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This page lists the indicators released by the Canadian Environmental Sustainability Indicators program.
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December 2016

Air quality

Air Quality

Air quality can deteriorate due to the presence of air pollutants. These pollutants can have adverse health and environmental effects, and contribute to the formation of smog and acid deposition. The indicators track concentrations of five pollutants in the air in Canada: fine particulate matter (PM2.5), ozone (O3), sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

Key results

Compared to the previous year reported, national concentrations of peak ground-level O3, SO2, NO2 and VOCs in the air were lower. In the last 15 years, a decreasing trend of 0.82 parts per billion (ppb) per year was observed for the peak O3, 0.13 ppb per year for SO2 and 0.5 ppb per year for NO2 and 3.7 ppb carbon per year for VOC. No trend was detected for PM2.5 and annual average O3 concentration but the concentrations of both pollutants were below the 2015 Canadian Ambient Air Quality Standards (CAAQS).

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International Comparison of Urban Air Quality

Concentrations of four air pollutants in major Canadian urban areas are compared with those of select urban areas in the United States, Europe, Australia and China. The indicators are intended to provide information about the progress made towards improving air quality and to see how Canadian cities fare compared to others internationally.

Key results

Concentrations of ground-level ozone (O3), fine particulate matter (PM2.5), sulphur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) in the air in Canada's major urban areas were comparable to those of other international urban areas. For PM2.5 and NO2, for which international guidelines are available from the World Health Organization, concentrations of those pollutants in Canada's urban areas were below the guidelines.

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Biodiversity

Changes in Wildlife Species Disappearance Risks

Identifying wildlife species at risk is the first step towards protecting these species. The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada assesses wildlife species that are suspected of being at risk of extinction or extirpation. The indicator measures conservation effectiveness by tracking changes in the level of risk for species assessed by the Committee.

Key results

There are 447 wildlife species that have been assessed more than once by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. Of these, 16% are in a lower risk category, 19% are in a higher risk category and 65% show no change in status between the two most recent assessments.

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Species at Risk Population Trends

A recovery strategy or management plan must be prepared for species listed as Endangered, Threatened, Extirpated or of Special Concern under the Species at Risk Act. The indicator measures if population trends in species at risk are consistent with recovery goals from recovery strategies or management plans.

Key results

As of May 2016, 123 species at risk have been reassessed and have population-oriented objectives, with 43 (35%) of those species have current population trends that are consistent with objectives laid out in their recovery documents. Forty-six species (37%) show trends that are inconsistent with objectives, and 11 (9%) have both some indication of improvement and some indication of decline. For a remaining 23 species (19%), data are not sufficient to determine trends.

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Climate change

Sea Ice in Canada

Sea ice is a critical component of our planet because it influences the Arctic and global climate, ecosystems and people who live in polar regions. Human-induced warming from greenhouse gas emissions and climate variability has resulted in an unprecedented loss of Arctic sea ice within the last 50 years in comparison to the last 1450 years. These indicators measure changes in the sea ice area in Northern Canadian Waters during the summer season from 1968 to 2015.

Key results

Between 1968 and 2015, the area covered by sea ice in the Northern Canadian Waters has been decreasing at a rate of 6.8% per decade. In the Canadian Arctic domain, the multi-year sea ice (ice that remains present all-year round) has been decreasing at a rate of 6.9% per decade while total sea ice has declined by 6.1% per decade.

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November 2016

Water quality

Perfluorooctane Sulfonate (PFOS) in Fish and Water

The Perfluorooctane Sulfonate (PFOS) in Fish and Water indicators identify the drainage regions where concentrations of PFOS in fish and water have exceeded the Federal Environmental Quality Guidelines. Perfluorooctane sulfonate and its precursors were used primarily as water, oil, soil and grease repellents for paper and packaging, and carpets and fabrics, as well as in aqueous film-forming foam for fighting fuel fires.

