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
Changes in climate variables such as temperature, precipitation, and humidity affect a wide range of natural processes and human activities. For example, temperature change can 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 greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from human activities, as increasing GHG concentrations result in warming of the lower atmosphere. The indicators show the yearly and seasonal surface air temperature departures for the years 1948 to 2021.
- In Canada, the national average temperature for the year 2021 was 2.1 degrees Celsius (°C) above the 1961 to 1990 reference value, making it the 5th warmest year since 1948
- From 1948 to 2021, 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
Air pollution problems, such as smog and acid rain, result from the release of pollutants into the atmosphere. These pollutants can affect Canadians' health, the environment, buildings, structures and the economy. 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) and black carbon, a component of PM2.5, report emissions released through human activities.
- In 2020, emissions of 5 key air pollutants were lower than in 1990:
- SOX 78% lower
- NOX 36% lower
- VOCs 49% lower
- CO 59% lower
- PM2.5 15% lower
- Emissions of NH3 were 24% higher in 2020 than in 1990
Drinking water advisories are public health protection messages about real or potential health risks related to drinking water. These advisories are generally precautionary, meaning they are typically issued before drinking water quality problems occur. The advisories can take 3 forms: Do not consume, Do not use and Boil water. Boil water advisories are by far the most common, representing about 98% of the drinking water advisory data each year. Therefore, this analysis looks only at this type of advisory.
- In 2021,
- 2% of boil water advisories were due to the detection of Escherichia coli (E. coli)
- 8% were due to other microbiological parameters
- the remaining 90% were due to equipment and process-related problems
- Between 2010 and 2021, the percentage of boil water advisories issued on a precautionary basis due to E. coli and other microbiological parameters decreased, while the percentage of boil water advisories issued due to equipment and process-related problems increased
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 2020, 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 97.4% of the time in 2020
- 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 2020
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. 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. These indicators use GHG emissions modelling to show a pathway to achieving Canada's 2030 target.
- The 2030 Emissions Reduction Plan shows a pathway to achieving Canada's 2030 emissions reduction target of 40% to 45% below 2005 levels. It highlights the emissions reduction potential for all economic sectors to reduce emissions by 2030 and includes concrete action that the Government will take to reach the target.
- The most recent 2021 Reference Case scenario shows:
- projected emissions of 659 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (Mt CO2 eq) in 2030, or 11% below 2005 levels
- when including the removals contribution from the land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF) sector, emissions are projected to be 648 Mt CO2 eq in 2030, or 12% below 2005 levels
Wildlife and habitat indicators
Conserved areas safeguard biodiversity for present and future generations by reducing stresses from human activities. They also provide opportunities for people to connect with nature. Conserved areas include protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures. Protected areas include national/provincial/territorial parks, Indigenous protected areas, national wildlife areas, migratory bird sanctuaries and marine protected areas. Other effective area-based conservation measures (OECMs) are areas that do not meet the formal definition of protected area but are managed in a way that conserves biodiversity over the long term. Examples of OECMs can include: Indigenous territories, watersheds or resource management areas, and areas with restricted access, such as those used by the military. The indicators track the amount and proportion of area recognized as conserved in Canada.
- At the end of 2021, Canada had conserved
- 13.5% of its terrestrial area (land and freshwater), including 12.6% in protected areas
- 13.9% of its marine territory, including 9.1% in protected areas
- Terrestrial area conserved has increased by 75% in the last 20 years and by 19% in the last 5 years
- Marine area conserved has increased by more than 2 700% in the last 20 years and by almost 900% in the last 5 years. However, marine area conserved increased very little in 2020 and 2021
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. Depending on the region in Canada, changes to the amount of water flowing in rivers can be linked to changes in weather and climate along with other key drivers. These indicators provide information about water flows in rivers across Canada from 2001 to 2019 and by monitoring station in 2019. Longer-term trends provide an assessment of significant changes in flows, including very-high flows that can result in flooding, from 1970 to 2019.
