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

October 2020

Water indicators

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 2018, total estimated phosphorus loading to Lake Erie was 11 467 tonnes, with 17% (1 963 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

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 forestry, agriculture and the conversion of lands to settlements, as well as natural disturbances such as forest fires and insect infestations result in GHG emissions to the atmosphere and removals from the atmosphere (for example carbon being 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 emissions and removals of GHGs from managed lands.

Key results 
  • Between 1990 and 2018, land-based GHG emissions and removals ranged from removals of about 100 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (Mt CO2 eq) in 1992 to emissions of about 240 Mt CO2 eq in 2018
  • In 2018,
    • natural disturbances (such as wildfires and severe insect infestations) accounted for emissions of about 250 Mt CO2 eq
    • human activities accounted for removals of 13 Mt CO2 eq

September 2020

Water indicators

Phosphorus levels in the offshore waters of the Great Lakes

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. For example, when phosphorus levels are too high, they can lead to degraded water quality, algal blooms and zones of low oxygen which harm aquatic life. Conversely, when they are too low, they can reduce the lake's productivity. Phosphorus levels are one aspect of the health of the offshore waters of the Great Lakes.

Key results 

As of 2019, phosphorus levels were:

  • too high in the offshore waters of Lake Erie, resulting in a Poor status
  • too low in the offshore waters of Lake Ontario, Lake Huron and Georgian Bay, resulting in a Fair status
  • at the level they should be in the offshore waters of Lake Superior, resulting in a Good status

Socio-economic indicators and the environment 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 

A decade of national biomonitoring conducted as part of the Canadian Health Measures Survey between 2007 and 2017 (cycles 1 to 5) showed that the average concentrations in Canadians of:

  • bisphenol A (BPA), lead and cadmium generally decreased
  • mercury remained stable

August 2020

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 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

July 2020

Air indicators

Population exposure to outdoor air pollutants

Breathing in air pollutants every day can contribute to health issues such as asthma and cardiovascular diseases. Overall, Canadians enjoy good outdoor air quality. This indicator tracks the percentage of the population living in areas where outdoor concentrations of air pollutants were below the 2020 Canadian Ambient Air Quality Standards.

Key results
  • Between 2005 to 2007 and 2014 to 2016, the percentage of Canadians living in areas where outdoor concentrations of air pollutants were below the 2020 Canadian Ambient Air Quality Standards increased from 60% to 77%
  • The percentage remained relatively stable until the 2013 to 2015 period with values varying from 60% to 67%. It then increased to 70% in 2013 to 2015 and reached 77% in the last period. This increase can be attributed to air quality improvements in larger urban areas in Alberta and Quebec

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 2019,
    • 2% of boil water advisories were due to the detection of Escherichia coli (E. coli)
    • 11% were due to other microbiological water quality parameters
    • the remaining 87% were due to equipment and process-related problems
  • Between 2010 and 2019, the percentage of boil water advisories issued on a precautionary basis due to E. coli and other microbiological parameters decreased

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 2018, 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 98.3% of the time in 2018
  • 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 2018

Bisphenol A in water and sediment

Bisphenol A (BPA) is a synthetic substance used in epoxy resins and to make hard and clear plastics. It can enter the environment through municipal and industrial wastewaters, washing residues and leachate from landfills. BPA poses health and environmental concerns for humans as well as aquatic and terrestrial organisms as it can adversely affect reproduction, growth and development. These indicators assess BPA concentrations in surface water and sediment against the Federal Environmental Quality Guidelines.

Key results

From 2008 to 2018

  • one (1) out of the 1 931 surface water samples analyzed in 10 drainage regions presented a concentration above the guideline
  • the only sample showing a concentration above the guideline was collected in the Great Lakes drainage region

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 2019 was 1.0 degree Celsius (°C) above the 1961 to 1990 reference value
  • From 1948 to 2019, 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

Snow cover

Canada is a snowy country, which affects our climate, water flows and ecosystems. 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 like snow cover extent 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 2019, snow cover extent for April, May and June was, respectively, at its 9th lowest, 19th lowest and 2nd lowest since 1972

Carbon dioxide emissions from a consumption perspective

National carbon dioxide emissions inventory accounts for emissions released in the Canadian territory. The Carbon dioxide emissions from a consumption perspective indicators provide an alternative view of carbon dioxide emissions, where the emissions are tied to the consumption of goods and services in Canada, regardless of where they are produced.

A country can be considered a net exporter of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions when its production-based CO2 emissions  are higher than its consumption-based emissions. When the reverse is true, the country is a net importer of CO2 emissions. The worldwide sums of net exports and net imports of CO2 emissions are equal.

Key results
  • Between 2006 and 2014, Canada's consumption-based CO2 emissions were higher than its production-based emissions , making the country a net importer of CO2 emissions during that period
  • In 2015, Canada was a net exporter of CO2 with production-based CO2 emissions reaching 556 megatonnes, or 1.5% above its consumption-based emissions

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. Conserved areas play a vital role in conserving Canada's nature. They also provide opportunities for people to connect with nature. The indicators track the amount and proportion of area conserved in Canada.

Key results
  • At the end of 2019, Canada had
    • 12.1% of its terrestrial area (land and freshwater) conserved, including 11.4% in protected areas
    • 13.8% of its marine territory conserved, including 8.9% in protected areas

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 within 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 2018, 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

April 2020

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 2018 were 729 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (Mt CO2 eq)

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

Key results
  • In 2018, 295 megatonnes (Mt) of GHGs in carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2 eq) were emitted by 1 706 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

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 2016, global GHG emissions increased by 19.3%, from 38 679 to 46 141 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (Mt CO2 eq)
  • In 2016, the highest emitting country was China with 11 887 Mt CO2 eq, or 25.8% of global GHG emissions. Since 2005, emissions from China increased by 65.2%
  • Canada's emissions in 2016 reached 695 Mt CO2 eq, which made up 1.5% of global GHG emissions

February 2020

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 177 major stocks assessed in 2018:
    • 170 stocks (96%) were harvested at sustainable levels
    • 7 stocks (4%) were harvested above approved levels
  • From 2012 to 2018, 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 stocks with an uncertain status
  • Of the 177 major stocks assessed in 2018:
    • 58 stocks (33%) were in the Healthy zone
    • 27 stocks (15%) were in the Cautious zone
    • 19 stocks (11%) were in the Critical zone
    • 73 stocks (41%) could not be classified and have uncertain status

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

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.

February 2019

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