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 or Twitter. #CdnEnv #Sustainability #Indicators

October 2018

Air indicators

Air quality

Air quality problems such as smog and acid rain result from the release of pollutants into the atmosphere. The majority of these pollutants come from human activities, such as transportation, the burning of fuels for electricity and heating, and industry. Natural sources such as forest fires can sometimes be substantial. Air pollutants cause adverse health and environmental effects. The Air quality indicators present the concentrations of 5 key air pollutants: ground-level ozone (O3), sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and fine particulate matter (PM2.5).

Key results

Between 2002 and 2016:

  • nitrogen dioxide (NO2), sulphur dioxide (SO2), volatile organic compounds (VOC) and peak ground-level ozone (O3) concentrations decreased
  • average O3 concentrations showed almost no change
  • fine particulate matter (PM2.5) concentrations exhibit variable results

Water indicators

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 with 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 2018, 4 Areas of Concern have had all impaired beneficial uses restored

September 2018

Air indicators

Air health trends

Canadians are regularly exposed to air pollution from buildings, vehicles and industries. This can affect our health and lead to work absences, hospital visits and death. The Air health trends indicators measure the proportion of deaths that can be attributed to 2 major air pollutants: ground-level ozone (O3) and fine particulate matter (PM2.5).

Key results

Although substantial efforts have been made to improve air quality in Canada over the last few decades, the indicators suggest that outdoor air pollution continues to be an important public health issue in Canada.

  • On average, for those years for which estimates can be made, approximately 2% of deaths, excluding deaths from injuries, can be attributed to O3 exposure and 0.8% to PM2.5 exposure
  • The proportion of deaths that can be attributed to O3 shows an increasing trend

Water indicators

Shellfish harvest area quality

Shellfish are filter feeders that accumulate contaminants, such as bacteria or pollutants, from their surroundings. When contaminants have the potential to make shellfish unsafe to eat, harvest areas are closed to ensure food safety. The proportion of harvest area open is a partial measure of the quality of marine coastal water.

Key results
  • In 2017, 68% of Canada's shellfish harvest area was classified as approved or conditionally approved for harvest for human consumption


Nutrients in Lake Winnipeg

Phosphorus and nitrogen are essential plant nutrients. When phosphorus or nitrogen levels are too high or too low, they can have harmful impacts on the food web of a lake or river. They are a measure of the health of Lake Winnipeg and its surrounding watershed. These indicators provide the status of phosphorus and nitrogen levels in Lake Winnipeg and 3 of its tributary rivers.

Key results

Phosphorus and nitrogen levels in Lake Winnipeg

  • In Lake Winnipeg, the highest levels of phosphorus and nitrogen in 2016 are found in the south basin near the inflow from the Red River. Levels decline as the water flows north
  • In the 3 largest tributary rivers, for the 2014 to 2016 period:
    • high phosphorus levels were detected frequently in the Red and Winnipeg rivers and intermittently in the Saskatchewan River
    • high nitrogen levels were detected frequently in the Red River and in the Winnipeg River, but rarely in the Saskatchewan River

Reducing phosphorus loads to Lake Winnipeg

  • Lake Winnipeg Basin Stewardship Fund projects completed between 2010 and 2017 have prevented an estimated 112 584 kilograms of phosphorus from reaching Lake Winnipeg
  • The bioremediation of a retired municipal wastewater lagoon prevented 21 300 kilograms of phosphorus from ever reaching Lake Winnipeg in 2016


Metal mining effluent quality

The effects of untreated mining effluent could be highly damaging to aquatic environments. The Metal Mining Effluent Regulations are designed to protect fish and fish habitat by governing the discharge of effluent into water frequented by fish. The indicator summarizes the test results observed since the regulations came into effect.

Key results
  • Between 2003 and 2016, the percentage of mining operations meeting regulatory standards for total suspended solids increased from 92.1% to 98%
  • The fish toxicity test results varied over the years but decreased to 95.7% in 2016
  • Test results for all other deleterious substances and pH levels ranged from 99.3% to 100% compliance over this time period

August 2018

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 come from human activities, such as transportation, the burning of fuels for electricity and heating, and industry. They are also released from natural sources, such as forest fires and from vegetation. The indicators report emissions released through human activities for 6 key air pollutants.

