Latest environmental indicators

This page lists the indicators released by the Canadian Environmental Sustainability Indicators program. Subscribe to our e-updates to receive the latest indicators in your inbox or follow us on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter. #CdnEnv #Sustainability #Indicators

April 2021

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.

Key results
  • Between 2005 and 2018, global GHG emissions increased by 23.0%, from 38 669 to 47 552 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (Mt CO2 eq)
  • In 2018, the highest emitting country was China with 12 355 Mt CO2 eq, or 26.0% of global GHG emissions. Since 2005, emissions from China increased by 71.7%
  • Canada's emissions in 2018 reached 725 Mt CO2 eq, which made up 1.5% of global GHG emissions

Greenhouse gas emissions from large facilities 

Releases of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and their increasing concentrations in the atmosphere are leading to a changing climate. This change has an impact on the environment, human health and the economy. This indicator tracks and provides information on GHG emissions from the largest emitting facilities in Canada.

Key results
  • In 2019, 293 megatonnes (Mt) of GHGs in carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2 eq) were emitted by 1 700 facilities reporting to the Government of Canada's GHG Reporting Program
  • Emissions from the reporting facilities account for 40% of Canada's total GHG emissions

Greenhouse gas emissions 

Climate change is one of the most important environmental issues of our time. Climate change is caused by the increase in concentrations of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere. These increases are primarily due to human activities such as the use of fossil fuels or agriculture. The indicators report estimates of Canada's emissions of GHGs over time.

Key results
  • Canada's total GHG emissions in 2019 were 730 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (Mt CO2 eq), a slight increase from 728 Mt CO2 eq in 2018

Wildlife and habitat indicators

Status of major 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, accordingly. The indicator reports the status (Healthy, Cautious, Critical or Uncertain) of major Canadian fish stocks as found in the Sustainability Survery for Fisheries.

Key results
  • Many of the new stocks added in recent years have an uncertain status, contributing to an increase in the number of stocks with an uncertain status
  • Of the 176 major stocks assessed in 2019:
    • 52 stocks (30%) were in the Healthy zone
    • 29 stocks (16%) were in the Cautious zone
    • 25 stocks (14%) were in the Critical zone
    • 70 stocks (40%) could not be classified and have an uncertain status  

March 2021

Air indicators

Population exposure to outdoor air pollutants

Breathing in air pollutants can contribute to health issues such as asthma, cardiovascular diseases and premature mortality. To better inform Canadians, an indicator was devised that monitors general improvements to air quality using the 2020 Canadian Ambient Air Quality Standards (CAAQS, the standards). More specifically, this indicator tracks the percentage of the population living in areas where outdoor concentrations of air pollutants were below the 2020 standards.

Key results
  • Between the first (2005 to 2007) and most recent (2016 to 2018) reporting periods, the percentage of Canadians living in areas where outdoor concentrations of air pollutants were below the standards increased from 60% to 68%
  • Between the 2015 to 2017 and 2016 to 2018 reporting periods, the percentage of Canadians living in areas where outdoor concentrations of air pollutants were below the standards dropped from 77% to 68%. This decline can be attributed to large wildfires that negatively affected air quality in Alberta and British Columbia for the 2016 to 2018 period

Climate indicators

Progress towards Canada's greenhouse gas emissions reduction target

Greenhouse gases (GHGs) trap heat in the Earth's atmosphere, just as the glass of a greenhouse keeps warm air inside. Human activity increases the amount of GHG in the atmosphere. When more heat is trapped, the temperature of the planet increases. Canada is committed to implementing its strengthened climate plan to ensure Canada not only meets, but also exceeds its 2030 emissions reduction goal, and beginning work so that Canada can achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. This indicator tracks Canada's progress related to the 2030 target.

Key results
  • In 2030, GHG emissions
    • are projected to be 588 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (Mt CO2 eq) under Canada's climate plan or 227 Mt CO2 eq lower than the 815 Mt CO2 eq projected before the adoption of the Pan-Canadian Framework
    • are projected to be 503 Mt CO2 eq under Canada's strengthened climate plan or about 8 Mt CO2 eq below the 2030 target of 511 Mt CO2 eq

Wildlife and habitat indicators

Sustainable fish harvest

Harvest limits for wild fish and other marine animals are set to protect these stocks for the future. This indicator reports the number of major stocks that are harvested within these limits and those that are overharvested.

Key results
  • Of the 176 major stocks assessed in 2019:
    • 166 stocks (94%) were harvested at sustainable levels
    • 10 stocks (6%) were harvested above approved levels
  • From 2012 to 2019, the percentage of overharvested stocks has been consistently low

February 2021

Socio-economic indicators

Management of Canadian aquaculture

Aquaculture operators' compliance with environmental standards helps to protect our aquatic environment. The indicator reports the rate of compliance of aquaculture operations with Fisheries Act regulations. It provides a measure of how well aquaculture operators meet environmental protection standards as set out in the Fisheries Act regulations.

Key results

Of the 219 aquaculture operations inspected in 2019:

  • 99% of inspections did not result in charges
  • 67% of inspections did not identify any violations

Climate indicators

Sea ice in Canada

Sea ice is a prominent feature in the Northern Canadian Waters. It consists of seasonal ice that forms and melts each year (referred to as first-year ice) and ice that is present all-year round (referred to as multi-year ice). The amount and type of sea ice present, and the total minimum area it covers during the summer season, impacts human activity and biological habitat.

Key results
  • In 2020, the sea ice area in the Northern Canadian Waters reached 1.04 million square kilometres (km2), representing 27.6% of the total area
  • The lowest sea ice area occurred in 2012, with 0.70 million km2
  • Between 1968 and 2020, summer sea ice area in the Northern Canadian Waters declined at a rate of 7.5% per decade

January 2021

Water indicators

Number of long-term drinking water advisories on public systems on reserve

Drinking water advisories are public health protection notifications about real or potential health risks related to drinking water. In November 2015, the Government of Canada committed to ending all long-term drinking water advisories on public water systems on reserve. This indicator shows progress towards lifting these advisories.

Key results
  • In November 2015, there were 105 drinking water advisories on public systems on reserve
  • As of September 30, 2020, the total number of drinking water advisories has decreased from a baseline number of 105 to 58, which represents a 55% net decrease
  • The greatest net reduction of advisories (11) occurred in February 2018

Nutrients in the St. Lawrence River

Phosphorus and nitrogen are essential plant nutrients. However, when phosphorus or nitrogen levels are too high or too low, they can have harmful effects on the food web of a river. They are an important measure of the health of the river and its surrounding watersheds. These indicators provide the status of phosphorus and nitrogen levels along the St. Lawrence River.

Key results
  • For the 2017 to 2019 period,
    • phosphorus and nitrogen levels exceeded water quality guidelines at most monitoring stations
    • only at Saint-Maurice did nitrogen level exceedances occur in less than 10% of samples
  • From 2010 to 2019, Yamaska had decreasing nitrogen levels

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 mercury, lead and cadmium releases to water indicators track facility-based releases of these substances to water.

Key results
  • Releases of mercury, lead and cadmium to water were 67%, 56% and 43% lower in 2018 than in 2003, respectively
  • In 2014, a significant spill accounted for 92%, 92% and 59% of total releases of mercury, lead and cadmium, respectively

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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