This page has been archived on the Web

Information identified as archived is provided for reference, research or recordkeeping purposes. It is not subject to the Government of Canada Web Standards and has not been altered or updated since it was archived. Please contact us to request a format other than those available.

Reducing air pollutant emissions

Target 2.1: Air pollutants – Reduce air pollutants in order to maintain or improve air quality across the country and achieve the emission targets which are currently under development in consultations with provinces and stakeholders.

In 2010, air pollutant emissions were 18% to 57% lower than emission levels in 1990. Only ammonia emissions increased; they were 10% higher than the 1990 emission levels.

A proportion of cardiopulmonary mortality risk is attributable to air pollutants. No upward or downward trends have been observed for the mortality risk due to fine particulate matter, while it has grown slightly for ground-level ozone.

Clean Air Regulatory Agenda

In 2012, federal, provincial and territorial governments agreed to take further action to protect the health of Canadians and the environment with measures to improve air quality in Canada, through a comprehensive new Air Quality Management System (AQMS). This system will introduce new ambient air quality standards, provide a framework for managing air quality and the transboundary flow of air pollutants through local air zones and regional airsheds, and will establish emissions requirements for major industrial sectors and equipment types.

A key element of the AQMS is the establishment of new Canadian Ambient Air Quality Standards (CAAQS) for targeted air pollutants, which will drive the management of source emissions to improve health and environmental benefits. Governments have agreed on new standards under the AQMS for fine particulate matter and ozone, the two main components of smog. Work has also begun on new standards for sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide, which are significant components of air pollution. The completion and delivery of the Canadian Smog Science Assessment provided the scientific foundation for the development of CAAQS for fine particulate matter and ground-level ozone.

The AQMS will also establish Base Level Industrial Emissions Requirements to reduce the emissions from 13 industrial sectors and 4 types of equipment. These requirements are intended to apply to all facilities across Canada to ensure that they achieve good base-level performance. Additional local actions to reduce the emissions from transportation and other sources will be undertaken by the provinces and territories as part of air zone management in order to achieve the CAAQS.

The Government has developed the Air Health Indicator (AHI) as a tool to monitor the impacts of outdoor air pollution exposure over time on the health of Canadians. The AHI also provides some of the input to inform the Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) and the Air Quality Benefits Assessment Tool. As of 2012, AQHI was available in all 10 provinces in 65 locations. Approximately 60% of Canadians now have access to the AQHI on a daily basis.

Multi-pollutant risk assessments were initiated for six industrial sectors (aluminium, pulp and paper, cement, coal-fired electricity, iron and steel, and base metal smelting). Data was collected on the type of pollutants being released from each sector, and computer models were used to estimate the levels to which people would be exposed at different distances and directions from the point of release. The government also completed a biodiesel health risk assessment, which was used to inform recent renewable fuel regulations.

Clean energy

The government supported strategic investments in the commercialization and adoption of clean energy technologies. These projects are helping the energy sector improve its air pollution emission performance by advancing clean electricity and cleaner energy production, increasing the production capacity and use of alternative fuels, and improving end-use energy efficiencies. For example, the Western Diversification Program provided funds to a power plant that will convert local renewable fuel sources to energy by means of a biomass gasification technology -- the first of its kind in North America. As well, the ecoENERGY suite of programs supports increased production of low-impact renewable energy and helps Canadians reduce their energy use in all major end-use sectors.

Canada has also furthered knowledge and communications in clean energy by researching demand for green jobs and skills, and participating in related international discussions.

Clean transportation

Canada introduced regulations aligned with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards to reduce air pollutant emissions from snowmobiles, personal watercraft, outboard motors and off-road motorcycles. For most products, the regulations took effect in the 2012 model year, but will be fully phased in by the 2015 model year. More stringent standards were implemented for off-road diesel engines, to be phased in between 2012 and 2025. The government is currently developing regulations to require an on-board diagnostic system for heavy-duty engines, to conform with U.S. standards. Vehicles and engines sold in Canada are subject to verification testing to assess compliance with air pollutant standards set out in regulations.

In 2010, the International Maritime Organization adopted the North American Emission Control Area (ECA), as proposed by Canada and the U.S. with the support of France, and which came into force on August 1, 2012. Large ships within the ECA are subject to more stringent air pollutant emission standards, and the ECA will reduce emissions of both nitrogen and sulphur oxides as well as fine particles from exhaust. To support the implementation of the ECA, new marine fuels standards were introduced in July 2012, as part of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 Sulphur in Diesel Fuel Regulations.

The government has implemented a Memorandum of Understanding with the rail sector, and is developing air pollutant emission regulations for locomotives.


Canada continues to cooperate with the U.S. to address transboundary air pollution through the Canada-U.S. Air Quality agreement (1991). The Agreement addresses the transboundary movement of air pollutants that cause acid rain and smog. Both countries are in full compliance with their respective commitments, and emissions of these pollutants have decreased dramatically on both sides of the border. After more than 20 years of cooperation, emissions that cause acid rain have been reduced by more than 50%, and emissions causing smog by 40%, in the geographic area covered under this agreement.

Under the newlyformed Regulatory Cooperation Council, Canada and the U.S. have agreed to consider the expansion of the Canada-U.S. Air Quality Agreement to address transboundary particulate matter. Canada and the U.S. will work towards the completion of the necessary scientific, technical and regulatory foundations required to inform consideration of a Particulate Matter Annex to the agreement.

Canada also worked with the U.S. and Mexico to build further support for the North American proposal to phase down hydrofluorocarbons under the Montreal Protocol, in line with its objective to pursue an aligned climate change approach.

In addition, Canada participated in revising the Gothenburg Protocol, under the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution. It addresses transboundary air pollution in Europe and North America. The revised protocol, adopted in 2012, covers key air pollutants that contribute to the formation of acid rain, ozone and smog. The protocol was revised to set new commitments for 2020 and beyond for Parties to reduce emissions of nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxide, ammonia (Europe only) and volatile organic compounds. It also adds commitments for particulate matter. The revised Protocol breaks new ground in air pollution and climate policy in that it is the first international treaty to include black carbon (a short-lived climate pollutant).

For additional information on the implementation strategies that support this target, please consult the following websites:

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, Canada Economic Development Agency for the Regions of Quebec, Environment Canada, Finance Canada, Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Health Canada, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, Industry Canada, National Research Council Canada, Natural Resources Canada, Transport Canada, and Western Economic Diversification Canada.

Progress towards Target 2.1: Air emissions of sulphur oxides, nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds, particulate matter, carbon monoxide and ammonia

Comparing Canada's percentage of emissions reduction between 1999 and 2009 levels with nine other industrialized countries (U.S., France, Germany, United Kingdom, Italy, Russia, Japan, Australia, Sweden), Canada ranked sixth for sulphur oxides (SOx) emissions (36% reduction), sixth for nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions (19% reduction), and fifth for volatile organic compounds emissions (21% reduction).

In 2010, air pollutant emissions were 18% to 57% lower than emission levels in 1990. Only ammonia (NH3) emissions increased; they were 10% higher than the 1990 emission levels. Long-term emission levels of key pollutants are shown in Figure 2.8.

For the most up-to-date information on this indicator, please visit CESI.

Figure 2.8: Air pollutant emissions, Canada, 1990 to 2010

Air pollutant emissions, Canada, 1990 to 2010

Long description

The indexed line chart shows the emissions from 1990 to 2010, as percent of 1990 emissions, for eight main air pollutants in Canada: sulphur oxides, nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds, ammonia, carbon monoxide, total particulate matter, respirable particulate matter and fine particulate matter. In 2010, the emission levels of most of these air pollutants were lower than in 1990. In 2010, air pollutant emissions were 18% to 57% lower than emission levels in 1990; only ammonia emissions were 10% higher than the 1990 emission levels.

Canada's agricultural sector is a significant source of ammonia. The increase in emissions between 1990 and 2010 may be a result of the intensification of the agricultural sector. Ammonia is a critical plant nutrient. Ammonia emissions result from the use of nitrogen fertilizers and from livestock production. However, it is encouraging to note that the 2010 ammonia emissions from agriculture declined by almost 16% from their peak in 2005.

Progress towards Target 2.1: Trends in air quality related health outcomes

The Air Health Indicator (AHI) provides a view of the public health impacts attributable to outdoor air pollution in Canada.

The AHI monitors the percentage of all cardiopulmonary mortalities (deaths from heart- and lung-related diseases) that can be attributed to exposure to two important outdoor air pollutants: ground-level ozone and fine particulate matter (PM2.5).

No upward or downward trends have been observed for the mortality risk due to PM2.5, while it has grown slightly for ground-level ozone, as shown in Figure 2.9.

For the most up-to-date information on this indicator, please visit CESI.

Figure 2.9: Cardiopulmonary mortality risk attributable to ground-level ozone
(1990 to 2008) and fine particulate matter exposure (2000 to 2008), Canada

Cardiopulmonary mortality risk attributable to ground-level ozone (1990 to 2008) and fine particulate matter exposure (2000 to 2008), Canada

Long description

This graph shows the percent of cardiopulmonary mortality risk attributable to ozone and fine particulate matter components of the Air Health Indicator. The ozone component of the Air Health Indicator model predicts that 5% of cardiopulmonary mortalities in 1990 were attributable to ozone exposure, increasing to 5.5% in 2008. The fine particulate matter component of the Air Health Indicator model predicts about 3% of cardiopulmonary mortalities was attributable to exposure to fine particulate matter. No trend can be observed in the fine particulate matter component of the Air Health Indicator between 2000 and 2008.


Date modified: