Executive Summary
Environmental Indicators
Volatile Organic Compounds
Carbon Monoxide
Water Consumption
Municipal Sewage Treatment
Energy Consumption
Energy Efficiency
Hazardous Waste
at Risk
Road Vehicles
Official Development Assistance
This study compares Canada’s environmental record to the other industrialized nations in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and tracks Canada’s progress (or lack thereof) on environmental issues over the past two decades. Twenty-five environmental indicators in ten categories – air, water, energy, biodiversity, waste, climate change, ozone depletion, agriculture, transportation and miscellaneous – are examined.

The study provides accurate, independent information about Canada’s track record in protecting the environment. All of the statistical information comes from data verified and published by the OECD.

The results prove that Canada has one of the poorest environmental records of the industrialized countries. The primary finding is that for the twenty-five environmental indicators examined, Canada’s overall ranking among OECD nations is a dismal 28th out of 29.

Other major findings of the study are:

Canada is among the three best countries on zero indicators;
Canada is among the three worst countries on nine indicators (per capita greenhouse gas emissions, sulphur dioxide emissions, carbon monoxide emissions, volatile organic compound emissions, water consumption, energy consumption, energy efficiency, volume of timber logged and generation of nuclear waste);
Canada’s economy is inefficient, in that we use much more energy and generate much more pollution to produce a given amount of goods and services relative to our industrial competitors, including 33% more energy than the United States per unit of GDP; and
Canada’s performance on most environmental indicators continues to worsen, including: increasing water consumption, increasing energy consumption, increases in nuclear and hazardous waste, higher greenhouse gas emissions, higher numbers of endangered species, declining fish populations, higher commercial fertilizer use, more livestock, more timber logged, more motor vehicles, more kilometres traveled by road, higher population and lower official development assistance.

On the other hand, it is important to note that there are several positive findings provided by this study:

Canada’s performance is improving on ten indicators, including reduced air pollution (lower per capita emissions of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide and volatile organic compounds), improved sewage treatment, reduced municipal waste, increased recycling, improved energy efficiency, decreased production of ozone-depleting substances and an increase in parks and protected areas; and
The superior progress by other industrialized nations, particularly the northern European countries, demonstrates that there are practical, effective solutions to the environmental problems facing Canada.

Air Pollution
Canada has made progress in reducing air pollution. Emissions of sulphur dioxide, the main ingredient in acid rain, are down 15.3% since 1985. Emissions of nitrogen oxides, a component of both acid rain and smog, are down 1.6% since 1980.

Emissions of carbon monoxide and volatile organic compounds, two other air pollutants that harm human health and the environment, are also down.

However, Canada fares very poorly when our record on air pollution is compared with other industrialized nations. For sulphur dioxide and carbon monoxide emissions, Canada ranks 27th out of 28 OECD nations and 26th out of 27 respectively (meaning Canada has the second highest per capita emissions). For volatile organic compounds, Canada stands 25th out of 26 OECD countries. For nitrogen oxides, Canada ranks 25th out of 28 OECD nations. These facts indicate that despite making progress, Canada is one of the worst air polluters among industrialized nations.

Climate Change
Canada fares very poorly on this important indicator, ranking 27th out of 29 OECD nations in per capita greenhouse gas emissions. Only the United States and Luxembourg produce higher per capita levels of greenhouse gases. Canadians pump out 48% more greenhouse gas emissions per capita than the OECD average. To make matters worse, Canadian emissions are up approximately 13.5% since 1990, in violation of our international commitments to stabilize and reduce emissions, embodied in the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.

Canada’s record on water issues is mixed. Canadians rank a dismal 28th out of 29 OECD nations in water consumption per capita, with only Americans consuming more water. The amount of water consumed in Canada has increased by 25.7% since 1980, causing greater ecological stress on aquatic ecosystems and raising the costs of maintaining adequate water infrastructure.

On the other hand, Canada has made strides in improving municipal sewage treatment. Canada ranks ninth among the 28 OECD nations as seventy-eight percent of Canadians are served by public sewage treatment, up from 64% in 1980. However, there are still over 90 Canadian municipalities, including three provincial capitals (Victoria, Halifax and St. John’s) that dump their sewage raw and untreated into water bodies.

