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

January 2020

Water indicators

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 2017, most Canadian rivers had normal water quantity
  • Since 2010, there has been an increase in sites with a higher-than-normal water quantity
  • The percentage of stations with a lower-than-normal water quantity has declined since 2001

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 2016 to 2018 period, water quality in rivers in Canada was rated fair to excellent at 80% 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

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 accumulate 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. These indicators assess PBDE concentrations in fish and sediments against the Federal Environmental Quality Guidelines (the guidelines).

Key results

From 2016 to 2018, fish sampling was conducted in 6 drainage regions in Canada. Concentrations for 4 subgroups of PBDE were analyzed.

  • TriBDE, tetraBDE and hexaBDE concentrations were below the guidelines in all samples and all drainage regions
  • PentaBDE concentrations were above the guidelines for at least 1 sample in each drainage region

Reductions in phosphorus loads to Lake Winnipeg

Phosphorus is an essential plant nutrient. When phosphorus levels are too high or too low, they can have harmful impacts on a lake's food web. Reducing the amount of phosphorus that enters Lake Winnipeg will help improve the health of the lake. The indicator shows the extent to which projects funded by Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Lake Winnipeg Basin Program have reduced the amount of phosphorus reaching Lake Winnipeg.

Key results
  •  Projects funded by Environment and Climate Change Canada and completed between 2010 and 2019 have prevented an estimated 172 023 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 ever reaching Lake Winnipeg in 2016

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 the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change; while strengthening existing and introducing new GHG reducing measures to exceed Canada's 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 the Second Biennial Report, GHG emissions in 2030 were projected to be 815 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (Mt CO2 eq)
  • Environment and Climate Change Canada publishes updated projections annually. Most recently, the projections were updated and published as part of Canada's Fourth Biennial Report. For the December 2019 projections update, 2 scenarios were developed:
    • the Reference Case scenario includes actions taken by governments, consumers and businesses put in place up to September 2019. Under this scenario emissions are projected to be 673 Mt CO2 eq in 2030, or 8% below 2005 levels
    • the Additional Measures scenario adds in policies and measures that are under development but have not yet been fully implemented, credits through the Western Climate Initiative and the contribution from the land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF) sector. In this case, emissions are projected to be 588 Mt CO2 eq, or 19% below 2005 levels

December 2019

Wildlife and habitat indicators

Management of Canadian aquaculture

Aquaculture operators' compliance with environmental standards helps to protect our aquatic environment. The indicator is the rate of compliance of aquaculture operations under 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 141 aquaculture operations inspected in 2018:

  • 96% of inspections did not result in charges, down from 100% in the previous 3 years
  • 76% of inspections did not identify any violations, the lowest level since 2013

Canadian species index

Animal wildlife is one of the most visible and well-studied aspects of biodiversity. The Canadian species index shows whether monitored vertebrate species have increasing or decreasing population size trends over time. This, in turn, provides an integrated measure of the condition of our environment.

Key results

Between 1970 and 2016:

  • the population size of monitored vertebrate species declined by 4% on average
  • birds showed a moderate change in average population size
  • the population size of monitored mammal and fish species decreased by 42% and 21% on average, respectively

Species at risk population trends

The purpose of the Species at Risk Act is to provide for the recovery of wildlife species that are extirpated, endangered or threatened; and to manage species of special concern to prevent them from becoming endangered or threatened. For many of these species, population and distribution objectives are set out in a recovery strategy or management plan. This indicator provides a preliminary assessment of whether the recovery or management efforts are working. It is important to note that it may take many years to observe a population or distribution response in a species to these efforts.

Key results

Are population and distribution trends of species at risk consistent with recovery or management objectives? Of the 131 species for which trends could be determined:

  • 56 species (41%) show progress towards their population and distribution objectives
  • 60 species (47%) do not show progress
  • 15 species (12%) show mixed evidence, meaning that some information suggests improving trends, but that there is also some evidence of 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. This indicator reports on changes in the status of wildlife species at risk when they are reassessed. Changes in status over time may help determine whether conditions for these wildlife species are improving.

Key results

Of the 488 wildlife species at risk that have been reassessed, and for which sufficient data are available to determine if there has been a change in status:

  • 83 wildlife species (17%) are now in a higher risk category
  • 90 wildlife species (18%) are now in a lower risk category
  • 315 wildlife species (65%) show no change in status

Population status of Canada's migratory birds

Birds are important to Canadians for many reasons, including the important ecological services they provide such as controlling insect and rodent populations and dispersing seeds. They also provide opportunities for bird watching and hunting. The indicator reports the proportion of bird species listed in the Migratory Birds Convention Act whose populations fall within acceptable bounds and provides a snapshot of the general state of birds in Canada.

