Latest environmental indicators

This page lists the indicators recently released by the Canadian Environmental Sustainability Indicators program.


#CdnEnv #Sustainability #Indicators

February 2024

Water indicators 

Water quality in Canadian rivers

Healthy river ecosystems rely on clean water. The quality of water and the health of rivers depend on how people develop and use the surrounding land. These indicators classify the water quality of rivers into 5 categories to give an indication of the ability of a river to support the plants and animals that live in or use the water.

Key results
  • For the 2018 to 2020 period, water quality in rivers in Canada was rated fair to excellent at 83% of the monitored sites
  • Land development through agriculture, mining, forestry, high population density or a combination of these (mixed pressures) tends to have a negative impact on water quality

January 2024

Water indicators 

Reductions in phosphorus loads to Lake Winnipeg

Lake Winnipeg is the sixth largest freshwater lake in Canada, with its drainage basin stretching over four provinces and four U.S. states. The land in the basin is mainly used for agriculture and is home to nearly seven million people.

The deterioration of water quality in Lake Winnipeg is mainly caused by nutrients and other contaminants from various sources throughout the basin. The increased concentration in nutrients and algal blooms since the mid-1990s has been partially due to an increase in precipitations, runoffs, floods, and river flows.

Key results
  • Projects completed between 2010 and 2023 have prevented an estimated 390 445 kilograms of phosphorus from reaching Lake Winnipeg

Socio-economic indicators and the environment

Solid waste diversion and disposal

The way our economies extract, use, then dispose of resources is putting pressure on natural systems, communities and public health. Preventing and diverting waste by reusing, repairing, refurbishing, remanufacturing, repurposing, recycling and composting is a key component of a more circular economy which can help reduce the impact of solid waste on the environment. The circular economy seeks to keep products, materials and resources in use for as long as possible and then divert them from landfills to be reused in some way. Currently, most garbage collected for disposal ends up in landfills and a small amount is incinerated. This can lead to air pollutant emissions, land disturbance and water pollution. The extraction and processing of new resources needed to replace those discarded as waste leads to more pollution. 

Key results
  • From 2002 to 2020,
    • the total amount of solid waste generated in Canada increased by 5.3 million tonnes (or 17%) to reach 36.0 million tonnes
    • the amount of waste diverted increased by 3.3 million tonnes (or 49%) to reach 9.9 million tonnes
    • the amount of waste disposed in landfills or incinerated increased by 2.0 million tonnes (or 8%) to reach 26.1 million tonnes
  • In 2020, 27.5% of solid waste generated in Canada was diverted, while the remaining 72.5% was sent for disposal

December 2023

Climate indicators 

Greenhouse gas emissions projections

Climate change is caused by the increase in concentrations of greenhouse gases (GHGs) which trap heat in the Earth's atmosphere. These increases are primarily due to GHG emissions from human activities.

Canada's actions to address climate change at home and abroad are guided by the 2015 Paris Agreement goal of holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and pursuing efforts to limit the global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius. In 2021, Canada announced a commitment to cut its GHG emissions by 40% to 45% below 2005 levels by 2030. Previously, Canada had committed to reducing its GHG emissions by 30% below 2005 levels by 2030. In the 2030 Emissions Reductions Plan, released in March 2022, Canada announced an interim objective to reduce GHG emissions by 20% below 2005 levels by 2026.

To estimate future GHG emissions, Canada develops GHG projections on an annual basis, using the most up-to-date assumptions of the key drivers that influence Canada's emissions. This indicator uses the latest GHG emissions projections to present the forecasted progress toward Canada's 2030 target.

Key results
  • Under the "Reference case" scenario, emissions in Canada are projected to be 560 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (Mt CO2 eq) in 2030 (or 23% below 2005 levels)
  • Under the "Additional measures" scenario, emissions are projected to decline to 467 Mt CO2 eq in 2030 (or 36% below 2005 levels)
  • 2035 emissions are projected to decline further, reaching 541 Mt CO2 eq (26% below 2005 levels) under the "Reference case" scenario and 423 Mt CO2 eq (42% below 2005 levels) under the "Additional measures" scenario

Water indicators 

Phosphorus loading to Lake Erie

Phosphorus is a plant nutrient that is essential in freshwater systems. However, when phosphorus levels are too high, or too low, they can have harmful impacts on the health of a lake. High phosphorus levels in Lake Erie are leading to degraded water quality, algal blooms and zones of low oxygen which negatively impact aquatic life. In the absence of human development, natural background levels of phosphorus are relatively low. This indicator provides information about the amount of phosphorus reaching Lake Erie, known as phosphorus loading, mainly due to human activity.