Key results

Between 2011 and 2014, Environment and Climate Change Canada collected fish from 11 drainage regions and analyzed PFOS concentrations in their tissue. The analysis found that the concentration of PFOS was below the guidelines for fish health in all fish from all sampled drainage regions. Water was collected from eight drainage regions and samples were analyzed for PFOS concentrations. The analysis found that all water samples had PFOS concentrations at least 50-fold lower than the guideline for water between 2011 and March 2016. 

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Regional ecosystems

Reducing Phosphorus Loads to Lake Winnipeg

The Reducing Phosphorus Loads to Lake Winnipeg indicator was created to measure the contribution that the Lake Winnipeg Basin Stewardship Fund projects were making toward reducing the amount of phosphorus reaching Lake Winnipeg from their watersheds. 

Key results

As of March 2016, stewardship projects supported by the Lake Winnipeg Basin Stewardship Fund were preventing an estimated 22 200 kilograms of phosphorus per year from entering Lake Winnipeg and its tributary rivers. In addition, the bio-remediation of a decommissioned municipal wastewater lagoon in 2015 prevented 21 300 kilograms of phosphorus from ever reaching Lake Winnipeg.

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Performance and results

Managing Metal Mining Effluent Quality in Canada

The Managing Metal Mining Effluent Quality in Canada indicator presents the percentage of reported monthly average monitoring results for deleterious substances, pH levels and acute lethality tests that did not exceed authorized limits from 2003 to 2014. The indicator helps Environment and Climate Change Canada evaluate the effectiveness of pollution prevention and control technologies, practices and programs within the metal mining sector.  

Key results

Overall, in 2014, the metal mining sector achieved over 99% compliance with the authorized limits for metals, cyanide and pH, and over 97% for total suspended solids as set out in the Metal Mining Effluent Regulations. These results have been mostly stable since 2003.

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Managing Pulp and Paper Effluent Quality in Canada

The Managing Pulp and Paper Effluent Quality in Canada indicator reports the percentage of acute lethality, biochemical oxygen demand and total suspended solid tests that met their regulatory limits from 1985 to 2014. The indicator provides information about whether Canada's Pulp and Paper Effluent Regulations are able to sustainably manage the impact of Canada's pulp and paper industry on the environment.  

Key results

In 2014, 97.5%, 99.9% and 99.8% of effluent samples met regulatory requirements for toxicity tests on fish, biochemical oxygen demand, and total suspended solids, respectively.

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Reducing Phosphorus Loads to Lake Simcoe and South-eastern Georgian Bay

The Reducing Phosphorus Loads to Lake Simcoe and South-eastern Georgian Bay indicator was created to measure the contribution that the Lake Simcoe / South-eastern Georgian Bay Clean-Up Fund projects were making toward reducing the amount of phosphorus reaching Lake Simcoe and South-eastern Georgian Bay from their watersheds.  

Key results

As of March 2016, stewardship projects supported by the Lake Simcoe and South-eastern Georgian Bay Clean-Up Fund since 2008 were preventing an estimated 5365 kilograms of phosphorus per year from reaching Lake Simcoe and its tributary rivers. Similarly, stewardship projects were preventing an estimated 658 kilograms of phosphorus per year from reaching South-eastern Georgian Bay and its tributary rivers. 

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Restoring the Great Lakes Areas of Concern

An Area of Concern is a region that has experienced environmental degradation. The Restoring the Great Lakes Areas of Concern indicator assesses progress towards the restoration of the 17 Canadian Areas of Concern (AOCs) by reporting the number of beneficial uses listed as Impaired or Requires further assessment. All Canadian AOCs, except for one, have a Remedial Action Plan to guide restoration and protection efforts targeting specific beneficial uses.

Key results

Environmental quality in Canada's 17 Great Lakes Areas of Concern has improved since the restoration program began in 1987. To date, considerable progress has been made toward with the restoration of the Areas of Concern with 61 impaired beneficial uses having been restored to Not impaired status since 1987, an increase of eight since 2014.

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September 2016

Regional ecosystems

Nutrients in the St. Lawrence River

Phosphorus and nitrogen are essential plant nutrients, but when concentrations in the environment are too high, or too low, they can cause harmful impacts on food webs in the St. Lawrence River. The Nutrients in the St. Lawrence River indicator reports on the status of total phosphorus and total nitrogen concentrations along the St. Lawrence River. It provides information about how human activity contributes to phosphorus and nitrogen concentrations in the river.

Key results

Nutrients in the St. Lawrence River were above water quality guidelines more than 50% of the time during the 2012–2014 period. Higher phosphorus and nitrogen levels were found at stations next to agricultural areas along the south shore of the river between Richelieu and Bécancour.

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Performance and results

Weather Warning Index

Environment and Climate Change Canada issues weather warning alerts when severe weather threatens so that those in affected areas can take steps to protect themselves and their property from harm. A weather warning is an urgent message that severe weather is either occurring or will occur. The index was created to track the performance of Environment and Climate Change Canada's severe weather warning system in providing Canadians with warnings in sufficient lead time.

Key results

The overall score of the index increased from 7.6 to 8.3 between 2009–2011 and 2013–2015. This suggests that the system improved in providing Canadians with severe weather warnings in sufficient lead time. With the exception of marine gale, the scores of each individual warning type (wind, freezing rain, rain, snow and severe thunderstorm) also increased during this period.

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August 2016

Harmful Substances

Releases of Harmful Substances to the Environment: Mercury, Lead, Cadmium

Mercury, lead, cadmium compounds are listed as toxic substances under Schedule 1 of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999, and are known to have harmful effects on human health, wildlife and biological diversity. The indicator tracks releases of these three substances and their compounds to air and water. Where available, the information is provided nationally, by source, by province and territory and by facility.

Key results

In 2014, mercury, lead and cadmium emissions to air have been reduced to about 10% of their 1990 levels. While the releases to water were decreasing from 1990 to 2013, a dramatic increase is observed in 2014 due to a breach in a dam securing a tailings pond at a mine in British Columbia.

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Pressures on water quality

Risk to Soil and Water Quality from Agriculture

Since the end of World War II, market demand and new technologies have changed Canadian farming. There is also an increased awareness among producers and the public of the pressures agricultural production places on the environment. The indicator is comprised of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada's Soil and Water Quality Agri-Environmental Performance Indices which aggregate multiple indicators related to soil and water quality. The underlying indicators are derived from models that integrate data for soil, climate and landscape with data about crops, land use and land management.

Key results

Between 1981 and 2011, the Soil Quality Agri-Environmental Performance Index results for Canada's farming regions are good and getting better. While still rated as good, the Water Quality Agri-Environmental Performance Index has fallen below the desired level. 

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Habitat

Wildlife Habitat Capacity on Agricultural Land

Canada's agricultural landscape support many species of birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians. As land managers, agricultural producers play a significant role in sustaining biodiversity. The indicator maps the relative value of farmland for wildlife. In particular, different types of vegetation and land cover are assessed based on two factors: the number of species that can use that habitat type for breeding or feeding weighted by a score related to the importance of the habitat type for each species.  

Key results

About 7% of Canada's terrestrial area is used for agriculture. Wildlife habitat capacity, the ability of the landscape to support wildlife breeding and feeding, is lower in larger agricultural regions like the Prairies and St. Lawrence and higher at the edges of these regions and near the southern Alberta–Saskatchewan border.

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July 2016

Habitat

Canada's Protected Areas

Protected areas are lands and waters where development and use is restricted by legal or other means for the conservation of nature. The indicator reports the amount and proportion of Canada's terrestrial and marine areas that are recognized under the international definition of a protected area and provides further information by province and territory, by ecological region and by jurisdiction.

Key results

At the end of 2015, 10.6% (1.05 million km2) of Canada's terrestrial area (land and freshwater) and 0.9% (51 thousand km2) of its marine territory have been recognized as protected. The total area protected has increased by about 70% in the past 20 years.

