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

December 2021

Air indicators 

International comparison: air pollutant emissions in selected countries

Air pollution problems, such as smog and acid rain, result from the release of pollutants into the atmosphere. 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. Air pollution can affect human health, the environment, buildings, structures and the economy. These indicators compare Canada's emissions of 5 key air pollutants with those of top emitting member countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Key results
  • In 2019, Canada's emissions of sulphur oxides (SOX), nitrogen oxides (NOX), volatile organic compounds (VOC) and carbon monoxide (CO) ranged from 50% to 15% lower than in 2009. In the meantime, emissions of particule matter (PM2.5) increased by 21%
  • In 2019, for the 5 key air pollutants, Canada ranked between second and fourth highest emitter among OECD countries

Water indicators 

Marine pollution spills

The Government of Canada actively monitors ships in Canadian waters to help prevent pollution in our oceans and coasts as significant marine pollution spills (more specifically, hydrocarbon-based spills) can have long-term negative environmental and economic consequences. This indicator reports the volume of marine pollution spills detected by aerial surveillance.

Key results
  • From 2010 to 2020, the total volume of marine pollution spills detected each year varied between 1 014 litres and 9 296 litres
  • In 2021, a record high of 17 651 litres of marine pollution spills were detected, 95% of which was observed in coastal areas
  • The volume of marine pollution spills was typically greater in coastal areas than in offshore areas
  • Since 2010, the volume of marine pollution spills from suspected sources was typically lower than from unknown sources, representing 39% of the total volume of marine pollution spills detected 

Phosphorus loading to Lake Erie

Phosphorus is an essential plant nutrient. However, when phosphorus levels are too high, 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 harm aquatic life. These indicators report on the amount of phosphorus reaching Lake Erie, known as phosphorus loading.

Key results
  • In 2020, total estimated phosphorus loading to Lake Erie was 9 336 tonnes, with 20% (1 849 tonnes) of the total load estimated to be from Canada
  • Phosphorus loading varies between years mostly due to precipitation and snowmelt levels, which drive the amount of runoff from surrounding lands

November 2021

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 mercury, lead and cadmium emissions to air indicators track the emissions of these substances from human-related activities.

Key results
  • Mercury, lead and cadmium emissions decreased by 92%, 89% and 95%, respectively, between 1990 and 2019
  • The decrease in emissions came mostly from large reductions in the non-ferrous refining and smelting industry

Water indicators 

Reductions in phosphorus loads to Lake Winnipeg

Phosphorus is an essential plant nutrient. When phosphorus levels are too high, they can have harmful impacts on a lake's food web as observed in Lake Winnipeg. Reducing the amount of phosphorus that enters Lake Winnipeg helps to improve the health of the lake. The indicator shows the extent to which projects completed since 2010 with funding from Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Lake Winnipeg basin programming have reduced the amount of phosphorus reaching Lake Winnipeg.

Key results
  • Projects funded by Environment and Climate Change Canada and completed between 2010 and 2021 have prevented an estimated 270 215 kilograms of phosphorus from reaching Lake Winnipeg
  • One specific project, the bioremediation of a retired municipal wastewater lagoon, prevented 21 345 kilograms of phosphorus from reaching Lake Winnipeg in 2016

October 2021

Water indicators 

Household use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers

Households use chemical pesticides and fertilizers to improve the look of their lawns and gardens. These chemicals can pollute lakes and rivers that may be sources of drinking water for some communities. Chemical pesticides are also toxic to many forms of life and can threaten beneficial species, such as honeybees. The indicators report  the percentage of households using chemical pesticides or fertilizers, among households with a lawn or garden only.

Key results
  • Between 1994 and 2019 there has been an overall decrease in the percentage of households in Canada using chemical pesticides and fertilizers on their lawns and gardens
  • Nonetheless, since 2013, the percentage of households using pesticides has remained stable at 19% and increased slightly to 20% in 2019
  • Further, despite the decrease in the percentage of households using chemical fertilizers from 1994 to 2011, their use has increased since 2011 to reach 28% in 2019

Metal and diamond mining effluent quality

The effects of untreated mining effluent could be highly damaging to aquatic environments. The Metal and Diamond Mining Effluent Regulations are designed to protect fish and fish habitat by governing the discharge of mining effluent into water frequented by fish. The indicator summarizes the test results observed since the regulations came into effect in 2002. In 2018 the regulations were amended to include diamond mines, to strengthen effluent limits and to improve the monitoring of environmental effects.