Key results
  • In 2022, total estimated phosphorus loading to Lake Erie was 9 379 tonnes, with 22% (2 091 tonnes) of the total load estimated to be from Canada
  • The highest total estimated phosphorus loading to Lake Erie was 13 533 tonnes in 2019 with 19% (2 588 tonnes) of the total load estimated to be from Canada
  • The lowest total estimated phosphorus loading to Lake Erie was 5 672 tonnes in 2010 with 16% (903 tonnes) of the total load estimated to be from Canada
  • There has not been a clear upward or downward trend over time; the 2022 results were in line with the average of the 2008 to 2022 period

Wildlife and habitat indicators 

Changes in the status of wildlife species at risk

Wildlife species are essential to the integrity of ecosystems. However, some wildlife species are at risk of disappearing from Canada. Wildlife species that are thought to be at risk are periodically assessed. This indicator reports on changes in the status of wildlife species at risk when they are reassessed. Changes in status over time may help determine whether conditions for these wildlife species are improving.

Key results

Of the 530 wildlife species at risk that have been reassessed since the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada started their assessments in 1982, and for which sufficient data are available to determine if there has been a change in status:

  • 85 wildlife species (16%) are now in a higher risk category
  • 105 wildlife species (20%) are now in a lower risk category
  • 340 wildlife species (64%) show no change in status

Species at risk population trends

Healthy wildlife populations are an important part of biodiversity. In Canada, some species that have experienced population declines or are naturally rare are now in danger of disappearing. Recovery or management actions are put in place to protect wildlife species that are identified as being at risk and are in danger of disappearing. Ensuring the successful recovery or management of a species at risk can be a long-term process involving various measures to stop or reverse the decline in the species and improve the likelihood that it will persist in the wild. This indicator provides a preliminary assessment of whether the population (how many) and distribution (how they are spread out) trends of species at risk listed under the Species at Risk Act are consistent with what is listed in their recovery or management objectives.

Key results

Of the 158 species at risk that include population and distribution objectives and for which trends could be determined, as of May 2023:

  • 70 species (44%) show progress towards their objectives
  • 19 species (12%) show mixed evidence, meaning that some information suggests improving trends, but there is also some evidence of decline
  • 69 species (44%) do not show progress towards their objectives 

October 2023

Air indicators 

Emissions of harmful substances to air

Emissions of some substances can harm human health, wildlife and biological diversity. For example, small particles of toxic metals can travel long distances in the air, be inhaled, or settle on the ground and in water. There, they can enter the food web and build up in the tissues of living organisms. Exposure to these substances, even in small amounts, can be hazardous to both humans and wildlife. Mercury and its compounds, lead, and inorganic cadmium compounds are listed as toxic substances under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999. The emissions of harmful substances to air indicator reports on mercury, lead and cadmium emissions from human-related activities.

Key results
  • In 2021, mercury, lead and cadmium emissions had decreased by 90%, 91% and 94%, respectively from 1990 levels

Socio-economic indicators 

Human exposure to harmful substances

Chemical substances are present in air, soil, water, products and food. Humans are exposed to chemicals in many ways, including inhalation, ingestion and skin contact. For some of these substances exposure, even in small amounts, can be hazardous to both humans and wildlife. Mercury and its compounds, lead, inorganic cadmium compounds and bisphenol A (BPA) are listed as toxic substances under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999. These indicators present the average concentrations of mercury, lead, cadmium and BPA in the Canadian population.

Key results

Biomonitoring data collected between Cycle 1 (2007 to 2009) and Cycle 6 (2018 to 2019) showed that the average concentrations in the Canadian population of:

  • bisphenol A (BPA), lead and cadmium generally decreased
  • mercury remained relatively unchanged

September 2023

Air indicators 

Population exposure to outdoor air pollutants

Breathing in air pollutants can contribute to health issues such as asthma, cardiovascular diseases and other illnesses causing premature mortality. The Canadian Ambient Air Quality Standards (CAAQS, the standards) are health and environmental-based outdoor air quality objectives for pollutant concentrations in the air. They are designed to better protect human health and the environment from air pollution, and to promote continuous improvement in air quality across Canada. This indicator tracks the percentage of the population living in areas of Canadian regions where  concentrations of outdoor air pollutants were less than or equal to the 2020 standards.