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Extent of Canada's Wetlands

Wetlands are one of Earth's most productive ecosystems, providing numerous ecosystem services and supporting a disproportionately high number of species, including species at risk and significant numbers of migratory birds, fish, amphibians, a wide diversity of plants, and many other species. Despite this importance, wetlands are being lost and degraded more quickly than any other ecosystem type.

Key results

Canada has about 1.29 million km2 of wetlands, covering 13% of Canada's terrestrial area. This is close to one quarter of the world's remaining wetlands. Where wetlands have been monitored, they generally show declines in extent due to conversion to agriculture and other development.

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May 2016

Air emissions

Air Pollutant Emissions

Air pollution problems such as smog and acid rain result from the presence of and interactions among various air pollutants that are released into the atmosphere. The indicators track emissions from human-related sources of six key air pollutants: sulphur oxides (SOX), nitrogen oxides (NOX), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), ammonia (NH3), carbon monoxide (CO) and fine particulate matter (PM2.5).

Key results

In 2014, emission levels of five key air pollutants (SOX, CO, VOCs, NOX and PM2.5) were 63% to 9% lower than in 1990; for NH3, emissions were 21% higher than in 1990.

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International Comparison of Air Pollutant Emissions

Canada's air pollutant emissions 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. The indicators track five air pollutants for which emissions data are available for each country.

Key results

In 2013, Canada ranked fourth in sulphur oxides (SOX) emissions, third in nitrogen oxides (NOX) emissions and second for emissions of carbon monoxide (CO), volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and fine particulate matter (PM2.5) among the other OECD member countries.

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Climate change

Precipitation Change in Canada

The Precipitation Change in Canada indicator measures the annual and seasonal precipitation departures (or anomalies) for the years 1948 to 2014. In 2014, global precipitation was 0.52 millimetres or 0.05% below the 1961–1990 reference value. This indicator helps show how Canada's precipitation has changed since nationwide recording of consistent and comparable climate observations began in 1948.

Key results

Annual average precipitation in Canada for the year 2014 was 2% below the 1961–1990 reference value. However, the climate tended to be wetter from the mid-1970s onward, with the wettest year since 1948 being 2005, at 16% above the reference value. In contrast, Canada's driest year on record was 1956 at 12% below the reference value.

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Temperature Change in Canada

Changes in climate variables such as temperature, precipitation and humidity affect a wide range of natural processes and human activities. In 2014, the global average temperature was one of the warmest ever recorded, with a temperature of almost 0.6 degrees Celsius (°C) above the 1961–1990 reference value. This indicator helps show how Canada's surface air temperature has changed since nationwide recording of consistent and comparable climate observations began in 1948.

Key results

In Canada, the national average land temperature for the year 2014 was 0.5°C above the 1961-1990 reference value. Annual average temperatures were consistently above or equal to the reference value from 1993 onward. Since 1948, the warmest year recorded was 2010, at 3.0°C above the reference value. Canada's coldest year since 1948 was 1972 at 2.0°C below the reference value. Five of the ten warmest years occurred within the last decade.

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April 2016

Biological resources

Management of Canadian Aquaculture

Making sure that aquaculture operators meet environmental protection standards helps to protect our aquatic environment and ensure that marine resources are available for the benefit of future generations. The indicator measures aquaculture operators' levels of compliance with environmental regulations set out under the Fisheries Act.

Key results

From 2011 to 2014, the compliance rate of inspected aquaculture operations with Fisheries Act regulations was over 99% each year. This percentage is based on the total number of charges issued divided by the total number of aquaculture sites checked.

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Air emissions

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 2014 were 732 megatonnes (Mt) of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2 eq), or 20% (120 Mt CO2 eq) above the 1990 emissions of 613 Mt CO2 eq. Emissions growth between 1990 and 2014 was driven primarily by increased emissions from oil and gas and transportation activities.

