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What are the Environmental Issues in Canada

by Suleman


Is Canada a world leader in environmental governance? How does Canada’s environmental policy and practices translate into real performance? What do the indicators say? Will the regulations and strategies as articulated in ‘Turning the Corner Plan’, really turnaround Canada’s environmental sustenance? And, going by the track record, is Canada indeed contributing to solving environmental challenges in the world; or, is it exacerbating them? What is the environmental Truth-Print of Canada?

This researched essay sets to find out the veracity of Canada’s claims on environmental performance.


Canada is the second largest country in the world covering a land mass of almost 10 million square kilometers. It’s a rich country enthralled with nature’s abundance. Sprawled with over two million lakes, Canada is estimated as having one-seventh of the world’s fresh water. Enveloped with a coastline of 202,080 kilometers, extensive wilderness areas, plentiful of minerals, energy, farmland, Canada is a trillion-dollar class affluent society (The World Factbook – Canada, 2009).

The Canadian people take immense pride in their national heritage. The two common unifying Canadian values often reported are: multiculturalism and love of nature (Angus, 1997). David Suzuki states that Canadian residents respect the natural resources of their nation and take account of it. The use of evidence released by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in a recent academic report at Simon Fraser University reveals how the Canadian government is misleading its own people. Suzuki says, writing about the Canadian government: “We do not live up to our own expectations, let alone the international vision of our great country.” We risk slipping further behind without a consistent sustainable strategy and a tracking system to mark our success  (in preface to Simon Fraser University report, 2005).”

What are the Environmental Issues in Canada

Environmental Indicators

The Simon Fraser University (SFU) report gave environmental performance rankings to OECD countries based on average rank on 29 environmental indicators. Canada stood at rank 28 out of 30, with USA and Belgium standing poorer than Canada (2005). It is interesting to note that Canada showed no improvement in rank relative to OECD countries between 1992 and 2002.  The report also highlights that Canada’s worst performance is on environmental indicators related to: volatile organic compound emissions, carbon monoxide emissions, and generation of nuclear waste. The SFU report also mentions Canada’s ranking in environmental performance form other studies such as, the University of Victoria report, 28th rank of 29 in 2001; the Conference Board, 9th rank of 24 in 2004; the Yale Environmental Index, 69th rank of 146 in 2005.

Of course, the OECD report referenced in SFU study has some glaring methodical failings. For example:

  • Canada ranked 27th in forestry based on its annual per capita harvest of trees, whereas Iceland, which has virtually no trees, ranked first. If the rankings had been based on harvest per hectare of forested area, Canada would have ranked 6th rather than 27th.
  • In pesticide use, Canada ranked 22nd based on its annual per capita consumption, but on a per hectare basis Canada would have ranked fourth.

The point of contention is that whilst indicators have a guidance value, in themselves, they may not paint the ‘perfect truth value.’ As a matter of fact, there are different versions of truth. As Boyd points out, the World Economic Forum’s Environmental Sustainability Index, aimed at measuring the long term environmental prospects ranks Canada fourth out of 142 nations (2003). In other words, the versions of truth vary depending upon assumptions made and perspectives of survey.  

The Canadian Government and industry, for instance, have another story to tell. They claim that Canada has adequate policies and practices in place that has improved Canada’s track record as the environment conscience keeper. In particular, recent surveys suggest that the water quality, o-zone and greenhouse gas indicators have shown improvement (CESI, 2008). The report highlights:

  • Air Quality: From 1990 to 2006, ground-level ozone exposure increased by approximately 11 percent. In recent years, this growing trend in annual exposures to ozone has since slowed..
  • Water Quality: The water quality is rated as “good or excellent” at almost half of the monitoring sites in southern Canada”
  • Greenhouse Gases: In 2006, emissions were 22 percent greater than in 1990. Emissions peaked at 743 mega tonnes in 2004 and then decreased by 3% from 2004 to 2006.

The debate on Canada’s environmental performance has two broad divisions: the environmental groups and scientist who forecast further decline in environmental quality in the coming decade; and the Government and industry that claims that environmental conditions are improving? The moot question remains: Does Canada “walk the talk” when it comes to environment conservation?

