Sources of pollution: electricity

Canada’s electricity generation mix is already one of the cleanest in the world. Currently, 66% of our electricity is from renewable sources such as hydroelectricity, wind and solar. When nuclear is included, this means over 80% of our electricity comes from sources that are good for air quality and climate change.

Coal electricity

In 2022, about 35 percent of the world’s electricity came from burning coal, as well as 5.7% percent of Canada’s electricity. Coal is one of the most greenhouse gas-intensive energy sources in the world, producing approximately 20% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. It is also a significant contributor to climate change, and a major source of air pollution that harms the health of millions of people every year.

Currently, the provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia are making good progress in transitioning away from unabated coal-fired electricity by 2030.

Ontario completed its phase out of coal electricity in 2014 replacing it with cleaner sources of power. Alberta – once a major source of coal-fired electricity – is on track to complete their coal phase-out by the end of 2023, seven years ahead of schedule.

The pathway to clean electricity isn’t easy, but it’s a necessary step with Canada continuing to experience some of the worst impacts from climate change. The Government of Canada is supporting the provinces and territories through a variety of measures announced in the 2030 Emissions Reduction Plan and Budget 2023.

Impacts of fossil fuel-based electricity

Burning fossil fuels (such as coal and natural gas) and petroleum-based fuels (such as diesel and heavy fuels) has negative impacts on our environment and human health including:

  • producing a large part of Canada’s air pollution – including sulphur oxides, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter (soot) and mercury pollutants which contribute to the formation of acid rain and smog
  • creating the largest uncontrolled industrial source of mercury emissions in Canada
  • emitting large amounts of climate-warming greenhouse gases
  • harming water quality, biodiversity and species’ habitats

Coal-fired power plants are among the largest stationary sources of air pollution in Canada. These harmful air pollutants include sulphur dioxides, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, and mercury. These pollutants cause significant environmental impact, including acid rain, smog, and environmental damage.

Air pollutants from coal-fired electricity can adversely affect the health of Canadians, especially small children, the elderly, and those with heart and lung conditions, even at low concentrations.

Despite improvements in air quality over the past two decades, the burden of air pollution on the health of Canadians continues to be significant; many Canadians live in communities where outdoor levels of ground-level ozone exceed current air quality standards.

Benefits from clean electricity

Canada is investing in cleaner sources of electricity. While the transition away from coal and other fossil fuel-fired electricity will take time, it will provide many environmental, climate and human health benefits.  


Hydropower is a clean, renewable resource that has low operating costs once the infrastructure is in place. It accounts for approximately 60% of Canada’s total electricity. Almost all provinces and territories generate some electricity from hydro power plants, such as the Churchill Falls generating station in Newfoundland and Labrador. Installing this infrastructure requires careful consideration to minimize any impacts to the environment and communities located near hydro plants. We work with provinces and territories to provide expert advice during the environmental assessment process of these projects.

Other renewables

Renewable energy such as solar energy and wind energy produce approximately 5% of Canada’s electricity and continue to grow each year. Electricity generated from renewable energy does not create carbon pollution. Canada is currently developing other emerging renewable energy sources by investing in tidal energy systems that harness the power of the world’s highest tides in the Bay of Fundy (Nova Scotia and New Brunswick) and in Canada’s first geothermal power facility in Estevan, Saskatchewan.

Nuclear power

Electricity from nuclear power produces approximately 15% of Canada’s total electricity. Currently, Ontario and New Brunswick operate nuclear power plants. While it does not produce any greenhouse gas emissions, this type of power must be developed in an environmentally- responsible way to maximize safety and waste management. In addition, Canada is examining a new technology called small modular reactors to help remote communities and heavy industry transition away from fossil fuel-based electricity to reduce their emissions.

Reducing our emissions

The transition to clean electricity is a shared responsibility. Collaboration with provinces, territories, Indigenous partners, and industry is essential. These partners have critical roles to play in ensuring Canadians have reliable and affordable power for years to come.

To support the shift to cleaner electricity now, the Government of Canada is putting in place a comprehensive suite of measures announced in the Fall Economic Statement 2022 and Budget 2023. These measures, totalling over $40 billion over the next 10 years, would provide the electricity sector with the regulatory certainty and financial support it needs to transition to a net zero electricity sector by 2035.

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