Key results
  • In 2016, emissions of 5 key air pollutants (sulphur oxides [SOX], nitrogen oxides [NOX], volatile organic compounds [VOCs], carbon monoxide [CO] and fine particulate matter [PM2.5]) ranged from 65% to 18% lower than in 1990
  • Emissions of ammonia (NH3) were 20% higher than in 1990


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 and 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. These indicators track human-related emissions of mercury, lead and cadmium.

Key results
  • In 2016, mercury, lead and cadmium emissions were about 90% lower than in 1990
  • The decrease in emissions came mostly from large reductions in the non-ferrous mining and smelting industry
  • The decreases for mercury, lead and cadmium have plateaued in recent years

Water indicators

Polybrominated diphenyl ethers in fish and sediment

Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) are used as a flame retardant in many products such as building materials, plastics and textiles. They are toxic substances that remain in the environment for long periods after their release. They build up in living organisms such as fish, seals and birds and have a harmful effect on species health and biodiversity. PBDEs are not manufactured in Canada, but can enter the environment when articles containing PBDE are disposed of. These indicators assess PBDE concentrations in fish and sediments against the Federal Environmental Quality Guidelines.

Key results

Fish sampling was conducted in 10 drainage regions in Canada from 2013 to 2015. Concentrations for 4 subgroups of PBDE were analyzed:

  • TriBDE and hexaBDE concentrations were below the guidelines in all samples
  • TetraBDE concentrations were below the guidelines for all but 1 sampled drainage region
  • PentaBDE concentration were above the guidelines for 8 of the 10 sampled drainage regions

Sediment sampling was conducted in 10 drainage regions from 2007 to 2016. Concentrations for 6 subgroups of PBDE were analyzed:

  • For PBDE subgroups triBDE, hexaBDE and octaBDE, 100% of the concentrations in drainage regions sampled were below the guidelines
  • For pentaBDE, decaBDE and tetraBDE, 4, 7 and 9 drainage regions, respectively, had samples with a concentration below the guidelines


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. These indicators track human-related releases of mercury, lead and cadmium to water.

Key results
  • Releases of mercury, lead and cadmium to water were 63%, 62%and 50% lower in 2016 than in 2003
  • In 2014, a significant spill accounted for 92%, 92% and 59% of total releases of mercury, lead and cadmium, respectively

Wildlife and habitat indicators

Status of major fish stocks

Environmental conditions and human use of the oceans affect the abundance and health of fish stocks, at national and global levels. In order to protect fish stocks for future generations, it is important to track their condition and adjust management, such as harvest limits, accordingly. The indicator reports the status of major Canadian fish stocks.

Key results
  • Of the 170 major stocks assessed in 2016:
    • 76 stocks (45%) were classified as Healthy
    • 31 stocks (18%) were classified as Cautious
    • 21 stocks (12%) were classified as Critical
    • 42 stocks (25%) could not be classified with current information
  • There has been little change in the overall status of stocks since 2011. This is as expected as changes in stocks happen gradually over a long period of time


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 proportion of major stocks that are overharvested. When overharvesting occurs, action is taken to protect the stocks.

Key results
  • Of the 170 major stocks assessed in 2016:
    • 163 stocks (96%) were harvested at sustainable levels
    • 7 stocks (4%) were harvested above approved levels
  • From 2012 to 2016, the percentage of overharvested stocks has been consistently low


Sustainability of timber harvest

About 38% of Canada's land area is covered in forests. Timber harvest is an important part of the Canadian economy. To ensure that forests can continue to provide timber, the harvests must remain below sustainable limits. The maximum sustainable harvest is known as the wood supply. The indicator compares the amount of timber harvested with the wood supply.

Key results
  • Between 1990 and 2016, timber harvest in Canada ranged from 48% to 84% of the estimated wood supply
  • Canada's wood supply has remained relatively stable between 1990 and 2009, decreasing slightly since then

Socio-economic indicators

Human exposure to harmful substances

Chemicals are present in air, soil, water, products and food. Humans are exposed to chemicals in many ways, including inhalation, ingestion and skin contact. These indicators present the average concentrations of selected environmental chemicals in Canadians.

