and trucks), the burning of fuels for electricity and heat production, industrial processes, and the use of certain products (for example, paints and solvents). Pollutant levels are influenced by many factors, such as proximity to local emissions sources, weather conditions, and winds that carry air pollutants over long distances.

Exposure to air pollution has been linked to a number of adverse effects on health such as onset or worsening of breathing difficulty, development of chronic lung disease, heart attacks and strokes. These health effects contribute to lost productivity, increased visits to doctors and emergency rooms, increased hospital admissions, and premature mortality.

Target 2.1: Outdoor air pollutants

Improve outdoor air quality by ensuring compliance with new or amended regulated emission limits by 2020 and thus reducing emissions of air pollutants in support of Air Quality Management System (AQMS) objectives.

Progress statements

Some improvements are evident. New and amended regulations for air pollutants have contributed to continued decreases in emission levels of four key air pollutants (emissions of sulphur oxides [SOx], nitrogen oxides [NOx], volatile organic compounds [VOCs] and carbon monoxide [CO]) were 28% to 63% lower in 2013 than in 1990.

What we know

Except for ammonia (NH3) and PM2.5 emissions, which were 22% and 5% higher than in 1990 respectively, emission levels of key air pollutants were 28% to 63% lower in 2013 than in 1990 (see Figure 4).

The Air Health Indicator (AHI) provides an overview of the public health impacts attributable to outdoor air pollution in Canada. Figure 5 shows the proportion of deaths from heart- and lung-related diseases (cardiopulmonary mortality) attributable to exposure to O3 and PM2.5.

For short-term exposure during the warm season from April to September, the O3 component of the AHI model indicates a slight increasing trend since 1990 and suggests that about 5% of cardiopulmonary mortalities were attributable to ozone exposure overall at the national level. The PM2.5 component of the AHI suggests neither an increasing nor decreasing trend between 2001 and 2010. About 1% of cardiopulmonary mortalities could be attributable to PM2.5 exposure. It should be noted that the adverse health impacts of long-term exposure are in general greater than those of short-term exposure.

Learn more: visit the CESI website.

Figure 4: Air pollutant emissions, Canada, 1990 to 2013

[Short description of Figure 4] (See long description below)
[Long description of Figure 4]

The indexed line chart shows emissions changes from 1990 to 2013, as a percent of 1990 emissions, for six key air pollutants in Canada: sulphur oxides, nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds, ammonia, carbon monoxide and fine particulate matter.

Figure 5: Cardiopulmonary mortality risk attributable to air pollutants, Canada, 1990 to 2010

[Short description of Figure 5] (See long description below)
[Long description of Figure 5]

This graph shows the percent of cardiopulmonary mortality risk attributable to ozone and fine particulate matter components of the Air Health Indicator. The ozone component of the Air Health Indicator model indicates a slight increasing trend since 1990 and suggests that about 5% of cardio-pulmonary mortalities were attributable to ozone exposure overall at the national level. The fine particulate matter component of Air Health Indicator suggests neither an increasing nor decreasing trend between 2001 and 2010. About 1% of cardiopulmonary mortalities could be attributable to fine particulate matter exposure.

Activity under the 2013–2016 FSDS

The federal government is taking action to improve outdoor air quality through collaborative and regulatory initiatives informed by science-based information and tools.

Collaborative initiatives

The federal government continues to work collaboratively with provinces, territories and stakeholders, including industry and non-governmental organizations, to implement the Air Quality Management System (AQMS). A comprehensive approach developed in collaboration with these stakeholders, the AQMS delivers air quality benefits for all Canadians by establishing base–level industrial emissions requirements for industrial sectors and equipment types, and new outdoor air quality standards to drive further air quality improvements across the country.

As part of implementing the AQMS, in 2013 the federal government established new Canadian Ambient Air Quality Standards (CAAQS) for PM2.5 and O3 (the major components of smog) for 2015, which become more stringent in 2020. These standards are more stringent and comprehensive than the previous Canada-wide Standards for these pollutants.

The federal government continued to collaborate with provinces and territories to implement the Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) with the goal of providing 80% of the Canadian population with access to this information. As of March 2015, the AQHI was available to 23.1 million Canadians (69% of the population) in 10 provinces and 1 territory, representing an increase of 4% over 2013–2014. The service expanded to 5 additional locations and is now available at 84 locations across Canada. The AQHI is a communications tool that helps the public make decisions to protect their health by limiting short-term exposure to air pollution and adjusting their activities during periods when health risks are elevated.

The government also continued to conduct scientific research to monitor and model air quality, characterize air pollutants, and assess impacts on health. This research contributed to approximately 450 journal articles over the past 4 years.