- From 2001 to 2019,
- most rivers in Canada had normal water quantity
- there has been an increase in the number of monitoring stations with a higher-than-normal water quantity
- the percentage of stations with a lower-than-normal water quantity has declined since 2001
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.
- 273 megatonnes (Mt) of GHGs in carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2 eq) were emitted by 1 704 facilities reporting to the Government of Canada's GHG Reporting Program
- emissions from the reporting facilities accounted for 41% of Canada's total GHG 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.
- Canada's total GHG emissions in 2020 were 672 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (Mt CO2 eq), a 8.9% decrease from 738 Mt CO2 eq in 2019
- From 2005 to 2020, Canada's GHG emissions decreased by 9.3% (69 Mt CO2 eq)
- Between 1990 and 2020, Canada's GHG emissions increased by 13.1% (78 Mt CO2 eq)
Wildlife and habitat indicators
Harvest limits for wild fish and other marine animals are set to protect these stocks for the future. This indicator reports the number of key stocks that are harvested within these limits and those that are harvested above these limits. By 2027, Canada aims to have all key fish stocks harvested at or below an approved removal reference or other approved level.
- Of the 180 key stocks assessed in 2020:
- 177 stocks (98%) were harvested at or below a removal reference or an approved level
- 3 stocks (2%) were harvested above an approved level
- From 2012 to 2020, the percentage of stocks harvested above approved levels has been consistently low
Human use of the oceans, including fishing, and environmental conditions 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 status and adjust management measures (such as harvest rates and limits). This indicator reports on the status (Healthy, Cautious, Critical or Uncertain) of key Canadian fish stocks as found in the Sustainability Survey for Fisheries.
- Many of the new stocks added in recent years have an uncertain status
- Of the 180 key fish stocks assessed in 2020:
- 56 stocks (31%) were in the Healthy zone
- 23 stocks (13%) were in the Cautious zone
- 23 stocks (13%) were in the Critical zone
- 78 stocks (43%) could not be classified and have an uncertain status
Snow cover is an important factor in Canada’s climate, water flows and ecosystems. Snow cover varies with temperature, precipitation and climate cycles (e.g. El Niño), which influence long term trends. Information on snow cover extent and snow cover duration is important for assessing long-term changes in climate in Canada.
- Since the early 1970s, snow cover extent has decreased significantly in Canada during the months of May and June
- Each year, snow cover duration departures are regionally variable across Canada. For the 2021 snow year:
- The number of days with snow were above average in northern parts of Manitoba and Saskatchewan, and along the Pacific coast
- Below-average snow cover durations were observed in a substantial part of the Maritimes, southern Manitoba, central Alberta and Nunavut's north-eastern coastline experienced
Wildlife and habitat indicators
Aquaculture operators' compliance with environmental standards helps to protect our aquatic environment. The indicator reports the rate of compliance of 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.
- From 2011 to 2020, over 97% of aquaculture operations inspected did not result in charges
- Of the 201 aquaculture operations inspected in 2020, 100% of inspections did not result in charges
Wildlife and habitat indicators
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 the recovery or management objectives.
Of the 141 species at risk for which trends could be determined:
- 58 species (41%) show progress towards their population and distribution objectives
- 16 species (11%) show mixed evidence, meaning that some information suggests improving trends, but there is also some evidence of decline
- 67 species (48%) do not show progress
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.
Of the 514 wildlife species at risk that have been reassessed since 1982, and for which sufficient data are available to determine if there has been a change in status:
- 89 wildlife species (17%) are now in a higher risk category
- 96 wildlife species (19%) are now in a lower risk category
- 329 wildlife species (64%) show no change in status
Socio-economic indicators and the environment
Diverting waste by recycling and composting can help reduce the impact of solid waste on the environment. Currently, most garbage collected for disposal ends up in landfills and a small amount is incinerated. This can lead to air emissions, land disturbance and water pollution. The extraction and processing of new resources needed to replace those discarded as waste leads to more pollution. The indicators track the amount of solid waste diverted and disposed of in Canada.
- From 2002 to 2018,
- the total amount of solid waste generated in Canada increased by 4.8 million tonnes (or 16%) to reach 35.6 million tonnes
- the amount of waste diverted increased by 3.2 million tonnes (or 48%) to reach 9.8 million tonnes
- the amount of waste disposed in landfills or incinerated increased by 1.7 million tonnes (or 7%) to reach 25.7 million tonnes
- In 2018, 28% of solid waste generated in Canada was diverted, while the remaining 72% was sent for disposal
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. Air pollution can affect human health, the environment, buildings, structures and the economy. 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).
- In 2019, Canada's emissions of sulphur oxides (SOX), nitrogen oxides (NOX), volatile organic compounds (VOC) and carbon monoxide (CO) ranged from 50% to 15% lower than in 2009. In the meantime, emissions of particule matter (PM2.5) increased by 21%
- In 2019, for the 5 key air pollutants, Canada ranked between second and fourth highest emitter among OECD countries
The Government of Canada actively monitors ships in Canadian waters to help prevent pollution in our oceans and coasts as significant marine pollution spills (more specifically, hydrocarbon-based spills) can have long-term negative environmental and economic consequences. This indicator reports the volume of marine pollution spills detected by aerial surveillance.
- From 2010 to 2020, the total volume of marine pollution spills detected each year varied between 1 014 litres and 9 296 litres
- In 2021, a record high of 17 651 litres of marine pollution spills were detected, 95% of which was observed in coastal areas
- The volume of marine pollution spills was typically greater in coastal areas than in offshore areas
- Since 2010, the volume of marine pollution spills from suspected sources was typically lower than from unknown sources, representing 39% of the total volume of marine pollution spills detected
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.
- In 2020, total estimated phosphorus loading to Lake Erie was 9 336 tonnes, with 20% (1 849 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
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 the emissions of these substances from human-related activities.
- Mercury, lead and cadmium emissions decreased by 92%, 89% and 95%, respectively, between 1990 and 2019
- The decrease in emissions came mostly from large reductions in the non-ferrous refining and smelting industry
Phosphorus is an essential plant nutrient. When phosphorus levels are too high, they can have harmful impacts on a lake's food web as observed in Lake Winnipeg. Reducing the amount of phosphorus that enters Lake Winnipeg helps to improve the health of the lake. The 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.
- Projects funded by Environment and Climate Change Canada and completed between 2010 and 2021 have prevented an estimated 270 215 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 reaching Lake Winnipeg in 2016
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, among households with a lawn or garden only.
- Between 1994 and 2019 there has been an overall decrease in the percentage of households in Canada using chemical pesticides and fertilizers on their lawns and gardens
- Nonetheless, since 2013, the percentage of households using pesticides has remained stable at 19% and increased slightly to 20% in 2019
- Further, despite the decrease in the percentage of households using chemical fertilizers from 1994 to 2011, their use has increased since 2011 to reach 28% in 2019
The effects of untreated mining effluent could be highly damaging to aquatic environments. The Metal and Diamond 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 in 2002. In 2018 the regulations were amended to include diamond mines, to strengthen effluent limits and to improve the monitoring of environmental effects.
Between 2003 and 2019, for reported results,
- fish toxicity test results varied between 91.7% and 99.6% compliance with regulatory limits
- the percentage of mining operations meeting regulatory standards for total suspended solids increased from 92.1% to 96.7%
- test results for all other deleterious substances and pH levels ranged from 97.7% to 100% compliance
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.
- Facility-based releases of mercury, lead and cadmium to water were 72%, 60% and 41% lower in 2019 than in 2003, respectively
- In 2014, a significant spill accounted for 92%, 92% and 59% of total releases of mercury, lead and cadmium, respectively
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.
