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
Emissions of some substances can harm human health, wildlife and biological diversity. For example, small particles of toxic metals in the air can be inhaled. They can also settle on the ground and in water. Some of these substances can also travel great distances by air. These indicators track human-related emissions of mercury, lead and cadmium at the national and regional (provincial and territorial) level and by source for each substance. Facility and global emissions to air are also provided for mercury.
- In 2015, lead, mercury and cadmium emissions were about 90% lower than in 1990.
- The decrease in emissions came mostly from large reductions in non-ferrous smelting and the mining industry.
Pollution and waste
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 drinking water sources for some communities. Chemical pesticides are also toxic to many forms of life and can threaten beneficial species, such as honeybees.
- Between 1994 and 2015, the percentage of households in Canada that used chemical pesticides and fertilizers on their lawns and gardens decreased.
- In recent years, however, there has been an increase in the percentage of households using pesticides and fertilizers.
Most garbage collected for disposal ends up in landfills and a small amount is incinerated. This can lead to air emissions, land disturbance or water pollution. Diverting waste by recycling and composting can help reduce the impact of solid waste on the environment.
- From 2002 to 2014, the total amount of solid waste collected in Canada increased by 3.4 million tonnes (or 11%).
- The amount of waste disposed in landfills or incinerated increased by 1 million tonnes (or 4%) to reach 25.1 million tonnes in 2014.
- The amount of waste diverted grew by 2.4 million tonnes (or 36%) to reach 9.1 million tonnes in 2014.
- In 2014, the non-residential sector was responsible for 60% of disposed waste and 47% of diverted waste.
Performance and results
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.
- Between 1985 and 2015, the quality of pulp and paper effluent released directly into the environment improved.
- Tests for toxicity met regulatory standards 25% of the time in 1985 and 97.6% of the time in 2015.
- In 1985, tests for biochemical oxygen demand and total suspended solids met regulatory standards 68% and 60% of the time, respectively. Both tests met the standards 99.9% of the time in 2015.
Disposal at sea is the deliberate discarding of approved material from a ship, aircraft, platform or other structure at sea. In Canada, it is illegal to dispose of material at sea without a permit. The materials disposed of at sea are primarily dredged material, fish waste or excavation waste.
- Since 2007, there has been no evidence of marine pollution from disposal activities at monitored ocean disposal sites.
- Environment and Climate Change Canada's performance target is that none of the monitored sites should show any evidence of pollution.
Phosphorus is an essential plant nutrient. When too much phosphorus reaches a lake from human activity it can have harmful impacts on a lake's food web.
- Stewardship projects completed between 2008 and 2017 have prevented an estimated 27 800 kilograms of phosphorus from reaching Lake Simcoe and its tributary rivers.
- Similar projects completed between 2013 and 2017 have prevented an estimated 5 700 kilograms of phosphorus from reaching south-eastern Georgian Bay and its tributary rivers.
The Great Lakes basin is Canada's most populated region. Its large population, together with the industry, agricultural and urban development it supports, places a strain on the ability of the lakes to support healthy ecosystems.
- Environmental quality in Canada's 17 Great Lakes Areas of Concern has improved since the restoration program began in 1987.
- In 2017, 1 impaired beneficial use was restored in the Bay of Quinte and the final impairment requiring assessment was resolved.
Pressures on water quality
The release of some substances to the environment can harm human health, wildlife and biological diversity. These indicators track human-related releases to water of mercury, lead and cadmium.
- Releases of cadmium, lead and mercury to water were 55%, 61% and 70% lower in 2015 than in 2003.
- In 2014, a significant spill made up 59%, 92% and 92% of total releases of cadmium, lead and mercury, respectively.
Wildlife and habitat indicators
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.
- Of the 115 ecosystems in 41 national parks that were assessed, 54% are reported to be in good condition, and another 33% are in fair condition. The remaining 13% are in poor condition.
- Most park ecosystems are stable (89 of 115, or 77%), 14 have improving trends, and 12 have declining trends.
Criteria air contaminants
Air pollution problems, such as smog and acid rain, result from the release of pollutants into the atmosphere. The indicators report anthropogenic emissions of 6 key air pollutants: sulphur oxides (SOX), nitrogen oxides (NOX), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), carbon monoxide (CO), ammonia (NH3) and fine particulate matter (PM2.5).
- In 2015, emissions of 5 key air pollutants (SOX, NOX, VOCs, CO and PM2.5) were 66% to 18% lower than in 1990.
- Emission levels of NH3 were 22% higher than in 1990.