Key results
  • In the most recent reporting period (2019 to 2021), 85% of Canadians lived in areas where outdoor concentrations of air pollutants were within the standard
  • This represents an improvement on the 64% established for the previous period (2018 to 2020), a period largely influenced by the 2018 wildfires in British Columbia (1.36 million hectares burned, the largest area on record for the province) and in the United States that caused standards to be exceeded in Alberta and British Columbia
  • This is not only an improvement on the 63% established for the first period (2005 to 2007) but also the highest proportion recorded since this reference period

Water indicators 

Releases of harmful substances to water

The release of some substances to the environment can harm human health, wildlife and biological diversity. Toxic metals released to water can enter the food web and accumulate in the tissues of living organisms. Exposure to these substances, even in small amounts, can be hazardous to both humans and wildlife. Mercury and its compounds, lead, and inorganic cadmium compounds are listed as toxic under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999. The Releases of harmful substances to water indicator reports facility-based releases of these substances to water.

Key results
  • Facility-based releases of mercury, lead and cadmium to water were 74%, 73% and 55% lower in 2021 than in 2003, respectively
  • In 2014, a significant spill accounted for 92%, 92% and 59% of total releases of mercury, lead and cadmium, respectively


Restoring the Great Lakes Areas of Concern

The Great Lakes basin is Canada's most populated region. Its large population and extensive development places a strain on ecosystem health. Locations having experienced a high level of environmental damage from human activity are called Areas of Concern. This indicator assesses progress on restoring Areas of Concern around the Great Lakes within Canadian waters and those shared with the United States.

Key results
  • Environmental quality in Canada's 17 Great Lakes Areas of Concern has improved since the restoration program began in 1987
  • As of 2023, 3 of the 17 Areas of Concern have been fully restored and delisted

Wildlife and habitat indicators 

Canadian species index

Animal wildlife is one of the most visible and well-studied aspects of biodiversity. The 2022 Living Planet Index, which tracks populations of vertebrate species, indicates an average global decline of 69% in the relative abundance of monitored wildlife populations since 1970.

The Canadian species index indicator uses similar methods to the Living Planet Index but is based on a selection of Canadian species. It shows whether the population abundance of monitored vertebrate species have increased or decreased since 1970. The index is an "average of trends", rather than a measure of change in the total number of animals: each species, whether it is common or rare, has the same effect on the index. This, in turn, provides an integrated measure of the condition of our environment.

Key results

By species group

Between 1970 and 2018,

  • the population abundance of all monitored vertebrate species declined by 7% on average
  • the population abundance of monitored mammal and fish species decreased by 42% and 30% on average, respectively

By system

From 1970 to 2018,

  • the index for the terrestrial system, which includes most of the bird and mammal populations, and some reptiles and amphibians, decreased by 14%
  • the index for the marine system, which includes mammals (such as whales and seals), birds (such as terns), 1 reptile (the leatherback turtle) and most of the fish populations decreased by 16%
  • the index for the freshwater system, which includes birds (such as waterfowl), 2 mammals (beaver and river otter), fish, and the majority of amphibian and reptile populations, increased by 38%

August 2023

Climate indicators 

Global greenhouse gas emissions

The release of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and their increasing concentration in the atmosphere is leading to a changing climate. This change has an impact on the environment, human health and the economy. Greenhouse gases remain in the atmosphere for periods ranging from a few years to thousands of years. As such, they have a worldwide impact, no matter where they were first emitted. This indicator highlights GHG emissions caused by human activity around the world.

The latest year reported (2020) coincides with the 1st year of the COVID-19 pandemic which affected a wide range of economic sectors, including the energy and transport sectors. The long-term trends presented must be interpreted in the context of the economic slowdown that influenced results from 2019 to 2020.

Key results
  • Between 2005 and 2020, global GHG emissions increased by 18.2%, from 39 004 to 46 121 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (Mt CO2 eq)
  • In 2020, the highest emitting country was China with 12 943 Mt CO2 eq, or 28.1% of global GHG emissions. Since 2005, emissions from China increased by 78.2%
  • Canada's emissions in 2020 reached 678 Mt CO2 eq, which made up 1.5% of global GHG emissions

Water indicators 

Municipal wastewater treatment

Every day, millions of cubic metres (m3) of wastewater are discharged from homes, businesses, institutions, and industries into city sewer systems. Municipal wastewater is one of the largest sources of pollution to surface water in Canada. Before being released to the environment, wastewater needs to be treated. A higher level of wastewater treatment leads to a cleaner effluent and a smaller impact on the environment. The indicators show the level of wastewater treatment provided to the Canadian population and present the proportion of wastewater systems meeting the effluent quality national standards.

