Study: Economy and the environment

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1990 to 2010

Canada's natural wealth, defined as the dollar value of selected natural resource stocks and land, stood at roughly $3 trillion in 2009. In 1990, it was just under $1 trillion.

Natural wealth comprises land, timber, and known reserves of energy and mineral resources. Energy resources include natural gas, crude oil, crude bitumen and coal. Mineral resources consist of gold, nickel, copper, zinc, lead, iron, uranium, potash and diamonds. Other natural resource stocks such as fish and wildlife, water, wetlands and parks are not currently valued.

In 1990, natural wealth amounted to $33,000 for every Canadian. By 2009 this amount had increased to about $89,000, largely as a result of increased prices.

In comparison, the value of produced wealth, including residential and non-residential structures, machinery and equipment, consumer durables and inventories was $68,000 per capita in 1990, increasing to $130,000 per capita by 2009.

Natural resource trends

The value of natural resource assets fluctuates more than produced assets over time. This is due to a variety of factors, primarily the volatility of resource prices on world markets. Most natural resource prices are driven by global demand and supply. As well, physical reserves of resources may change when prices change.

Between 1990 and 2009, the value of natural resource assets declined several times. It fell first in the early 1990s as a result of a recession in North America. It declined again in 1998 in the wake of the East Asian financial crisis, and a third time in the early 2000s during the economic slowdown that followed the events of September 11, 2001.

Most recently, resource asset values declined in 2009 during the global economic downturn.

Since 2000, energy resources have contributed the most to the overall value of natural resource assets. However, they have also been subject to the most volatility.

Note to readers

This release is based on the analytical article "Economy and the environment" in the 2011 edition of Human Activity and the Environment.

The article presents information on the relationship between Canada's economy and the environment.

Statistics on the environment in Canada are examined first from an international perspective and are then presented for the following main themes: natural wealth, natural resource stocks, material and energy flows and environmental protection efforts.

Data come from Statistics Canada and other sources, including other federal government departments and international organizations.

Mineral resource wealth remained relatively constant from 1990 until 2002. Between 2003 and 2008, mineral assets increased significantly in value as a result of increased world prices for mineral resources. The higher prices provided incentives for exploration and development and the discovery of new deposits.

Wealth from energy, timber and minerals

Oil sands dominate energy wealth

Until 2005, natural gas had the highest value among energy resources. However, since 2006, the wealth from oil sands has exceeded that from other energy resources, mainly on account of increased reserves.

Canada's oil sands in Northern Alberta contain vast quantities of crude bitumen, one of the largest hydrocarbon deposits in the world.

In 1990, the value of the crude bitumen in the oil sands represented $19 billion or 13% of energy resource wealth. By 2009, the value of crude bitumen had increased 23-fold to $441 billion, more than the combined value of coal, crude oil and natural gas.

In 1990, oil sands reserves under active development amounted to around 500 million cubic metres; by 2008, they had increased eight-fold to 4,300 million cubic metres, thanks to improvements in extraction technology, new discoveries and an increase in the global demand for crude oil.

Households contributing to Canada's greenhouse gas emissions

Between 1990 and 2007, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions resulting from household consumption increased 15% to 329 megatonnes. (GHGs include carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and methane in this study.) Households accounted for 45% of Canadian GHG emissions in 2007.

Despite this increase, emissions intensity of household consumption has declined. In 2007, each dollar of household expenditure resulted in 29% fewer greenhouse gas emissions than in 1990.

Looking at household energy consumption, 25% less energy was used for every dollar spent in 2007 than in 1990.

One reason for the decline in emissions intensity has been the shift to cleaner fuels such as natural gas in both households and industry. This shift helps explain why household emissions intensity declined more significantly than household energy consumption intensity.

Spending to control industrial impacts

Canadian businesses spent $9.1 billion in 2008 to protect the environment, up 5.3% from 2006.

Almost one-third (32%) of that total, nearly $2.9 billion, was spent by the oil and gas extraction industry. It was followed by the electric power generation and transmission industry (14%) and the primary metals industry (13%).

Provincially, the bulk of spending on environmental protection occurred in Alberta, where businesses spent 34% of the national total. Most of this spending was in the oil and gas extraction industry.

Ontario followed with 24% of spending and Quebec with 16%, mainly in the electric power generation industry and primary metals.

The publications Human Activity and the Environment 2011: "Economy and the Environment" (16-201-X, free) and Human Activity and the Environment: Detailed Statistics, 2011 (16-201-S, free), are now available from the Key resource module of our website under Publications. Choose All subjects, then Environment.

For more information, or to enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact the information officer (613-951-0297;, Environment Accounts and Statistics Division.