Canada’s record on energy issues is abysmal. In terms of energy use per capita, Canadians rank 27th out of 29 OECD nations, ahead of only Iceland and Luxembourg. In terms of total energy use, Canada stands 26th out of 29.

With respect to energy efficiency, meaning the amount of energy required to produce a fixed amount of GDP, Canada ranks 28th out of 29 OECD nations. Although Canada’s energy efficiency has increased by 21% since 1980, this gain was more than offset by our increasing population and economic growth so that total energy consumption continued to climb, rising 20.3% between 1980 and 1997.

Canadians produce an average of 490 kilograms of municipal waste per person annually, which puts Canada 18th out of 27 OECD nations. This is a 3.9% decrease in garbage per person between 1980 and 1997. Canadians recycle 33% of paper and cardboard and 17% of glass. These figures represent significant progress since 1980, but still place Canada 24th out of 25 OECD nations for glass recycling and 21st out of 28 countries for paper and cardboard.

Canada produces more nuclear waste every year, per capita, than any other OECD nation. In terms of total nuclear waste, only the United States produces more (although Canada is projected to surpass the U.S. by 2010). The annual volume of nuclear waste produced in Canada has grown by 76% since 1982. As well, Canadians are 24th out of 27 nations in per capita hazardous waste.

Ozone Depleting Substances
Canada has made major progress in reducing the production, consumption and release of ozone-depleting substances. Production of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), the most problematic ozone-depleting substance, has been completely eliminated in Canada since 1995.

However Canada still ranks 13th out of 16 OECD nations in terms of per capita consumption of ozone-depleting substances, largely because of a 76% increase in the production and use of HCFCs, an interim substitute for CFCs.

Canada has a poor record on environmental issues related to agriculture. Canada ranks 22nd out of 28 OECD nations on pesticide use, 25th out of 28 on commercial fertilizer use and 16th out of 28 in terms of livestock (cattle, pigs, sheep and goats). Pesticide use may be declining1 while commercial fertilizer use increased by 42% between 1980 and 1997. The number of livestock in Canada rose, with cattle up 8.5%, pigs up 17.4% and sheep up 30.8% between 1980 and 1998.

Among OECD nations, Canada ranks 7th out of 29 for the number of species at risk2, 20th out of 28 in volume of wild fish caught per capita, 27th out of 29 in volume of timber logged per capita and 13th out of 29 in percentage of land designated as parks, ecological reserves and other protected areas.

The number of endangered species on Canada’s national list increased from 178 species in 1988 to 364 in 2000. The volume of timber removed from Canadian forests increased 14.6% between 1980 and 1997. The volume of fish caught dropped 73% since 1990, reflecting the ecological disasters in the east coast cod and west coast salmon fisheries. On the other hand, major strides have been made in Canada in creating new protected areas. The percentage of land protected has increased 42% since 1983. A troubling caveat is that less than half of the area protected in Canada meets international standards for strict protection.

Canada is 25th out of 29 OECD nations in motor vehicles per capita and 26th out of 29 in road distance traveled. Both the number of motor vehicles in Canada and the road distance traveled have more than doubled since 1970.

Canada places 26th out of 29 OECD nations in population growth because of a 24.4% increase between 1980 and 1998. Only Turkey, Mexico and Australia experienced faster population growth. Seventeen OECD nations have smaller populations than Canada, placing Canada 18th out of 29 countries in terms of total population.

Despite Canada’s international reputation as a generous and compassionate country, Canada ranks only 11th out of 20 OECD nations in official development assistance, also known as foreign aid. This is an important environmental indicator because a significant proportion of foreign aid is intended to alleviate environmental problems in the developing world. Canada dedicated 0.29% of its GDP to official development assistance in 1998, down 33% since 1980.

The Eco-Research Chair of Environmental Law and Policy at the University of Victoria is currently undertaking a comprehensive assessment of Canadian environmental law and policy to determine the reasons behind Canada’s relatively poor environmental record. The Eco-Research Chair’s assessment will be published in 2002.


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