Canadian Air Quality Deteriorating, Greenhouse Gas Emissions Climbing

16 December 2005

Canadian air quality has deteriorated during the past 10 years, while greenhouse gas emissions rose 24%—thereby hitting a level 32% above the targets set out by the Kyoto Protocol for 2008 to 2012—according to a Canadian federal report released this week.

Canadian Environmental Sustainability Indicators 2005, prepared by Environment Canada, Statistics Canada and Health Canada, looked at three indicators—freshwater quality, air quality and greenhouse-gas emissions—between 1990 and 2003.

Air quality. The national concentration of ground-level ozone—a key element of smog—increased 16% from 1990 to 2003. Stations in Southern Ontario had the highest average concentrations in 2003 and the most rapid rise from 1990.

The pollutants that lead to ground-level ozone (nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds) are emitted primarily during fossil fuel combustion mainly in and around urban areas, especially by motor vehicles and thermal-electric power plants.

Future reports will include a measure of fine particulate matter in this indicator.

Greenhouse gases. Canadian greenhouse gas emissions reached 750 megatonnes in 2003, up from 596 megatonnes in 1990.

The energy sector (including road transportation, fossil fuel industries and thermal electricity and heat production) accounted for 81% of total Canadian emissions in 2003 and 91% of the growth in emissions from 1990 to 2003. While total emissions rose, the intensity (emissions per unit of gross domestic product) fell 13% from 1990 to 2003.

The expansion of the Canadian economy, however, more than offset gains in emissions efficiency, resulting in a net increase in total emissions. Greenhouse gas emissions also grew faster than the Canadian population over the same period, resulting in a 9% rise in emissions per person.

Alberta—home of the oil sands industry—and Ontario had the highest emissions of all provinces in 2003. Saskatchewan, New Brunswick and Alberta had the highest percentage increases in emissions compared with 1990.

Road transportation accounted for 19% of total emissions in 2003 and for 31% of the growth in emissions since 1990. Canadians are increasingly dependent on road transportation. From 1990 to 2003, the number of vehicles rose 8% faster than the number of people.

There was also a shift in the types of vehicles used for personal transportation from automobiles to vans, sport-utility vehicles and light-duty gasoline-powered trucks. These heavier vehicles emit, on average, 40% more GHGs per kilometer than do automobiles.

Emissions from heavy-duty diesels jumped 71% from 1990 to 2003.

Freshwater quality. The preliminary water quality indicator presented in the report focuses only on the ability of Canada’s surface waters to support aquatic life over the period 2001 to 2003. For the 345 sites selected across the country, water quality was rated as “good” or “excellent” at 44% of the sites, “fair” at 31% and “marginal” or “poor” at 25%.

Water quality in Canada is under pressure from a range of sources, including agriculture, industrial activity and human settlements.

The report highlighting the increase in greenhouse gas emissions came shortly after Prime Minister Paul Martin criticized the United States for failing to listen to a “global conscience” by refusing to sign the Kyoto Protocol.

Greenhouse gas emissions in the US have risen 13.3% since 1990 to 6,900 megatonnes of CO2 equivalent in 2003—22% over what would have been the US Kyoto target of about 5,662 megatonnes per year.

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Although Canada has rightly criticized Bush for failing to join Kyoto, it's pretty disgusting that they have done such a miserable job tackling greenhouse emissions. With supporters of Kyoto like this, who needs enemies. Oil sands, of course, will doom any efforts to combat greenhouse emissions.

It seems a bit rich to sign up to a treaty, flout it that badly, and then have the temerity to criticise the US for not signing up. Whatever else you may think about the subject, it seems a lot more honest not to sign up, if you don't intend to stick to it, then to sign up and then obviously completely ignore what you signed up for.

Well this is dissapointing news. We've already heard recently that the EU is not on track to meet its Kyoto targets and now we read that Canada isn't either.

This isn't the end of the road yet, though. I hope that these reports are a wakeup call to Kyoto signatories that it is going to take a bit more proactive policy action, especially with regards to transportation (the biggest culprit in the EU's rising emissions and a key contributer to Canada's problems).

If they don't act now though and the loudest supporters of Kyoto fail to meet their targets in the end, this could be disasterous to any future efforts to combat global warming. I fear that if the EU, Canada and others short on their Kyoto commitments don't fulfill their responsabilities under the treaty, our hopes of negotiation a follow-on treaty or drafting a comprehensive internatational agreement to take its place will be shattered.

Get your acts together, for everyone's sake!

t/Heiko/Jesse - your are very correct. Canada has failed miserably to lower emissions with a +24% vs a +13% for USA. Our Federal and Provincial Governments have done very little and our municipalities don't even seem to know that the problem exist. There is a lot of talk-talk about it lately because it is election time. By the end of January 2006, all the promisses will be forgotten and emissions will keep going up at the rate of 5+% a year, especially in Alberta (with tar sands activities) and Ontario (with COAL fired power plants) and all over Canada with our gas guzzlers and Oil furnaces etc. Signing the Kyoto treaty was a farce. Our worse polluters, oil/coal and car/truck industries, keep receiving huge subsidies from the politicians to get more votes. It's a shame.

I think you guys are missing the positives.

I agree, it's unfortunate that emissions are heading in the wrong direction. But, the fact remains that by placing clear targets, (a) the politicians know what they are aiming for, and any policy or procedure suggested can be measured against this "line in the sand." Furthermore, (b) voters can measure their politicians' effectiveness as compared to the "line in the sand". Without actual numbers to measure success or failure, how can voters -- especially those not well versed in greenhouse gas emission standards, policies, and progress -- measure whether or not a politician has held up his end of the bargain.

I think it's far better for a government to commit to better emissions and fail than not to commit at all, because if the politicans fail the people can use the specific measurement to determine failure and vote in new politicians. Without any guidelines, voters have a much harder time determining if their politicians are doing a good job RE air quality.

stomv - it is difficult to see the positive with a +24% increase in greehouse emissions concurrenly with a few billion  in subsidies to the Oil industries and gas guzzlers manufacturers. It does not make sense. We will have to do things differently if we realy want to reduce emissions. We could cut most if not all subsidies to polluters unless they reduce emissions. Our politicians signed the Kyoto treaty to give themselves good conscience but they have not followed up with effective measures. Our politicians have failed miserably and keep lying about it. We have to admit that the American approach seems to give much better results without the Kyoto flag waving.

Again, its up to the US to save the world. This time from climate change problems.
And this time US territory will really be be part of the battlefield. Not just in the FUD way as in terorism.

Hurricanes are a prominent example:
- Because global warming produces signigficant more melted ice from Greenland http://www.greencarcongress.com/2005/11/researchers_mea.html
- Which reduces the warm Gulf stream to the north
- Which increases the temperature in the Mexican Gulf
- Which produces 2 times more hurricanes this year (2005).

>>Reducing global warming, reduces hurricanes in the US

http://yosemite.epa.gov/oar/globalwarming.nsf/UniqueKeyLookup/RAMR69V4ZZ/$File/05trends.pdf A few interesting numbers from this report on US greenhouse gas emissions: Emissions 1990 100 2000 114 2003 113 Population 1990 100 2000 113 2003 116 GDP 1990 100 2000 138 2003 146 So, all the increase came during the Clinton presidency and under Bush there's been an actual decline. Under Clinton, per capita emissions held steady and so far under Bush they've been declining, and all that in spite of a growing economy. Throws up the question, how did Bush manage to reduce emissions between 2000 and 2003, when both Canada and the EU saw rising emissions? I think the most important answer is higher energy prices, and Bush deserves credit in so far as he's resisted the temptation to subsidise energy prices, allowing prices to rise much more in percentage terms than in Canada and especially Europe. In Britain, in fact, real fuel prices have hardly risen at all since 2000 thanks to initially high gasoline taxes being allowed to be slowly eroded away by inflation, with the government shying away from unpopular petrol tax hikes. So who are we going to vote for in the Canadian election? Do we go Green Party, or NDP? Let's coordinate on this and maybe we can actually make a difference. Josh: In Canada aren't you just supposed to wait for that check from the Liberal party to help you decide? One could always take the promised check (s)from the Liberals (it's our own$100 billion they're passing around) and vote for the Green Party to get another minority government and another election within 18 months. Trouble is, with more elections and more give aways, people will buy more gas guzzlers, fly more, consume more OIL etc., and emissions will go up another 24% in the next 4 years. There must be a better way.