Key results

Level of wastewater treatment provided to Canadians

  • Over the 2013 to 2020 period, the proportion of the population served by municipal wastewater systems remained stable at about 86%
  • Since 2013, the proportion of population served by each treatment category remained stable with around 28.1%, 42.7% and 13.6% for tertiary, secondary and primary treatments, respectively
  • About 1.8% of the population was served by systems discharging untreated wastewater
  • In 2020, 13.8% of the population was not served by municipal wastewater systems

Effluent quality

  • In 2021, 76.2% of the reporting municipal wastewater systems released effluents that met the regulatory quality standards, corresponding to 70.8% of the effluents volume
  • Between 2015 and 2021, the proportion of reporting municipal wastewater systems meeting quality regulatory standard effluents dropped slightly, from 81.0% (1 099 out of 1 356 systems) to 76.2% (1 391 out of 1 826 systems), by contrast, the effluent volume meeting the standards increased slightly from 66.2% (3 302 million m3 out of 4 986 million m3) to 70.8% (3 612 million m3 out of 5 105 million m3)

Wildlife and habitat indicators

Ecological integrity of national parks

Ecosystems have ecological integrity when their components, such as native species, biological communities, natural landscapes, and ecological functions, are intact and are likely to persist. Annually, Parks Canada summarizes the condition (good, fair, poor) and the trend (improving, stable, declining) of ecosystems' ecological integrity in national parks using a series of monitoring measures to track changes in biodiversity and natural processes.

Key results

National

  • 117 ecosystems in 42 national parks were assessed in 2022. Of those,
    • 55% are in good condition, 29% are in fair condition, and 16% are in poor condition
    • 68% are stable, 11% are improving, and 21% are declining
  • Overall, the ecological integrity of 79% of park ecosystems was stable or improving in 2022. This represents an 11% decrease from 2016

By ecosystem type

  • 86% of coastal/marine, 78% of tundra and 75% of wetland ecosystems were stable
  • 100% of glacier, 29% of forest and 21% of freshwater ecosystems were declining
  • 17% of wetlands, 15% of freshwater and 13% of forest ecosystems were improving

July 2023

Wildlife and habitat indicators 

Global trends in conserved areas

This indicator provides a global overview of terrestrial and marine conserved areas. Conserved areas are lands and waters which are managed in ways that achieve positive long-term outcomes for the conservation of biodiversity. They also provide opportunities for people to connect with nature. The term “conserved areas” includes both protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures. Protected areas are recognised, dedicated and managed for the purpose of conserving nature in the long term (for example, national parks). Other effective area-based conservation measures are geographically defined areas which are not protected areas, but which are governed and managed in ways that help conserve biodiversity for the long term (for example, some indigenous territories, watersheds or resource management areas). Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity set a target to conserve at least 30% of terrestrial areas and inland waters, and 30% of coastal and marine areas, by 2030.

Key results
  • As of May 2023, globally
    • 17.1% of terrestrial area, including freshwater, was conserved, with 15.9% in protected areas
    • 8.3% of marine area, including international waters, was conserved, almost all in protected areas (8.2%)

Harvest levels of key fish stocks

Harvest limits for wild fish and other marine animals are set to protect these stocks for the future. Some fish stocks have a removal reference, which is the maximum acceptable removal rate, or level, for the stock based on historical stock productivity data. When removal references are not available, actual harvest levels are compared to other approved levels like total allowable catch. Canada's 2022 to 2026 Federal Sustainable Development Strategy aims to have all key fish stocks harvested at or below an approved removal reference or other approved level by 2027.

Key results
  • Of the 192 key stocks assessed in 2021:
    • 183 stocks (95%) were harvested at or below a removal reference or an approved level
    • 9 stocks (5%) were harvested above an approved level
  • From 2012 to 2021, the percentage of stocks harvested above approved levels has been consistently low (below 5% of total stocks)

Status of key fish stocks

Human use of the oceans, including fishing, and environmental conditions affect the abundance and health of fish stocks at national and global levels. In order to maintain fish stocks for future generations, it is important to track their status and adjust management measures (such as harvest rates and limits). This indicator reports on the status (Healthy, Cautious, Critical or Uncertain) of key Canadian fish stocks as found in the Sustainability Survey for Fisheries. This indicator tracks progress on the 2022 to 2026 Federal Sustainable Development Strategy, supporting the target: By 2026, at least 55% of Canada's key fish stocks are in the Cautious and Healthy zone.