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Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Canada's total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are compared with the top 10 global emitters: China; the United States; the European Union; India; the Russian Federation; Japan; Brazil; Indonesia; Mexico and Iran. Using the latest year for which global GHG emissions data is available at the global level, the indicator provides a global perspective on Canada's share of GHGs compared to the top emitters and to global emissions.

Key results

Canada's GHG emissions in 2012 accounted for 1.6% of global emissions. Canada's share of global emissions, like that of other developed countries, is anticipated to continue to decline with the expected rapid increase in emissions from developing and emerging countries.

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Performance and results

Drinking Water Advisories in Canada

Drinking water advisories are public health messages issued by public health or regulatory authorities to notify consumers about actions they should take to protect themselves from real or potential health risks related to their drinking water supply. Advisories are typically issued before drinking water quality problems happen (precautionary), and can take three forms: Do not consume, Do not use and Boil water – the latter is the most common type of advisory. The indicator reports data collected by Health Canada and provides a long-term view of the main reasons why boil water advisories are issued in Canada.

Key results

In 2015, 78% of boil water advisories in Canada were issued on a precautionary basis due to problems with drinking water equipment or processes. By contrast, boil water advisories issued due to the detection of Escherichia coli (E. coli) in drinking water samples accounted for 5% and advisories related to other microbiological water quality parameters accounted for 17%.

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First Nations Water and Wastewater System Risk

Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) conducts annual performance inspections of INAC-funded water and wastewater systems on Canadian reserves. These assessments determine the overall risk (low, medium or high) of a system producing unsafe drinking water or poorly treated wastewater in the event of a problem. The indicator tracks the risk level of INAC-funded water and wastewater systems across Canada.

Key results

Of the INAC-funded First Nations water systems requiring inspections in 2014–2015, 57% were found to have a low risk of producing unsafe drinking water in the event of a problem. Similarly, 48% of INAC-funded wastewater systems were found to be at low risk of releasing poorly treated wastewater in the event of a problem. Between their initial inspections and 2013–2014, the percentage of INAC-funded high-risk water systems is down to 18% from 37% during the initial inspection and high-risk wastewater systems is down to 6% from 14%.

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Progress Toward Canada's Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Target

The future rate of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in Canada depends on a number of factors, including the pace of expected economic and population growth, the development of energy markets and their influence on prices, technological change and consumer behaviour, and policies aimed at emissions reductions. This indicator presents projections of GHG emissions in Canada from 2013 to 2030 taking into account current actions to reduce emissions by governments, consumers and businesses.

Key results

Canada's annual greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are expected to be between 749 and 790 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (Mt CO2 eq) in 2020, and between 765 and 875 Mt CO2 eq in 2030. Canadian targets for 2020 and 2030 are 622 and 524 Mt CO2 eq, respectively.

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Water quantity and availability

Water Quantity in Canadian Rivers

Canada is a water-rich country, with its rivers and lakes accounting for about 7% of the world's renewable freshwater. However, even with all this water, shortages are a serious problem for regions of Canada when natural water supplies do not meet human demand. The indicator classifies water flow data for the reported year from water quantity monitoring stations across Canada as high, normal or low compared to 30-year normal values for 1981 to 2010.

Key results

In 2013, 27% of 866 water quantity stations were classified as having higher-than-normal quantity, 6% had lower-than-normal quantity and 67% had normal quantity.

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Water Withdrawal and Consumption by Sector

Water is a vital resource driving Canada's economy. Many industrial processes depend on water for cooling. Water is also used for irrigation, cleaning, chemical processes, and many other purposes. Municipalities distribute water for both residential and commercial use, including drinking, cooking and cleaning. The indicator provides information about the volume of water withdrawn and consumed between 2005 and 2013 by seven economic sectors in Canada.

Key results

In 2013, approximately 38 300 million cubic metres of water were withdrawn from Canada's rivers, lakes, groundwater and oceans with approximately 3600 million cubic metres of that water consumed or not returned to the original source.

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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.

Winter 2016

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