Key results

In 2016, of the 358 bird species with adequate monitoring data:

  • 57% had populations within acceptable bounds
  • waterfowl and forest birds were the 2 groups with the highest proportion of populations within acceptable bounds (74% and 63%, respectively)
  • only 12% of grassland and aerial insectivore birds had populations within acceptable bounds
  • 12% of waterfowl had populations above acceptable bounds

Trends in Canada's bird populations

Birds are sensitive to environmental changes, such as habitat loss and pollution, and can be used as an indicator of ecosystem health. While bird populations fluctuate naturally, rapid declines can signal the need for urgent conservation action. The indicator tracks the average population trends of various groups of native Canadian bird species.

Key results

From 1970 to 2016, the trends in bird species groups varied:

  • waterfowl and birds of prey increased by 150% and 110%, respectively
  • shorebirds, grassland birds and aerial insectivores decreased by 40%, 57% and 59%, respectively
  • wetland birds, seabirds, forest birds and all other birds showed little to moderate change

October 2019

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. 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 2017, Canada:

  • saw a decrease of 50% in sulphur oxides (SOX) emissions from 2007 levels
  • ranked fourth highest in SOX emissions among OECD member countries
  • had the fourth highest ratio of SOX emissions to gross domestic product among the top 10 emitting OECD member countries

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.

Key results
  • Between 1994 and 2017, the percentage of households in Canada using chemical pesticides and fertilizers on their lawns and gardens decreased
  • Since 2013, the percentage of households using pesticides has remained stable at 19%
  • While the percentage of households using fertilizers increased between 2011 and 2015, it has decreased in 2017

August 2019

Water indicators

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 mining effluent into water frequented by fish. The indicator summarizes the test results observed since the regulations came into effect

Key results

Between 2003 and 2017:

  • fish toxicity test results varied and reached 98.6% compliance in 2017
  • the percentage of mining operations meeting regulatory standards for total suspended solids increased from 92.1% to 98%
  • test results for all other deleterious substances and pH levels ranged from 98.3% to 100% compliance

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 2019, 4 Areas of Concern have had all impaired beneficial uses restored

Wildlife and habitat indicators

Global trends in protected areas

To conserve biodiversity and ecosystem services, nations are increasing the area they protect. This indicator provides a global overview of terrestrial and marine protected areas.

Key results
  • The June 2019 update of the Protected Planet Live Report showed that globally
    • 15% of terrestrial area, including freshwater, was protected, up from 8.2% in 1990
    • 7.6% of marine area, including international waters, was protected, up from 0.4% in 1990
  • Governments across the globe have committed to conserving 17% of terrestrial and 10% of marine areas by 2020

July 2019

Wildlife and habitat indicators

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 119 ecosystems in 43 national parks that were assessed:
    • 60% are in good condition
    • 24% are in fair condition
    • 16% are in poor condition
  • As of 2018, the ecological integrity of 82% of park ecosystems is maintained or improved
  • Most park ecosystems are stable (72 of 119 or 61%), 26 have improving trends, and 21 have declining trends

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 2017, timber harvest in Canada ranged from 48% to 84% of the estimated wood supp
  • Canada's wood supply has remained relatively stable between 1990 and 2009, decreasing slightly since then

June 2019

Air indicators

Air pollutant emissions

Black carbon is a component of PM2.5 and is generated by the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels and biomass. It is a short-lived climate pollutant, and is linked to both climate warming and adverse human health effects. Reductions in black carbon emissions have near-immediate and local benefits to climate and air quality.

Key results
  • Emissions of black carbon were 35 kt in 2016
  • In 2016, 3 sectors accounted for 87% of national black carbon emissions:
    • home firewood burning
    • off-road vehicles and mobile equipment
    • transportation (road, rail, air and marine)

May 2019

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) report emissions released through human activities.

Key results
  • In 2017, emissions of 5 key air pollutants SOX, NOX, VOCs, CO and PM2.5 ranged from 69% to 15% lower than in 1990
  • Emissions of NH3 were 19% 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, 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 human-related emissions of these substances.

Key results
  • In 2017, 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 smelting and refining industry
  • Since 2011, mercury, lead and cadmium emissions have not changed substantially

Water indicators

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 68%, 62% and 45% lower in 2017 than in 2003, respectively
  • In 2014, a significant spill accounted for 92%, 92% and 59% of total releases of mercury, lead and cadmium, respectively

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 2017, 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 97.5% of the time in 2017
  • 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 2017

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 could 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.

