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

May 2023

Climate indicators 

Temperature change in Canada

Temperature is a key indicator of how the climate is changing in response to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from human activities, as increasing GHG concentrations result in warming of the lower atmosphere. Temperature change can influence crops, forests, infrastructure, human health, the spread of disease, the availability of water and the health of ecosystems.

Using the average temperature values from 1961 to 1990 as a baseline, these indicators compare how much the temperature for a given year departs from the 1961 to 1990 "normal". The indicators show the yearly and seasonal surface air temperature departures  for the years 1948 to 2022.

Key results
  • In Canada, the national average temperature for the year 2022 was 1.2 degrees Celsius (°C) above the 1961 to 1990 reference value, making it the 16th warmest year since 1948
  • From 1948 to 2022, there is a trend in annual average temperature departures, showing 1.9°C of warming over that period
  • Annual average temperatures were consistently above or equal to the reference value from 1997 onward

April 2023

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 (GHGs) in the atmosphere. These increases are primarily due to GHG emissions resulting from human activities such as the use of fossil fuels or agriculture. This changing climate has impacts on the environment, human health and the economy. The indicators report estimates of Canada's emissions of GHGs over time.

Key results
  • Canada's total GHG emissions in 2021 were 670 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (Mt CO2 eq), a 1.8% increase from 659 Mt CO2 eq in 2020
  • From 2005 to 2021, Canada's GHG emissions decreased by 8.4% (62 Mt CO2 eq)
  • Between 1990 and 2021, Canada's GHG emissions increased by 13.9% (82 Mt CO2 eq)

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 GHG emissions from the largest emitting facilities in Canada. The indicator complements the Greenhouse gas emissions indicators and provides information on an important source of Canada's industrial GHG emissions.

Key results

In 2021,

  • 285 megatonnes (Mt) of GHGs in carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2 eq) were emitted by 1 733 facilities reporting to the Government of Canada's GHG Reporting Program
  • emissions from the reporting facilities accounted for 43% of Canada's total GHG emissions

March 2023

Air indicators 

Population exposure to outdoor air polluants

Breathing in air pollutants can contribute to health issues such as asthma, cardiovascular diseases and 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. The standards are intended to protect human health and the environment and to drive continuous improvement in air quality across Canada. This indicator tracks the percentage of the population living in areas of Canada where outdoor concentrations of air pollutants were less than or equal to the 2020 standards.

Key results
  • In the most recent reporting period (2017 to 2019), 71% of Canadians lived in areas where outdoor concentrations of air pollutants were within the standards
    • This represents an improvement from 68% in the previous reporting period (2016 to 2018), mainly because air pollution concentrations in Mississauga did not exceed the standards in 2017 to 2019
    • It is also an improvement from 63% for the first reporting period (2005 to 2007)

Climate indicators

Sea ice in Canada

Sea ice is a prominent feature in the Northern Canadian Waters which are comprised of the Canadian Arctic domain and the Hudson Bay domain. 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). This indicator reports on the sea ice area during the summer season. The amount and type of sea ice present, and the total minimum area it covers during the summer season, impact human activity and biological habitat. Additionally, sea ice is an indicator of how the climate is changing.

Key results
  • In 2022, the summer sea ice area in the Northern Canadian Waters reached a low of 1.05 million square kilometres (km2), representing 27.9% of the total area (3.76 million km2)
  • Since 1968, the lowest summer sea ice area occurred in 2012 at 0.70 million km2
  • Over the period 1968 to 2022, summer sea ice area in the Northern Canadian Waters declined at a rate of 7.1% per decade

February 2023

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

Reductions in phosphorous loads to Lake Winnipeg

Phosphorus is an essential plant nutrient. However, when phosphorus levels are too high, they can have harmful impacts on a lake's water quality and food web as observed in Lake Winnipeg. Reducing the amount of phosphorus that enters Lake Winnipeg helps to improve the health of the lake.