In his book, Boyd concludes that excessive consumption of resources is the root cause of environmental degradation in industrialised nations. Is Canada heading towards an ecological disaster, he poignantly asks? Or is it pulling back from the brink and moving towards a future that is sustainable? On either side of the argument, while arguments and statistics are quoted, Boyd believes that the truth is somewhere in the middle.

Therefore it would be safe to conclude that Canada has plans to “walk the talk” on environmental protection. Some of Canada’s environmental policies and practises have worked, and have certainly raised the nation’s environmental awareness.

Turning the Corner: Canada’s Plan to Reduce CHG and Air Pollution

Let’s now focus our attention on “Turning the Corner,” Canada’s Greenhouse Emissions and Air Pollution Reduction Plan (2007). Under this plan, one of the world’s toughest regulatory regimes is being put in place by the Government of Canada to meet its target of reducing greenhouse gases by an absolute 20% from 2006 to 2020. And it is a plan that balances the need, while growing the economy, to protect the environment. The plan’s aggressive policies have become imperative to stop global greenhouse gas emissions, which are estimated to exceed more than double if left unattended, by 2050.

The federal government, provinces, municipalities, industry, and everyday Canadians require action. The Government of Canada strongly believes in the ingenuity and willingness of Canadians, while continuing to grow our economy, to address the challenge of climate change. Canadians are prepared to confront the challenge and win.

The key components of the plan are:

  • Credit for Early Action Program
  • Offset System
  • Limit amount of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in air

The proposed greenhouse gas regulations are expected to be published in the Canada Gazette later in year 2008, and the regulations finalized in 2009 shall come into force, as planned on January 1, 2010.

Canada and its people through focused collaborative efforts aim to:

  • Put in place large-scale carbon capture and storage and other exciting green technologies;
  • Generate 90% of our power from sources that do not emit greenhouse gases;
  • Increase electricity from renewable sources like wind and wave power by 20 times;
  • Cut greenhouse gas emissions from coal by more than 50%;
  • Increase average fuel efficiency in new cars by 20%; and
  • Improve Canada’s energy efficiency by some 20%.

There are however disappointment in certain quarters that the Turning the Corner plan does not really turn the prospect of Canada being seen as a world leader on environment conservation. Quinn and Carr quote following reviews in their article (2008)

  • There is no commitment to meeting the Kyoto target in the short term,” says Lorne Johnson, the World Wildlife Fund’s Ottawa director. The “biggest disappointment” in the plan is that by 2020, Canada will be 11 percent above the Kyoto target set for the 2008-2012 period alone.
  • Randy Eresman, chief executive officer of EnCana Corp., Canada’s biggest natural-gas producer, says even the 20 percent target would be difficult to meet.


Given the compulsions and ground realities, Canada certainly has displayed its determined will to remain in the forefront of meeting the world’s aspiration towards conservation of environment. Had Canada put stringent policies like “Turning the Corner” in place in 1998, when Kyoto was signed, perhaps, Canada would have been on track. It is perhaps a little late; nevertheless, it has step in the right direction.

  • Angus, IH. (1997). A border within: National identity, Cultural plurality, and Wilderness. McGill Queen’s Press.
  • Boyd, DR. (2003). Un-natural Law. UBC Press.
  • Canadian Environmental Sustainability Indicators. (2008). Retrieved from www.ec.gc.ca/indicateurs-indicators
  • Quinn, G., & Carr, M. (2008). Canada Plans to Curb Gas Emissions 20 Percent by 2020 (Update6). Retrieved from http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601082&sid=aIUjXw.63nqs&refer=canada
  • Gunton, TI., & Calbick, KS. (2005). The Maple Leaf in the OECD: Comparing Progress toward Sustainability. Simon Fraser University Report, David Suzuki Foundation.
  • The World Factbook – Canada. (2009). Retrieved from https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ca.html
  • Turning the Corner: Canada’s plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution. (2007). Environment Canada. Retrieved from: http://www.ec.gc.ca/default.asp?lang=En&n=75038EBC-1

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