Key results

Between 2003 and 2019, for reported results,

  • fish toxicity test results varied between 91.7% and 99.6% compliance with regulatory limits
  • the percentage of mining operations meeting regulatory standards for total suspended solids increased from 92.1% to 96.7%
  • test results for all other deleterious substances and pH levels ranged from 97.7% to 100% compliance

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
  • Facility-based releases of mercury, lead and cadmium to water were 72%, 60% and 41% lower in 2019 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 and benefits to people. This indicator assesses progress on restoring areas within Canadian waters and those shared with the United States that have high levels of environmental damage.

Key results
  • Environmental quality in Canada's 17 Great Lakes Areas of Concern has improved since the restoration program began in 1987
  • As of 2020, 3 Areas of Concern have had all impaired beneficial uses restored

Wildlife and habitat indicators

Ecological integrity of national parks

According to the Canada National Parks Act, “ecological integrity” is

with respect to a park, a condition that is determined to be characteristic of its natural region and likely to persist, including abiotic components and the composition and abundance of native species and biological communities, rates of change and supporting processes.

In other words, ecosystems have integrity when their native components, such as native species and biological communities, natural landscapes and functions, are intact and are likely to persist. The ecological integrity of national parks is assessed by monitoring representative components of major park ecosystems, such as forest, freshwater and wetlands. It is a key measure of the condition of our national parks.

Key results
  • Of the 119 ecosystems in 43 national parks that were assessed in 2020:
    • 58% are in good condition
    • 24% are in fair condition    
    • 18% are in poor condition
  • Most park ecosystems are stable (68%), while 14% are improving, and 18% are declining
  • Overall, the ecological integrity of 82% of park ecosystems were maintained or improved

Land-use change

Changes in land use transform the landscape and can contribute to the loss of natural land. This can affect the environment and result in population declines in wildlife species. Loss of natural areas such as forests or wetlands can disrupt the ecosystem services that support human wellbeing, resulting in a decline in air and water quality, an increase in air and water temperatures and an increased risk of flooding. As cities grow outward, urban expansion often encroaches on surrounding areas, including agricultural land, forests and other natural areas. When cropland is lost to urban growth, there can be additional pressure to convert natural areas to cropland to increase agricultural capacity. By tracking changes between forests, cropland and settlement land uses, it is possible to measure how human activities are changing these landscapes. 

Key results

Looking at land-use changes between cropland, forest and settlement south of 60° North (the southern territorial border of Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut) from 2010 to 2015:

  •  3 473 km2 of land-use change was observed, representing well under 1% of the overall area
  • Of the land-use change observed, a large proportion (65% or 2 258 km2) was the conversion of forest to cropland
  • About 1 215 km2 of cropland and forest were converted to settlement

Sustainability of timber harvest

About 40% of Canada's land area is covered in forests. Timber harvest is an important part of the Canadian economy. Sustainable forest management supports ecosystems and maintains the health and diversity of forests. After a forest is harvested, regeneration is required, either through natural or artificial means. In 2019, more than 570 million tree seedlings were planted. To ensure that forests can continue to provide timber, the harvests must remain within sustainable limits. The maximum sustainable harvest is known as the sustainable wood supply. The indicator compares the amount of timber harvested with the sustainable wood supply.

Key results
  • Between 1990 and 2019, timber harvest in Canada ranged from 48% to 84% of the estimated sustainable wood supply
  • Canada's wood supply has remained relatively stable between 1990 and 2009, decreasing slightly since then

July 2021

Air indicators 

Air pollutant emissions

Air pollution problems, such as smog and acid rain, result from the release of pollutants into the atmosphere. 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) and fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and black carbon, a component of PM2.5, report emissions released through human activities.

Key results
  • In 2019, emissions of 5 key air pollutants SOX, NOX, VOCs, CO and PM2.5 ranged from 77% to 8% lower than in 1990
  • Emissions of NH3 were 20% higher than in 1990

Water indicators 

Water Quality in Canadian Rivers

Healthy river ecosystems rely on clean water. The quality of water, and the health of rivers, depends on how people develop and use the surrounding land. These indicators measure the ability of river water to support plants and animals.

Key results
  • For the 2017 to 2019 period, water quality in rivers in Canada was rated fair to excellent at 82% 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

Wildlife and habitat indicators

Global trends in conserved areas

To help safeguard biodiversity and ecosystem services, nations are increasing the area they conserve. Conserved areas include protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures. This indicator provides a global overview of terrestrial and marine conserved areas.

Key results
  • As of May 2021, globally
    • 16.6% of terrestrial area, including freshwater, was conserved, including 15.7% in protected areas
    • 7.7% of marine area, including international waters, was conserved, almost all in protected areas
  • Governments across the globe committed to conserving 17% of terrestrial and 10% of marine areas by 2020

Climate indicators

Land-based greenhouse gas emissions and removals

Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are the major drivers of climate change. Land use activities (such as timber harvesting and land conversion) as well as natural disturbances (such as forest fires and insect infestations) result in GHG emissions. Land use activities can also result in GHG removals. For example, as forests recover, carbon is removed from the atmosphere and converted into wood by trees. Land management decisions can help mitigate climate change by increasing carbon dioxide removals from the atmosphere or decreasing GHG emissions from the land. This indicator provides estimates of Canada's GHG emissions and removals from managed lands.

Key results
  • Between 1990 and 2019, estimates of land-based GHG emissions and removals ranged from net removals of 96 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (Mt CO2 eq) in 1992 to net emissions of about 259 Mt CO2 eq in 2015
  • In 2019,
    • natural disturbances (such as wildfires and severe insect infestations) accounted for emissions of about 157 Mt CO2 eq
    • human activities (such as timber harvesting and agricultural activities) accounted for emissions of 9.9 Mt CO2 eq

June 2021

Climate indicators 

Greenhouse gas concentrations

Greenhouse gases (GHGs) are gases that absorb energy from the sun and trap heat in the Earth’s atmosphere. Without GHGs, Earth’s average temperature would be around -18 degrees Celsius, rather than the current average of 15 degrees Celsius. 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, put more greenhouse gases into our atmosphere and are changing Earth’s natural greenhouse effect. As concentrations of greenhouse gases increase in the atmosphere, more heat is trapped and atmospheric temperatures rise. The 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
  • Globally, annual average carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations increased by 22%, from 338.9 parts per million (ppm) to 412.4 ppm between 1980 to 2020
  • Over the period spanning 1976 to 2020, the annual average concentration of CO2 increased by 24%, from 333.4 parts per million (ppm) to 415.0 ppm
  • In 2020, the average concentration of CO2 in Canada was 415.0 ppm, up from 412.3 ppm in 2019
  • Annual changes of CO2 concentrations observed in Canada are similar to changes observed globally

May 2021

Water indicators 

Pulp and paper effluent quality

The Pulp and Paper Effluent Regulations govern the discharge of harmful substances from pulp and paper mills into water frequented by fish. This indicator shows the results achieved since the mid 1980's under these regulations.

Key results

Between 1985 and 2019, the quality of pulp and paper effluent released directly to the environment has improved.

  • Tests for toxicity met regulatory standards 25% of the time in 1985 and 97.8% of the time in 2019
  • Tests for biochemical oxygen demand and total suspended solids met regulatory standards 68% and 60% of the time, respectively, in 1985. Both tests met the standards 99.9% of the time in 2019

Climate indicators

Temperature change in Canada

Changes in climate variables such as temperature, precipitation and humidity affect a wide range of natural processes and human activities. For example, temperature change can influence crops, forests, infrastructure, the spread of disease, the availability of water and the health of ecosystems. Temperature is also a key indicator of how the climate is changing in response to human emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs), as increasing GHG concentrations result in warming of the lower atmosphere. The indicators show the yearly and seasonal surface air temperature departures for the years 1948 to 2020.

Key results
  • In Canada, the national average temperature for the year 2020 was 1.1 degree Celsius (°C) above the 1961 to 1990 reference value
  • From 1948 to 2020, there is a trend in annual average temperature departures, showing 1.8°C of warming over that period
  • Annual average temperatures were consistently above or equal to the reference value from 1993 onward

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. Protected areas include national/provincial/territorial parks, Indigenous protected areas, national wildlife areas, migratory bird sanctuaries and marine protected areas. Other effective area-based conservation measures (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. The indicators track the amount and proportion of area conserved in Canada.

Key results

At the end of 2020, Canada had conserved

  • 12.5% of its terrestrial area (land and freshwater), including 11.7% in protected areas
  • 13.8% of its marine territory, including 8.9% in protected areas

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

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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