This 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 2022 have prevented an estimated 318 947 kilograms of phosphorus from reaching Lake Winnipeg

Shellfish harvest area water quality

Most bivalve shellfish (such as mussels, oysters, clams and scallops) are filter feeders that accumulate contaminants, such as bacteria and pollutants, from their surroundings. When contaminants have the potential to make shellfish unsafe to eat, harvest areas are closed to ensure food safety. Water classification recommendations are made based on bacterial levels measured in water samples and pollution concerns identified through shoreline surveys. The proportion of shellfish harvest areas where the water is classified as approved or conditionally approved is a partial measure of the quality of marine coastal water.

Key results
  • In 2021, the water in 65% of Canada's classified shellfish harvest areas was classified as approved or conditionally approved. This number has declined slightly since 2010.

Wildlife and habitat indicators 

Management of Canadian aquaculture

Aquaculture operators' compliance with environmental standards helps to protect our aquatic environment. Fishery officers respond to complaints and conduct inspections to validate licence reporting and to verify compliance with aquaculture licences, conditions of licence and other applicable regulations. This indicator reports the rate of compliance of inspected 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
  • From 2011 to 2021, over 92% of aquaculture operations inspected did not result in charges
  • Of the 550 aquaculture operations inspected in 2021, 92% did not result in charges

January 2023

Wildlife and habitat indicators 

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 their recovery or management objectives. 

Key results

Of the 144 species at risk for which trends could be determined:

  • 62 species (43%) show progress towards their population and distribution objectives
  • 18 species (12%) show mixed evidence, meaning that some information suggests improving trends, but there is also some evidence of decline
  • 64 species (45%) do not show progress towards their population and distribution objectives

General 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. Conserving wild species promotes biodiversity and maintains ecosystem services that Canadians rely on like pollination, controlling floods, and air and water filtration.

The Wild Species 2020 report considers 50 534 species in 46 species groups, which represent, at the time of reporting, the inclusion of more than half of Canada’s species. 24 483 species were assigned a NatureServe numerical rank (secure, apparently secure, vulnerable, imperiled and critically imperiled) and 135 species were classified as possibly extirpated or presumed extirpated. 21 997 species were unrankable or unranked. 3 919 species were classified as not applicable (either exotic or accidentally occurring), meaning they are not considered to be suitable for conservation activities. The indicator summarizes the general status of species in Canada.

Key results
  • Of the 24 483 native species with a NatureServe numerical rank:
    • 19 600 species (80%) are ranked as secure or apparently secure
    • 4 883 species (20%) are at some risk of extirpation (ranked as vulnerable, imperiled or critically imperiled)
  • 135 species are presumed extirpated or possibly extirpated (no longer found in Canada)

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. Pollutants from natural sources, such as wildfires, can sometimes be substantial. Air pollutants cause adverse health and environmental effects. The Air quality indicators present the concentrations of 5 key air pollutants for Canada.

Key results

Between 2005 and 2019,

  • average PM2.5 concentrations have remained mostly unchanged with slight year-to-year fluctuations and a dip in 2019
  • peak PM2.5 concentrations exhibited variable results, decreasing after 2005 but trending upward over the past decade and decreasing again in 2019
  • average O3 concentrations fluctuated above and below 2005 levels, while peak O3 concentrations have generally decreased
  • average and peak NO2, SO2 and average VOC concentrations have decreased steadily

Climate change 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 an enhanced target committing Canada 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.

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. The indicator uses the latest GHG emissions projections to present the forecast progress toward Canada's 2030 target.

Key results

For the December 2022 projections update, 2 scenarios were developed:

  • Under the "with measures" scenario, emissions in Canada are projected to be 625 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (Mt CO2 eq) in 2030 (or 16% below 2005 levels)
  • Under the "with additional measures" scenario, emissions are projected to decline to 491 Mt CO2 eq in 2030 (or 34% below 2005 levels)
  • 2035 emissions are projected to decline further, reaching 608 Mt CO2 eq (18% below 2005 levels) under the "with measures" scenario and 443 Mt CO2 eq (40% below 2005 levels) under the “with additional measures" scenario

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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