Canada's 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) are compared with those of member countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD),with a focus on the top 10 emitting countries.
- In 2014, Canada ranked fourth highest in SOX emissions, third highest in NOX emissions and second highest for emissions of CO, VOCs and PM2.5 among OECD member countries.
River plants and animals rely on clean water to maintain healthy populations. 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.
- 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 2015 at a majority of sites across southern Canada. Where it has changed, it has improved more often than it has gotten worse.
Wildlife and habitat indicators
Protected areas are lands and waters where human activities are banned or limited for the purpose of conserving nature. These indicators offer a national view as well as a breakdown by jurisdiction and by ecological region of terrestrial and marine protected areas.
- As of the end of 2016, 10.5% of Canada's terrestrial area (land and freshwater), and 0.96% of its marine territory are protected.
- The proportion of terrestrial area protected varies by province and territory, ranging from 3.2% in Prince Edward Island to 15.3% in British Columbia.
- Three ecozones, the Tundra Cordillera, the Pacific Maritime and the Arctic Cordillera have more than 20% of their area protected.
- The Northern Shelf, in the Pacific Ocean, is the marine ecozone with the largest proportion protected (7%).
- In the past 20 years, the total area protected has increased by almost 70%. Over the last 5 years, it has increased by 8%.
To contribute to preserving biodiversity and ecosystem services, nations continue to improve their network of protected areas. Based on an international data source, this indicator reports on the terrestrial and marine area protected globally and in 10 selected countries.
- In 2016, at the global level, 14.8% of land, including freshwater, and 5.1% of marine areas, including international waters, were protected.
- While Canada protects a large area, its proportion of terrestrial area and marine waters protected was lower than average.
This indicator highlights greenhouse gas emissions caused by human activity around the world. 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.
Between 2005 and 2013, global greenhouse gas emissions increased by 18.3%. Over the same period, Canada's emission made up less than 2% of global emissions.
This indicator reports total phosphorus levels in the offshore waters of the 4 Canadian Great Lakes. While phosphorus is an essential plant nutrient, concentrations that are too high or too low can have harmful impacts on a lake's food web.
Phosphorus levels are too high in the offshore waters of Lake Erie and are too low in Lake Ontario, Lake Huron and Georgian Bay. Offshore phosphorus levels in Lake Superior are at the level they should be and not changing.
Greenhouse gases (GHGs) trap heat in the Earth's atmosphere - a process known as "the greenhouse effect." Increasing GHG emissions from human activity are linked to changes in the earth's climate which are having an impact on ecosystems, human health and the economy. The indicators report trends in GHG emissions nationally, per person and per unit gross domestic product, by province and territory, by economic sector and from large facilities.
Canada's total GHG emissions in 2015 were 722 megatonnes (Mt) of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2 eq), or 18% (111 Mt CO2 eq) above the 1990 emissions of 611 Mt CO2 eq. Emissions growth between 1990 and 2015 was driven primarily by increased emissions from mining and upstream oil and gas production as well as transport.
The Sustainable Fish Harvest indicator measures compliance with harvest limits as a measure of pressures on wild stocks. Harvest limits for wild fish and other marine animals protect these stocks for the future.
Of the 159 major stocks assessed in 2015:
- 152 stocks (96%) were harvested at levels considered to be sustainable; and
- 7 stocks (4%) were harvested above approved levels.
The proportion of fish stocks harvested at sustainable levels has improved since 2011, when 10% of stocks were overharvested. From 2012 to 2015, the proportion of overharvested stocks has remained below 5%.
Assessing the state of fish stocks is essential for conservation and to maintain prosperous commercial fisheries. Fisheries and Oceans Canada uses a variety of scientific methods to assess fish stock levels, and assigns one of three stock classifications (Healthy, Cautious or Critical). The status of different groups varies due to differences in population productivity, historical exploitation and resilience, among other factors.
Of 159 major fish stocks assessed in 2015:
- 78 stocks (49%) were classified as Healthy;
- 31 stocks (19%) were classified as Cautious;
- 19 stocks (12%) were classified as Critical; and
- The classification for 31 stocks (19%) was uncertain.
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.
- Perfluorooctane Sulfonate (PFOS) in Fish and Water
- Reducing Phosphorus Loads to Lake Winnipeg
- Managing Metal Mining Effluent Quality in Canada
- Managing Pulp and Paper Effluent Quality in Canada
- Reducing Phosphorus Loads to Lake Simcoe and South-eastern Georgian Bay
- Restoring the Great Lakes Areas of Concern
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