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 or Twitter #CdnEnv #Sustainability #Indicators

August 2017

Air indicators

Criteria air contaminants

Air pollutant emissions

Air pollution problems, such as smog and acid rain, result from the release of pollutants into the atmosphere. The indicators report anthropogenic emissions of 6 key air pollutants: sulphur oxides (SOX), nitrogen oxides (NOX), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), carbon monoxide (CO), ammonia (NH3) and fine particulate matter (PM2.5).

Key results
  • In 2015, emissions of 5 key air pollutants (SOX, NOX, VOCs, CO and PM2.5) were 66% to 18% lower than in 1990
  • Emission levels of NH3 were 22% higher than in 1990

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International comparison of air pollutant emissions

Canada's emissions of 5 key air pollutants, sulphur oxides (SOX), nitrogen oxides (NOX), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), carbon monoxide (CO) and fine particulate matter (PM2.5) are compared with those of member countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD),with a focus on the top 10 emitting countries.

Key results
  • In 2014, Canada ranked fourth highest in SOX emissions, third highest in NOX emissions and second highest for emissions of CO, VOCs and PM2.5 among OECD member countries.

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Water indicators

Water quality

Water quality in Canadian rivers

River plants and animals rely on clean water to maintain healthy populations. The health of rivers depends on how people develop and use the surrounding land. These indicators provide a national and regional overview of water quality in Canada.

Key results
  • Water quality in rivers in southern Canada is most often classified as fair to good. This classification means it can maintain healthy river ecosystems.
  • Water quality tends to be worse where there are cities, agriculture, mining, or a combination of all three (mixed pressures).
  • Water quality has not changed between 2002 and 2015 at a majority of sites across southern Canada. Where it has changed, it has improved more often than it has gotten worse.

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Wildlife and habitat indicators


Canada's protected areas

Protected areas are lands and waters where human activities are banned or limited for the purpose of conserving nature. These indicators offer a national view as well as a breakdown by jurisdiction and by ecological region of terrestrial and marine protected areas.

Key results
  • As of the end of 2016, 10.5% of Canada's terrestrial area (land and freshwater), and 0.96% of its marine territory are protected.
  • The proportion of terrestrial area protected varies by province and territory, ranging from 3.2% in Prince Edward Island to 15.3% in British Columbia.
  • Three ecozones, the Tundra Cordillera, the Pacific Maritime and the Arctic Cordillera have more than 20% of their area protected.
  • The Northern Shelf, in the Pacific Ocean, is the marine ecozone with the largest proportion protected (7%)
  • In the past 20 years, the total area protected has increased by almost 70%. Over the last five years, it has increased by 8%.

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Global trends in protected areas

To contribute to preserving biodiversity and ecosystem services, nations continue to improve their network of protected areas. Based on an international data source, this indicator reports on the terrestrial and marine area protected globally and in 10 selected countries.

Key results
  • In 2016, at the global level, 14.8% of land, including fresh water, and 5.1% of marine areas, including international waters, were protected.
  • While Canada protects a large area, its proportion of terrestrial area and marine waters protected was lower than average.

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May 2017

Climate indicators

Greenhouse gases

Global greenhouse gas emissions

This indicator highlights greenhouse gas emissions caused by human activity around the world. 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.

Key results

Between 2005 and 2013, global greenhouse gas emissions increased by 18.3%. Over the same period, Canada's emission made up less than 2% of global emissions.

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Water indicators

Regional ecosystems

Phosphorus levels in the offshore waters of the Great Lakes

This indicator reports total phosphorus levels in the offshore waters of the 4 Canadian Great Lakes. While phosphorus is an essential plant nutrient, concentrations that are too high or too low can have harmful impacts on a lake's food web.

Key results

Phosphorus levels are too high in the offshore waters of Lake Erie and are too low in Lake Ontario, Lake Huron and Georgian Bay. Offshore phosphorus levels in Lake Superior are at the level they should be and not changing.

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April 2017

Greenhouse gases

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Greenhouse gases (GHGs) trap heat in the Earth's atmosphere – a process known as "the greenhouse effect." Increasing GHG emissions from human activity are linked to changes in the earth's climate which are having an impact on ecosystems, human health and the economy. The indicators report trends in GHG emissions nationally, per person and per unit gross domestic product, by province and territory, by economic sector and from large facilities.

Key results

Canada's total GHG emissions in 2015 were 722 megatonnes (Mt) of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2 eq), or 18% (111 Mt CO2 eq) above the 1990 emissions of 611 Mt CO2 eq. Emissions growth between 1990 and 2015 was driven primarily by increased emissions from mining and upstream oil and gas production as well as transport.

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March 2017

Biological resources

Sustainable Fish Harvest

The Sustainable Fish Harvest indicator measures compliance with harvest limits as a measure of pressures on wild stocks. Harvest limits for wild fish and other marine animals protect these stocks for the future.

Key results

Of the 159 major stocks assessed in 2015:

  • 152 stocks (96%) were harvested at levels considered to be sustainable; and
  • 7 stocks (4%) were harvested above approved levels.

The proportion of fish stocks harvested at sustainable levels has improved since 2011, when 10% of stocks were overharvested. From 2012 to 2015, the proportion of overharvested stocks has remained below 5%.

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Status of Major Fish Stocks

Assessing the state of fish stocks is essential for conservation and to maintain prosperous commercial fisheries. Fisheries and Oceans Canada uses a variety of scientific methods to assess fish stock levels, and assigns one of three stock classifications (Healthy, Cautious or Critical). The status of different groups varies due to differences in population productivity, historical exploitation and resilience, among other factors.

Key results

Of 159 major fish stocks assessed in 2015:

  • 78 stocks (49%) were classified as Healthy;
  • 31 stocks (19%) were classified as Cautious;
  • 19 stocks (12%) were classified as Critical; and
  • The classification for 31 stocks (19%) was uncertain.

Read more…

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 2017

December 2016

November 2016

September 2016

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