Key results

Four (4) surveys conducted from 2007 to 2015 indicate that average concentrations in Canadians of:

  • lead and bisphenol A generally decreased
  • cadmium and mercury fluctuated

July 2018

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 can have long-term negative environmental and economic consequences. This indicator reports the volume and counts of marine pollution spills detected by aerial surveillance.

Key results
  • From 2010 to 2017, the volume of marine pollution spills was typically greater in coastal areas than in offshore areas
  • The volume of spills detected offshore has decreased since 2010
  • Offshore spills have accounted for less than 2% of all detected spills since 2015


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 2016, 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 97.3% of the time in 2016
  • 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 2016

Wildlife and habitat indicators

Canada's conserved areas

Well-managed conserved areas help preserve species and their habitats for present and future generations by reducing direct human development stresses. This indicator reports proportions of Canada's territory conserved through protected areas and other conservation measures.

Key results
  • As of the end of 2017:
    • 10.5% of Canada's terrestrial area (land and freshwater) was protected
    • 7.7% of its marine territory was conserved, including 2.9% in protected areas
  • The terrestrial area protected has increased by 64% in the last 20 years, and by 6% in the last 5 years
  • The marine area conserved has increased by a factor of more than 18 in the last 20 years, and by more than 5 times in the last 5 years

June 2018

Water indicators

Drinking water advisories

Drinking water advisories are public health protection messages about real or potential health risks related to drinking water. These indicators provide a long-term view of why boil water advisories are issued. They also show the relationship between community size and the frequency of boil water advisories.

Key results
  • In 2017:
    • 4% of boil water advisories were due to the detection of Escherichia coli (E. coli)
    • 13% were due to other microbiological water quality parameters
    • the remaining 83% were due to equipment and process-related problems
  • Between 2010 and 2017, the number of boil water advisories issued on a precautionary basis, due to problems with equipment or processes, increased
  • In 2017, 77% of boil water advisories were issued for drinking water systems serving 500 people or less

Wildlife and habitat indicators

Species at risk population trends

Some wildlife species in Canada are at risk of extinction. For many of these species, population objectives are set out in a recovery document. This indicator presents early signs of progress and provides a preliminary assessment of whether recovery efforts are working, recognizing that recovery may take many years.

Key results

Are population trends of species at risk consistent with objectives? For the 113 species for which population trends could be determined:

  • 49 species (43%) show progress towards their population objectives
  • 51 species (45%) do not show progress
  • the remaining species show some indication of both improvement and decline


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. Changes in status over time may help determine whether conditions for these wildlife species are improving.

Key results

Of the 455 wildlife species for which sufficient data are available to determine if there has been a change in status:

  • 83 wildlife species (18%) are now in a higher risk category
  • 80 wildlife species (18%) are now in a lower risk category
  • 292 wildlife species (65%) show no change in status


Ecological integrity of national parks

Ecosystems have integrity when their native species, landscapes and functions are intact. 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 118 ecosystems in 42 national parks that were assessed:
    • 63% are in good condition
    • 20% are in fair condition
    • 17% are in poor condition
  • Most park ecosystems are stable (81 of 118, 69%), 23 have improving trends, and 14 have declining trends

May 2018

Wildlife and habitat indicators

Status of wild species

Canada supports a remarkable diversity of life. About 80 000 species are known to exist in Canada, excluding bacteria and viruses. However, wild species face a variety of threats, including the loss, fragmentation and degradation of habitat; pollution; overexploitation; and fishery bycatch and other incidental loss due to resource harvesting. These indicators summarize the risk of species loss.

Key results
  • The Wild Species 2015 report assessed the conservation status of 29 848 species in 34 species groups. A national extinction risk level was assigned to 16 078 native species.
    • 80% (12 833 species) are ranked as secure or apparently secure.
    • 10% (1 586 species) are vulnerable.
    • 10% (1 534 species) are imperiled or critically imperiled.
    • Less than 1% (125 species) are presumed extirpated or possibly extirpated (no longer found in Canada).

April 2018

Climate indicators

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 in the atmosphere. These increases are primarily due to human activities such as the use of fossil fuels or agriculture. The indicators report trends in greenhouse gases emissions nationally, per person and per unit of gross domestic product, by province and territory and by economic sector.

Key results
  • Canada's total greenhouse gas emissions in 2016 were 704 megatonnes (Mt) of carbon dioxide equivalent (COeq), an increase of 17%, or 101 Mt CO2 eq from 1990. Canada's emissions growth over this period was driven primarily by increased emissions from mining and upstream oil and gas production as well as transport.
  • Since 2005, emissions decreased by 28 Mt CO2 eq or 3.8%. The decrease was driven primarily by reduced emissions from public electricity and heat production utilities.

February 2018

Climate indicators

Snow cover

Snow cover naturally varies with temperature, precipitation and climate cycles, such as El Niño. Over the long term, trends are primarily controlled by changes in temperature and precipitation. Information on snow quantities and snow cover duration is important for understanding how climate change is influencing snow cover in Canada

Key results
  • Since the early 1970s, snow cover extent has decreased significantly in Canada during the months of May and June in response to a warming climate.
  • In 2016, snow cover extent for May and June was at its third lowest since 1972, and April was at its 11th lowest point.
  • The number of days with snow in 2016 were below average for most of Western Canada, the Prairies, southern Ontario, southern Quebec and most of the Atlantic provinces. A substantial part of northern Quebec and Labrador, and smaller areas of northern Yukon and Ontario, experienced above-average snow cover duration.

Wildlife and habitat indicators

Canadian species index

The Canadian species index shows whether monitored species tend to have increasing or decreasing population sizes. This, in turn, provides an integrated measure of the condition of our environment.

Key results
  • Between 1970 and 2014, vertebrate populations have, on average, declined by about 10%.
  • Freshwater species trends varied over time and by 2014 showed little net change.
  • Terrestrial species have declined on average, and by 2014 were about 10% below the 1970 baseline, mainly due to declines in mammal populations.
  • Marine species generally increased in the 1970s and then declined. Trends vary among groups of species.


Sustainability of timber harvest

About 35% of Canada's area is covered in forests. Timber harvest is an important part of the Canadian economy. To ensure that forests can continue to provide timber, the harvests need to remain below sustainable limits. The maximum sustainable harvest is known as the wood supply. The indicator compares the amount of timber harvested with the wood supply.  

Key results
  • Between 1990 and 2015, timber harvest in Canada ranged from 48% to 85% of the estimated wood supply.
  • Canada's wood supply has remained relatively stable since 1990, at an average of 238 million cubic metres.

January 2018

Climate indicators

Greenhouse gas emissions from large facilities

The release of greenhouse gases 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. This indicator tracks greenhouse gas emissions and provides consistent information on emissions from the largest emitting facilities in Canada.

Key results
  • In 2016, 263 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent were emitted by 596 facilities reporting to the Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program.
  • The reporting facilities account for 37% of Canada's total greenhouse gas emissions.


Progress towards Canada's greenhouse gas emissions reduction target

Under the Paris Agreement, Canada has committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 30% below 2005 levels by 2030. This indicator tracks Canada's progress towards meeting its target.

Key results
  • With measures in place as of September 2017, emissions are projected to be 722 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2030, or 2% below 2005 levels.
  • With specific measures from Canada's clean growth and climate plan and for which enough information is available, emissions are projected to be 583 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, or 21% below 2005 levels.

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 provide a national and regional overview of water quality in Canada.

Key results
  • Water quality in rivers in southern Canada is most often classified as fair to good. This classification means it can maintain healthy river ecosystems.
  • Water quality tends to be worse where there are cities, agriculture, mining, or a combination of all 3 (mixed pressures).
  • Water quality has not changed between 2002 and 2016 at a majority of sites across southern Canada. Where it has changed, it has improved more often than it has worsened.


Water quantity in Canadian rivers

Canada is a water-rich country. However, too much or too little water can lead to serious problems. When there is too little water, there may not be enough water to irrigate farmland and there may be drought. When there is too much, rivers may flood. These indicators provide information about water flows across Canada.

Key results
  • From 2001 to 2015, most Canadian rivers had normal water quantity.
  • Since 2010, there has been an increase in sites with a higher-than-normal quantity.
  • The percentage of stations with a lower-than-normal quantity has declined since 2001.

Wildlife and habitat indicators

Management of Canadian aquaculture

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

Key results
  • From 2011 to 2016, the annual compliance rate of inspected aquaculture operations with Fisheries Act regulations was over 98%.
  • For the last 2 years, 100% of inspected aquaculture operations were compliant.

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.

November 2017

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