- 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
Wildlife and habitat indicators
According to the Canada National Parks Act, “ecological integrity” is
with respect to a park, a condition that is determined to be characteristic of its natural region and likely to persist, including abiotic components and the composition and abundance of native species and biological communities, rates of change and supporting processes.
In other words, ecosystems have integrity when their native components, such as native species and biological communities, natural landscapes and functions, are intact and are likely to persist. 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.
- Of the 119 ecosystems in 43 national parks that were assessed in 2020:
- 58% are in good condition
- 24% are in fair condition
- 18% are in poor condition
- Most park ecosystems are stable (68%), while 14% are improving, and 18% are declining
- Overall, the ecological integrity of 82% of park ecosystems were maintained or improved
Changes in land use transform the landscape and can contribute to the loss of natural land. This can affect the environment and result in population declines in wildlife species. Loss of natural areas such as forests or wetlands can disrupt the ecosystem services that support human wellbeing, resulting in a decline in air and water quality, an increase in air and water temperatures and an increased risk of flooding. As cities grow outward, urban expansion often encroaches on surrounding areas, including agricultural land, forests and other natural areas. When cropland is lost to urban growth, there can be additional pressure to convert natural areas to cropland to increase agricultural capacity. By tracking changes between forests, cropland and settlement land uses, it is possible to measure how human activities are changing these landscapes.
Looking at land-use changes between cropland, forest and settlement south of 60° North (the southern territorial border of Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut) from 2010 to 2015:
- 3 473 km2 of land-use change was observed, representing well under 1% of the overall area
- Of the land-use change observed, a large proportion (65% or 2 258 km2) was the conversion of forest to cropland
- About 1 215 km2 of cropland and forest were converted to settlement
About 40% of Canada's land area is covered in forests. Timber harvest is an important part of the Canadian economy. Sustainable forest management supports ecosystems and maintains the health and diversity of forests. After a forest is harvested, regeneration is required, either through natural or artificial means. In 2019, more than 570 million tree seedlings were planted. To ensure that forests can continue to provide timber, the harvests must remain within sustainable limits. The maximum sustainable harvest is known as the sustainable wood supply. The indicator compares the amount of timber harvested with the sustainable wood supply.
- Between 1990 and 2019, timber harvest in Canada ranged from 48% to 84% of the estimated sustainable wood supply
- Canada's wood supply has remained relatively stable between 1990 and 2009, decreasing slightly since then
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.
- For the 2017 to 2019 period, water quality in rivers in Canada was rated fair to excellent at 82% 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
Wildlife and habitat indicators
To help safeguard biodiversity and ecosystem services, nations are increasing the area they conserve. Conserved areas include protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures. This indicator provides a global overview of terrestrial and marine conserved areas.
- As of May 2021, globally
- 16.6% of terrestrial area, including freshwater, was conserved, including 15.7% in protected areas
- 7.7% of marine area, including international waters, was conserved, almost all in protected areas
- Governments across the globe committed to conserving 17% of terrestrial and 10% of marine areas by 2020
Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are the major drivers of climate change. Land use activities (such as timber harvesting and land conversion) as well as natural disturbances (such as forest fires and insect infestations) result in GHG emissions. Land use activities can also result in GHG removals. For example, as forests recover, carbon is removed from the atmosphere and 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 GHG emissions and removals from managed lands.
- Between 1990 and 2019, estimates of land-based GHG emissions and removals ranged from net removals of 96 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (Mt CO2 eq) in 1992 to net emissions of about 259 Mt CO2 eq in 2015
- In 2019,
- natural disturbances (such as wildfires and severe insect infestations) accounted for emissions of about 157 Mt CO2 eq
- human activities (such as timber harvesting and agricultural activities) accounted for emissions of 9.9 Mt CO2 eq
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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