Key results
  • In Canada, the national average temperature for the year 2018 was 0.5 degrees Celsius (°C) above the 1961–1990 reference value
  • From 1948 to 2018, there is a trend in annual average temperature departures, showing 1.7°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 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. The indicators report proportions of Canada's territory conserved through protected areas and other conservation measures.

Key results
  • As of the end of 2018
    • 11.2% of Canada's terrestrial area (land and freshwater) was conserved, including 10.9% in protected areas
    • 7.9% of its marine territory was conserved, including 3.1% in protected areas
  • The terrestrial area conserved has increased by 66% 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 16 in the last 20 years, and by more than 5 times in the last 5 years

Wildlife habitat capacity on agricultural land

Wildlife habitat capacity is the extent and quality of habitat that can support a diversity of species. When we convert wilderness to agricultural land we lose a great deal of wildlife habitat capacity. However, we can manage agricultural land to regain some of this capacity. Agricultural land includes not only fields for food production but also other types of land cover. Wooded areas, wetlands, shoreline areas and natural pastures on agricultural land are important habitats for wildlife. The indicator shows how well habitat is maintained while producing the food we need.

Key results

In 2017,

  • in western Canada, wildlife habitat capacity is generally higher in British Columbia than in the prairies with the exception of the Fraser Valley
  • in eastern Canada, southwestern Ontario and the greater Montreal area have the lowest wildlife habitat capacity

April 2019

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 human activities such as the use of fossil fuels or agriculture. The indicators report estimates of Canada's emissions and removals of greenhouse gases.

Key results
  • Canada's total GHG emissions in 2017 were 716 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (Mt CO2 eq)
  • The decrease in emissions since 2005 was primarily driven by reduced emissions from the electricity generation sector

Greenhouse gas emissions from large facilities

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. This indicator tracks GHG emissions and provides consistent information on emissions from the largest emitting facilities in Canada.

Key results
  • In 2017, 292 megatonnes (Mt) of GHGs in carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2 eq) were emitted by 1 622 facilities reporting to the GHG Reporting Program
  • Emissions from the reporting facilities account for 41% of Canada's total GHG emissions

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 2014, global GHG emissions increased by 19.5%, from 38 273 to 45 741 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (Mt CO2 eq.)
  • In 2014, the highest emitting country was China with 11 912 Mt CO2 eq., or 26.0% of global GHG emissions. Since 2005, emissions from China increased by 63.9%
  • Canada's emissions in 2014 reached 745 Mt CO2 eq., which made up 1.6% of global GHG emissions

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 proportion of major stocks that are overharvested.

Key results
  • Of the 179 major stocks assessed in 2017:
    • 171 stocks (96%) were harvested at sustainable levels
    • 8 stocks (4%) were harvested above approved levels
  • From 2012 to 2017, the percentage of overharvested stocks has been consistently low

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 maintain 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
  • Many of the new stocks added in recent years have an uncertain status, contributing to an increase in the number of uncertain stocks
  • Of the 179 major stocks assessed in 2017:
    • 63 stocks (35%) were in the Healthy zone
    • 25 stocks (14%) were in the Cautious zone
    • 18 stocks (10%) were in the Critical zone
    • 73 stocks (41%) could not be classified and have uncertain status

February 2019

Climate indicators

Sea ice in Canada

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

Key results
  • In 2018, the Northern Canadian Waters were covered by an average sea ice area of 1.23 million square kilometres, which represents 32.8% of its area
  • Over the past 5 decades, the area covered by sea ice in the Northern Canadian Waters, measured during the summer season, has been decreasing
  • Between 1968 and 2018, sea ice area in the Northern Canadian Waters declined at a rate of 7.0% per decade

January 2019

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.

Key results
  • For the 2015 to 2017 period, water quality in rivers in Canada was rated fair to excellent at 83% of the monitored sites
  • Water quality tends to be worse where there is agriculture, mining, high population density or a combination of these (mixed pressures)

Perfluorooctane sulfonate in fish and water

Perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) has been used in stain repellents, fire-fighting foams and metal plating. It is of ecological concern, given its widespread occurrence and its bioaccumulation, persistence, and toxicity in animals. These indicators assess PFOS concentrations in fish tissue and water against the Federal Environmental Quality Guidelines.

Key results

From 2015 to 2017, fish sampling was conducted in 9 drainage regions in Canada

  • The analysis found that the concentration of PFOS was below the guidelines for fish health in all fish from all sampled drainage regions
  • Four (4) out of the 9 sampled drainage regions had samples showing concentrations of PFOS that exceeded the wildlife diet guidelines

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.

October 2018

February 2018

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