The government also worked with its international partners to address harmful transboundary air pollution. For example, under the Canada–U.S. Air Quality Agreement, Canada and the U.S. completed joint scientific and technical analyses to assess the transboundary transport of particulate matter (PM). Canada also continued to work with the U.S. and other international partners to address PM and other air pollutants under the Gothenburg Protocol to the Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution.

Regulatory initiatives

The federal government has developed regulatory and other instruments to address air pollution from various sources:

Detailed information about the plans and performance of federal departments and agencies respecting their FSDS commitments for this target may be found in their Departmental Sustainable Development Strategies. Responsible departments and agencies: ECCC (lead), AAFC, ACOA, CED, FIN, HC, TC, WD.

Indoor air quality

Clean air is essential for good health, and this is especially true when it comes to indoor air. Canadians spend close to 90% of their time inside: at home, at work and in recreational environments. A lack of ventilation-especially in air-tight buildings—is a key factor in the quality of indoor air.

Indoor air pollutants include chemical pollutants such as gases and particles from combustion appliances, tobacco smoke, household and personal care products, building materials, radon, and outdoor air. They can also include biological contaminants such as mould and house dust mites.

Radon is of particular concern: as a naturally occurring radioactive gas that cannot be seen, smelled or tasted, it can get into homes undetected. It is the second leading cause of lung cancer after smoking and the leading cause of lung cancer for non-smokers. When radon escapes from the ground into the outdoor air, it is diluted to low concentrations and is of no concern to health. However, when radon enters an enclosed space, like a home, it can accumulate to high levels and become a health hazard.

Target 2.2: Indoor air quality

Help protect the health of Canadians by providing health-based guidance and tools to support actions to better manage indoor air quality.

Progress statements

The federal government continued to develop guidelines, mitigation measures, product standards and communication initiatives on indoor air quality.

The indoor air health risk assessment for NO2 was completed and formed the basis of the Residential Indoor Air Quality Guideline for NO2 published in August 2015.

The government also completed health risk assessments to support the development of draft Indoor Air Reference Level determinations for certain VOCs.

What we know

Health Canada completed an indoor air health risk assessment for nitrogen dioxide that formed the basis of the Residential Indoor Air Quality Guideline for nitrogen dioxide. The Department also completed health risk assessments to support the development of draft Indoor Air Reference Level determinations for certain volatile organic compounds.

Activity under the 2013–2016 FSDS

Scientific research, outreach and education efforts by the federal government provide Canadians with the necessary health-based guidance to reduce exposure to indoor air pollutants.

The National Radon Program has been broadened to include work with private industry and stakeholders to assess and validate new radon mitigation technologies and to ensure Canadians have access to tools and services to address their health risk from indoor radon exposure. For example, HC conducted a field study of 50 homes to evaluate the efficacy of active soil depressurization radon mitigation systems with indoor mounted fans and side-wall discharge in Canadian climatic conditions.

Radon-related provisions were also included in building codes and are being promoted and adopted by the provinces and territories. New radon mitigation resources were developed along with communication products for Canadians to use in identifying and reducing radon exposure in their homes. Specifically, HC is encouraging provinces and territories to adopt the radon-related provisions to the 2010 National Building Code that require engineers, architects and builders to consider radon protection measures in the design of new buildings and include new prescriptive measures on providing a rough-in for a radon mitigation system.

The federal government also conducted public opinion research and surveyed households in 2013 to gain insight into Canadians’ knowledge, awareness, attitudes and behaviours regarding radon. This research also helped evaluate the effectiveness of the National Radon Program over the last five years and supported the design of a national radon outreach campaign. Canada’s second National Radon Action Month, November 2014, part of a collaborative, multi-stakeholder radon outreach campaign, successfully raised awareness about the risks and health impacts of radon exposure as well as reduction strategies. The federal government also developed fact sheets to accompany residential indoor air quality guidelines that are designed to help reduce risk of exposure. They include information for public health professionals on health effects and sources of pollutants in Canadian homes and how to reduce personal exposures.

HC continued to test federal buildings for radon levels, including public buildings in First Nations communities. Since the program began in 2007, 17 500 buildings have been tested for radon to ensure the health and safety of Canadians and to demonstrate the importance of testing radon levels and reducing them where the Canadian Guideline is exceeded.

A process for creating voluntary consensus-based standards was initiated to address emissions from composite wood materials. These standards will focus on VOC emissions and be developed through the Canadian Standards Association and a multi-stakeholder group comprising government, industry and non-governmental organizations.

Finally, a Code of Practice for 2-Butanone, Oxime (Butanone Oxime) was published in June 2014 outlining specific information for labels of interior and dual-use consumer alkyd paint and coating products in order to help reduce inhalation exposure to these substances.

Detailed information about the plans and performance of federal departments and agencies respecting their FSDS commitments for this target may be found on their websites and in their Departmental Sustainable Development Strategies. Responsible departments and agencies: HC (lead), NRC, Statistics Canada (StatCan).

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