Key results
  • Many of the new stocks added in recent years have an uncertain status
  • Of the 192 key fish stocks assessed in 2021:
    • 66 stocks (34%) were in the Healthy zone
    • 27 stocks (14%) were in the Cautious zone
    • 22 stocks (11%) were in the Critical zone
    • 77 stocks (40%) could not be classified and have an uncertain status 

June 2023

Climate indicators 

Greenhouse gas concentrations

Greenhouse gases (GHGs) absorb energy from the sun and trap heat in the Earth’s atmosphere. Without GHGs, Earth’s average temperature would be around -18°C, rather than the current average of 15°C. The Earth's natural greenhouse gas effect is one key parameter that makes the planet livable for humans. Human activities, such as the burning of fossil fuels, agriculture practices and industrialization, are changing Earth’s natural greenhouse effect. As concentrations of greenhouse gases increase in the atmosphere, more heat is trapped and atmospheric temperatures rise. These indicators present atmospheric concentrations as measured from sites in Canada and at a global scale for 2 greenhouse gases: carbon dioxide and methane.

Key results

Carbon dioxide

  • Globally, annual average carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations increased by 23%, from 338.9 parts per million (ppm) to 417.1 ppm between 1980 to 2022
  • In Canada, annual average concentration of CO2 increased by 26%, from 333.4 ppm to 419.7 ppm over the period spanning 1976 to 2022
  • In 2022, the average concentration of CO2 in Canada was 419.7 ppm, up from 417.7 ppm in 2021
  • Annual averages of CO2 concentrations observed in Canada are similar to those observed globally

Methane

  • Globally, annual average methane (CH4) concentrations increased by 14%, from 1 670 parts per billion (ppb) to 1 912 ppb between 1986 to 2022
  • In Canada, the annual average concentration of CH4 also increased by 13%, from 1 764 ppb to 2 001 ppb between 1986 to 2022
  • In 2022, the average concentration of CH4 in Canada was 2 001 ppb, up from 1 988 ppb in 2021

Air indicators 

Air pollutant emissions

Air pollution problems, such as smog and acid rain, result from the release of pollutants into the atmosphere. These pollutants can affect Canadians' health, the environment, buildings, structures and the economy. The majority of these pollutants are released through human activities, such as transportation, the burning of fuels for electricity and heating, and a variety of industrial activities. The indicators on sulphur oxides (SOX), nitrogen oxides (NOX), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), carbon monoxide (CO), ammonia (NH3), fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and black carbon, a component of PM2.5, report emissions released through human activities.

The latest year reported in the indicators (2021) was marked by the 2nd year of the COVID-19 pandemic. This coincides with observed emission decreases between the years 2019 and 2021 for almost all pollutants with the exception of NH3. The long-term trends presented must be interpreted with caution as the economic slowdown influenced the results.

Key results
  • In 2021, emissions of 5 key air pollutants were lower than in 1990:
    • SOX 79% lower
    • NOX 41% lower
    • VOCs 39% lower
    • CO 65% lower
    • PM2.5 12% lower
  • Emissions of NH3 were 25% higher in 2021 than in 1990

Wildlife and habitat indicators 

Canada's conserved areas

Conserved areas safeguard biodiversity for present and future generations by reducing stresses from human activities. They also provide opportunities for people to connect with nature. Conserved areas include protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures (OECMs). Protected areas include national/provincial/territorial parks, Indigenous protected areas, national wildlife areas, migratory bird sanctuaries and marine protected areas. OECMs are areas that do not meet the formal definition of protected area but are managed in a way that conserves biodiversity over the long term. Examples of OECMs can include: Indigenous territories, watersheds or resource management areas, and areas with restricted access, such as those used by the military. These indicators track the amount and proportion of area recognized as conserved in Canada.

Key results
  • At the end of 2022, Canada had conserved
    • 13.6% of its terrestrial area (land and freshwater), including 12.7% in protected areas
    • 14.7% of its marine territory, including 9.1% in protected areas
  • Terrestrial area conserved has increased by almost 113% in the last 20 years and by 32% in the last 5 years
  • Marine area conserved has increased by more than 3 500% in the last 20 years and by almost 145% in the last 5 years

Previous releases

The Canadian Environmental Sustainability Indicators program develops and regularly reports on a wide range of environmental indicators. These indicators are used to keep Canadians informed and up-to-date on the state and trends of environmental issues of concern. The indicators also track and report on the progress of the Federal Sustainable Development Strategy. Indicators from past releases are listed below.

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