Okay folks lets ask a few questions before we jump all over Canada and heap praise on the U.S.

First, how much of the increase in Canada's greenhouse emissions are directly related to feeding the U.S. economy? That tarsands oil is not all being used by Canada. What about mining, forestry, agriculture, automotive industry?

Second has the recent relocation of the US manufacturing industry to China, India and other third world nations conveniently helped the U.S. offload greenhouse emissions?

I haven't researched this, it's just a guess, but I'm pretty sure the U.S. has saddled other countries with greenhouse emission directly related to U.S. consumption.

What do you think?

Peterw - Of course, the American \$800 billion yearly trade deficit is a way to pass emissions to others. However, only a very small portion of that huge deficit is with Canada. Since Canada has had a light trade surplus for many years, one could presume that it is partially responsible for our 24% increase in emissions but, with the exception of tar sands and few other activities, we produce most of it ourselves. Plentiful and cheap energy leads to over-consumption. We consume the most energy per capita and not all clean energy. There lies the problem. We could learn from European countries such as Denmark and Germany where per capita energy consumption and emissions were reduced. Will we?

Hi Harvey,

I found these two quotes and I thought you might find them interesting.

"The most important reason for its drop in emissions was the migration of heavy manufacturing to industrializing countries such as China, the world’s second-biggest emitter." Foreign Policy link

"Emissions of climate-changing greenhouse gases from Alberta's oil sands are set to increase more than threefold between 2003 and 2012, and fivefold between 2003 and 2020, according to new projections released today by the Pembina Institute. The projections show annual emissions from the oil sands increasing from 25.2 megatonnes (Mt) in 2003 to 61.9-67.9 Mt in 2010. This increase represents 41-47% of the 90 Mt growth in Canada's total annual emissions that the federal government estimates would occur over the same period under "business-as-usual" conditions."Pembina Institute link

Another interesting thing I read but I can't find the reference is that when Ontario shuts down all its coal power plants by 2009, Ontario will be more than half way to achieving its Kyoto targets.

By the way, I wasn't saying that Canada was doing a good job. Quite frankly it's pathetic. I just think the U.S. shouldn't be patting itself on the back. Although some U.S. cities and states have made great progress on climate change.

Here's another interesting quote:

Emissions of gases blamed for warming the atmosphere grew by 2 percent in the United States last year, the Energy Department reported Monday. U.S. Greenhouse Gases Rose 2 Percent

PeterW - Thank you for the info. Let's hope that tar sands extraction groups will find a better way to do it in the near future. Otherwise, bye bye Kyoto for Canada for many years to come. Ontario may not be able to close their coal power plants before 2012 because of extensive repairs and shut down for the Nuclear Units and the absence of meaningful new capacity for the next 7+ years. Total emission reduction in Canada is not there for a long time unless major polluters are forced to pay a progressive penalty and strick standards are rigorously applied. We all know that getting elected will always come first.

I've been thinking about it and it seems the NDP is the way to go this time. Screw the Liberals. And the Green Party doesn't have a big chance of doing much. So what do you say... Coordinate our vote to get some NDP people in and stay on top of them to act for the environment? As for whether to blame Canada or the US, well... The only thing we can control in Canada is ourselves. So let's get our crap in order and set an example for the world. I'm thinking of starting a livejournal.com community devoted to focussing our strength in numbers to making some real changes. Something like Clean Up Toronto or F.I.S.T (Fighting Idling Scum in Toronto). I would post all my sightings of idlers and hopefully we could use this to pressure companies to clean up their act. For instance, yesterday I was rudely dismissed by the driver of an idling Rogers van. Today I saw yet another idling truck belonging to Summit Food Services Distributors. If I posted the details of such sightings and the contact info for the company, would you guys be in for a mass email campaign to show these companies that we won't tolerate them poisoning us and our children?

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