Drivers and Impacts of Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Most greenhouse gases (GHGs) can be emitted by both natural processes and human activities. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), human-driven releases of GHG emissions disrupt the natural processes occurring in the atmosphere and are extremely likely to be the dominant cause of the observed warming that has occurred since the mid-20th century. Globally, almost 80% of GHG emissions from human sources come from the burning of fossil fuels and industrial processes. Specific activities include the following: driving vehicles, electricity production, heating and cooling of buildings, operation of appliances and equipment, production and transportation of goods, and provision of services and transportation for communities. In 2014, about 26% of Canada's total GHG emissions came from the oil and gas sector, 23% from transportation, 11% from electricity generation and 12% from buildings.
Global GHG emissions grew by approximately 47% between 1990 and 2012,Footnote  with the bulk of the growth occurring in developing countries. During this period, Canada's share of total global GHG emissions remained at less than 2%.
Key drivers of greenhouse gas emissions
A wide variety of factors have an influence on the level of GHG emissions in Canada. These include Canada's physical geography, demographic changes in its population and economic growth.
Canada has a highly variable climate. This contributes to relatively higher energy use for space heating and cooling in buildings, compared with other industrialized countries. While vast, Canada is also sparsely populated, which leads to longer travel times and higher demand for transportation than in smaller and/or more densely populated countries. In addition, Canada has seen faster than average population and economic growth relative to other developed countries between 2000 and 2012, as well as high international demand for its natural resources, including oil and gas.
Despite these challenges, over the past two decades, Canada has seen a "decoupling" between growth of the economy and GHG emissions as technological improvements and regulations have been adopted and implemented in various economic sectors, particularly for electricity generation.
Other important factors influencing GHG emissions include the adoption of more efficient practices and equipment by consumers and industry as their knowledge about their choices and the impacts of those choices on the environment is improving. Examples include how people commute to work, where businesses decide to locate their manufacturing facilities and the decisions made to increase the efficiency of industrial processes or to manufacture more energy-efficient products.
Key impacts of greenhouse gas emissions
The release of GHGs and their increasing concentration in the atmosphere are already having an impact on the environment, human health and the economy. These impacts are expected to become more severe, unless concerted efforts to reduce emissions are undertaken.
- Overall average annual temperatures are expected to increase.
- Snow, sea ice and glacier coverage will decrease due to higher temperatures, resulting in rising sea levels and increased coastal flooding. Rising temperatures will also thaw permafrost in the Arctic.
- Overall precipitation levels are expected to increase across most of the country and during all seasons, except for parts of southern Canada where there are indications of an expected decrease in summer and fall precipitation.
- The increase in precipitation is expected to be combined with more frequent heavy precipitation events, resulting in higher risks of flooding.
- Heat waves are likely to increase in frequency and severity, resulting in higher risks of forest fires.
- Many wildlife species will have difficulty adapting to a warmer climate and will likely be subject to greater stress from diseases and invasive species.
Human health impacts
- Higher temperatures and more frequent and severe extreme weather events may increase the risk of deaths from dehydration and heat stroke, and of injuries from intense local weather changes.
- There may be a greater risk of respiratory and cardiovascular problems and certain types of cancers, as temperatures rise and exacerbate air pollution.
- The risk of water-, food-, vector- and rodent-borne diseases may increase.
- People living in Canada's northern communities, and vulnerable populations such as children and the elderly, are expected to be the most affected by the changes.
- Agriculture, forestry, tourism and recreation may be affected by changing weather patterns.
- Human health impacts are expected to place additional economic stress on health and social support systems.
- Damage to infrastructure (e.g., roads and bridges) caused by extreme weather events, thawing permafrost and rising sea levels is expected to increase, impacting local populations and resource development.
Ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions
Addressing climate change requires action from everyone across all nations. Governments, businesses and individuals need to take significant steps to reduce emissions by using resources more efficiently and adopting new and cleaner technologies.
We can reduce our GHG emissions at home, at work and in our everyday activities. We can make a difference by changing our behaviour and making lifestyle decisions that reduce emissions.
For more information on how individual Canadians can help to reduce GHG emissions, consult the Top 10 Things You Can Do to Help on Canada's Action on Climate Change website.
To learn more about the Government of Canada's actions to address climate change, visit Canada's Action on Climate Change website.
To learn more about the expected impact of GHG regulations developed by the government of Canada, consult the Regulatory Impact Analysis StatementFootnote  (also known as a RIAS) which accompanies each regulation. The RIAS outlines the reasons behind the development of a particular regulation, its objectives and its expected costs and benefits. The RIAS also includes details about consultations that were conducted and about how the government intends to track the performance of the regulation.
- Environment and Climate Change Canada (2015) Climate Trends and Variations Bulletin – Annual 2014.
- Environment and Climate Change Canada (2016) National Inventory Report 1990–2014: Greenhouse Gas Sources and Sinks in Canada.
- Health Canada (2008) Human Health in a Changing Climate: A Canadian Assessment of Vulnerabilities and Adaptive Capacity.
- Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2014) Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation & Vulnerability.
- International Energy Agency (2015) CO2 Emissions From Fuel Combustion Highlights 2015.
- Natural Resources Canada (2008) From Impacts to Adaptation: Canada in a Changing Climate 2007.
- Natural Resources Canada (2014) Canada in a Changing Climate: Sector Perspectives on Impacts and Adaptation.
- Greenhouse Gas Emissions
- Greenhouse Gas Emissions per Person and per Unit Gross Domestic Product
- Greenhouse Gas Emissions by Economic Sector
- Greenhouse Gas Emissions by Province and Territory
- Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Large Facilities
- Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions
- Canada's Action on Climate Change
- Environment and Climate Change Canada – Climate Change
- Environment and Climate Change Canada – Greenhouse Gas Emission Regulations
- Health Canada – Climate Change and Health
- Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
- Natural Resources Canada – Climate Change Impacts and Adaptations
- United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
- Date modified: