Section 1: Climate change in Canada

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Tidewater glacier, Devon Island, Nunavut, Brenda Saunders, 2007 

Climate change is a global problem with global consequences. In 2006, warmer-than-average temperatures were recorded across the world for the 30th consecutive year (Chart 1.1). Increasing average temperatures are melting glaciers and polar ice caps and raising sea levels, putting coastal areas at greater risk of flooding. Mounting evidence indicates that these changes are not the result of the natural variability of climate. The theory of human-induced climate change is supported by numerous respected scientific bodies, including the British Royal Society, the American National Academies and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The IPCC, established in 1988 by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), released its fourth assessment report in 2007. It declared that "warming of the climate's system is unequivocal" and that there is a "very high confidence" that human activity since 1750 has played a significant role in overloading the atmosphere with carbon dioxide (CO2).

The IPCC is arguably the world's foremost scientific authority on the subject of climate change, and its role is to "assess on a comprehensive, objective, open and transparent basis the scientific, technical and socio-economic information relevant to understanding the scientific basis of risk of human-induced climate change, its potential impacts and options for adaptation and mitigation." 1 

One of the greatest concerns associated with climate change is the anticipated increase in the frequency of extreme weather events. The ice storm that struck eastern Canada in 1998 illustrates the magnitude of the potential impact of these events (Text box "Ice storm of 1998").

In addition to extreme weather events, other changes associated with climate change are more gradual. Lakes and rivers generally freeze later and thaw earlier than they used to, resulting in difficulties building and maintaining the ice roads that are vital for many northern communities. Over the past 10 years, the network of ice roads in Manitoba has gone from 50 to 60 days of usage to as low as 20 days in some years. 2  A series of mild winters in the central interior of the province of British Columbia has supported the spread of the mountain pine beetle, a very serious forest pest, resulting in the death of pine trees across millions of hectares of forests.

Canada has about 0.5% of the world's population, but contributes about 2% of the total global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This puts Canadians among the highest per capita emitters, largely as a result of the size of the country, the low density of the population, the high energy demands imposed by the climate, our resource-based economy, and the volume of goods we export. In 2005, slightly more than 23 tonnes of GHGs were emitted for each person in the country: this represents an 8% per capita increase since 1990. 3 

Numerous factors influence how climate change works and how those effects will be felt by people around the world, now and in the future.

Chart 1.1 Variation from mean global temperature1
Global annual temperature anomalies computed from land and ocean data.
Note(s):  Anomalies are relative to the 1951 to 1980 base period means.
Source(s):  Hansen, J.E., R. Ruedy, M. Sato, and K. Lo, 2007, NASA GISS Surface Temperature (GISTEMP) Analysis, (accessed March 4, 2008).

Ice storm of 1998

Event: 50 to >100 mm of freezing rain over 5 days

Location: Corridor extending from Kingston, Ontario, to New Brunswick, including the Ottawa, Montréal and Montérégie regions.

Deaths: 28
Injured: 945
Evacuated: 600,000
Other impacts: Massive power outages
Estimated cost: $5.4 billion

Source(s): Natural Resources Canada, 2004, Climate Change Impacts and Adaptation: A Canadian Perspective, 174 pp., (accessed March 10, 2008).

Section 1.1: Understanding climate change, provides an explanation of the science necessary to explore this topic. In addition to defining weather, climate and climate change, it describes the greenhouse effect and explains the crucial role of GHGs in climate change.

Section 1.2: Greenhouse gas emissions, describes the state of knowledge of GHG emissions in Canada. It investigates the driving forces behind those emissions and how those forces may have changed over time.

Section 1.3: Climate change impacts, discusses Canada's climate and illustrates some of the impacts of climate change on our land, wildlife and peoples.

Section 1.4: How are we adapting? How are we responding to the challenge?, presents activities that Canadians, industry and governments are undertaking to reduce GHG emissions and to adapt to the changing climate, and also profiles some promising areas for reducing GHG emissions in the future.

Understanding climate change

The greenhouse effect

The earth's atmosphere is like a blanket that keeps the planet warm. The greenhouse effect is a heat-trapping process that occurs naturally in the atmosphere. Without the greenhouse effect, the average temperature of the earth would be a frigid -19°C instead of the balmy 14°C that we currently enjoy.

The greenhouse effect is illustrated in Figure 1.1 (University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, Project Learn, Incoming energy from the sun penetrates the atmosphere to warm the earth. The planet then radiates heat back out toward space. Some of the outgoing heat is absorbed by GHGs in the atmosphere and re-emitted back to earth, keeping the planet warm.

Figure 1.1
The greenhouse effect
The greenhouse effect

Important terms

It is important to understand the following terms when discussing climate change:

Weather is the state of the atmosphere at a given time and place. 4  It refers to the temperature, air pressure, humidity, wind, cloudiness and precipitation of a region over a short period of time.

Climate describes the average weather that a region experiences, usually calculated over a 30-year period. 5  It encompasses all aspects of weather–temperature, air pressure, humidity, wind, cloudiness and precipitation–and is a guide for what kind of weather to expect. While weather can vary dramatically from one day to the next, climate cannot.

Climate change refers to change in average weather patterns 6  and can be caused by both natural processes and human activities. In the past, the earth's climate has been affected by natural factors such as changes in solar output and the discharge of volcanic ash. In fact, the planet has been through many periods of cooling and warming. The last period of major cooling ended about 10,000 years ago.

Global warming refers to an increase in average global surface temperature. 7 

Greenhouse gases (GHGs) is the name given to a group of gases released to the atmosphere that contribute to the greenhouse effect. Some of these gases are produced by both human and natural processes, while others are entirely human-made. A large proportion of human-made GHGs are produced by activities that require combustion of fossil fuels, such as driving cars or the production of electricity.

Carbon sinks are reservoirs that absorb and sequester (store) CO2 from the atmosphere. Examples of areas that can act as carbon sinks include forests, soils, peat, permafrost, ocean water, and carbonate deposits in the deep ocean.

Carbon neutral is a term applied to individuals, businesses, or organizations whose activities contribute zero net greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere. This requires that any GHG emissions produced by an activity must be offset with emissions reductions or carbon absorption in some other activity.

Carbon offset is the process of reducing or avoiding GHG emissions in one place in order to "offset" GHG emissions occurring elsewhere.

Greenhouse gases

Carbon dioxide is perhaps the best-known GHG, but there are many others, such as water vapour (Text box "Water vapour"), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), sulphur hexafluoride (SF6), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).

Water vapour

The largest contributor to the natural greenhouse effect is water vapour. Human activity does not affect the amount of water vapour in the atmosphere to any significant degree. As air warms, however, it can hold more water vapour. Of course, there is a limit to the amount of water vapour that the atmosphere can hold. When the air becomes saturated, clouds form and the water vapour returns to the earth as rain.

Clouds play an interesting role in regulating the temperature of the earth. They prevent incoming solar radiation from reaching the planet's surface, thereby cooling the earth. At the same time, clouds trap heat being emitted by the earth, thereby warming it.

It is widely accepted that global warming will increase cloud cover over the planet. It is uncertain, however, whether the increased cloud cover will result in an overall cooling or warming effect.

Source(s): Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2007, Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis: Summary for Policymakers, (accessed February 11, 2008);

Office of the Auditor General of Canada, 2006, Climate Change – An Overview, Report of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, 2006, (accessed February 25, 2008).

Most GHGs have both natural and human-induced (anthropogenic) sources (Table 1.1). For example, CO2 is produced through the decay of plant and animal matter (natural source) and fossil fuel combustion (human-induced source). However, there are no natural sources of PFCs, HFCs nor SF6.

How much a given mass of a GHG contributes to global warming varies with the type of gas, and so the Global Warming Potential index has been developed to place all gases on a common measurement footing. Calculating this index for different gases allows the relative contributions of all GHGs to be expressed in terms of their CO2 equivalence. For example, CH4 has 21 times the global warming potential (GWP) of CO2. Some substances, such as SF6, have GWPs thousands of times that of CO2 and are of concern even though they are emitted in small quantities (Table 1.2).

Historical data from ice-cores and recent observations show that over the 160 years since industrialization, GHGs have been accumulating in the earth's atmosphere (Chart 1.2). This increase in GHG concentrations means that more outgoing radiation is being trapped in the earth's atmosphere, increasing the mean temperature (Chart 1.1). There has been a 0.76°C increase in the average temperature on earth between the late 1800's (1850 to 1899) and the present day (2001 to 2005). 8 

Anthropogenic and natural sources of greenhouse gases
Anthropogenic sources Natural sources
Carbon dioxide Fossil fuel combustion; deforestation; industrial processes. Respiration by plants and animals; oceans; decay and fermentation of organic matter; forest and grass fires.
Methane Livestock and rice cultivation; biomass burning; landfills; coal mining. Wetlands.
Nitrous oxide Fossil fuel combustion; wood combustion; nitrogenous fertilizers. Anaerobic denitrification in soil and water.
Hydrofluorocarbons Foam insulation; metal production; coolants in refrigerators and air conditioners. ...
Perfluorocarbons Aluminium production; refrigeration; air conditioning; semi-condutor manufacturing.
Sulphur hexafluoride Magnesium smelting; aluminium production; electrical switchgear manufacture and failure. ...
Environment Canada, 2006, "Greenhouse Gases," Information on Greenhouse Gases and Sinks, (accessed March 11, 2008); Environment Canada, Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reporting: Technical Guidance on Reporting Greenhouse Gas Emissions, 2006 Reporting Year (2005 Emissions Data), (accessed March 13, 2008); Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2001, "Technical Summary," Climate Change 2001: Working Group I: The Scientific Basis, (accessed March 13, 2008).
Global warming potential of greenhouse gases
  100-year global warming potential
Carbon dioxide (CO2) 1
Methane (CH4) 21
Nitrous oxide (N2O) 310
Sulphur hexafluoride (SF 6) 23,900
Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) 140 to 11,700
Perfluorocarbons (PFCs) 6,500 to 9,200
Government of Canada, 2006, Greenhouse Gas, Reporting Site, Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reporting: Technical Guidance on Reporting Greenhose Gas Emissions, 2006 Reporting Year (2005 Emissions Data), (accessed February 25, 2008).
Chart 1.2 Atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations, 1010 to 2004
Note(s):  Pre-1975 data taken from Etheridge et al, 1998. Post-1975 data taken from Keeling and Whorf, 2005.
Source(s):  Etheridge, D.M., L.P. Steele, R.L. Langenfelds, R.J. Francey, J.-M. Barnola and V.I. Morgan, 1998, Historical CO2 records from the Law Dome DE08, DE08-2, and DSS ice cores, (accessed March 4, 2008). Keeling, C.D. and T.P. Whorf, 2005, Atmospheric carbon dioxide records from the South Pole, (accessed March 4, 2008).

Greenhouse gas emissions 9

Consideration of greenhouse gas emission data is central to any examination of climate change. The work we do, the purchases we make and the leisure activities we enjoy all result in GHG emissions. Knowing the amount of GHGs emitted as a result of human activity is important.

Canada's 2007 National Inventory Report prepared by Environment Canada, is the most comprehensive and up to date information source on GHG emissions in Canada, presenting emissions estimates for the years 1990 to 2005. It follows the approaches and practice of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) used by all countries to identify, quantify and reduce uncertainty of GHG estimates as much as they possibly can.

The concepts of supply and demand provide different ways of looking at the same issue. The data in the National Inventory, following the categories prescribed by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, provide the supply perspective. These data show how many emissions are produced and by whom.

Greenhouse gas emissions, 1990 to 2005

Canada's 2007 National Inventory Report documents estimates of human-induced emissions and removals of carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), sulphur hexafluoride (SF6), perfluorocarbons (PFCs) and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).

The inventory classifies emissions into the following six categories:

  1. energy production and consumption
  2. industrial processes
  3. solvent and other product use
  4. agriculture
  5. waste
  6. land use, land-use change and forestry activities.

National picture

In 2005, Canadians emitted about 747 megatonnes of CO2 equivalent of GHGs to the atmosphere (Chart 1.3). A megatonne of emissions is very difficult to comprehend: even one tonne of emissions, the volume of which is enough to fill an ordinary two-storey, three-bedroom house, is hard to grasp (Text box "How much is a tonne of emissions?").

How much is a tonne of emissions?

Activities that produce one tonne (t) of emissions include:

  1. driving a mid-size car about 5,000 km;
  2. 20 cars idling two minutes each a day for a year.

1,000,000 t = 1 megatonne

Source(s): Envirozine, Environment Canada's On-line News magazine, (accessed February 13, 2008).

Since 1990, when total GHG emissions were estimated at 596 Mt, levels have increased by about 25%. In 2002, Canada ratified the Kyoto Protocol and committed to lowering emissions to 6% below 1990 levels by 2008 to 2012. In 2005, however, emissions were 33% above the Kyoto target.

Carbon dioxide is by far the most common GHG emitted (Chart 1.4). The proportion that each GHG has contributed to total emissions has not changed significantly from 1990.

According to Environment Canada, total GHG emissions from 2003 to 2005 (Chart 1.3) stopped growing primarily as a result of a significant reduction in emissions from electricity production. This reduction was the result of reduced coal and increased hydro and nuclear generation, coupled with a reduced demand for heating fuels caused by warmer winters and a smaller increase in fossil fuel production. Canada's GHG intensity–the amount of GHGs emitted per unit of economic activity–was 6% lower in 2005 than in 2003 (Chart 1.5).

Contributions from energy production and consumption

Energy production and consumption are by far the largest source of GHG emissions in Canada, accounting for more than 80% of emissions in 2005 (Table 1.3). Energy-related contributions include emissions of GHGs from fossil fuel production and from the combustion of fossil fuels for the purposes of generating heat and transportation.

Chart 1.3 Greenhouse gas emissions in Canada, 1990 to 2005 and Kyoto Target
Source(s):  Environment Canada, 2007, National Inventory Report: Greenhouse Gas Sources and Sinks in Canada, 1990–2005, Greenhouse Gas Division, Ottawa, Ontario, (accessed March 10, 2008).
Chart 1.4 Composition of greenhouse gas emissions expressed as carbon dioxide equivalents, 2005
Source(s):  Environment Canada, 2007, National Inventory Report: Greenhouse Gas Sources and Sinks in Canada, 1990–2005, Greenhouse Gas Division, Ottawa, (accessed March 10, 2008).
Chart 1.5 Greenhouse gas emissions per unit of gross domestic product, Canada, 1990 to 2005
Natural Gas and Crude Oil.
Source(s):  Environment Canada, 2007, National Inventory Report: Greenhouse Gas Sources and Sinks in Canada, 1990–2005, Greenhouse Gas Division, Ottawa, Ontario, (accessed March 10, 2008).

Direct emissions from fossil fuel combustion made up 89% of energy-related emissions in 2005 (546 Mt), while fugitive emissions (Text box "Fugitive releases") accounted for the remaining 11% (65.7 Mt). From 1990 to 2005, emissions related to fuel combustion increased 26%, while emissions from fugitive releases rose 54%.

Fugitive releases

Examples of fugitive GHG releases related to fossil fuels include:

  1. intentional flaring of natural gases at oil and gas production facilities;
  2. leakage from natural gas transmission lines and processing plants;
  3. accidental release from oil and gas wells;
  4. releases from the mining and handling of coal.

Transportation activity is a major source of emissions related to the combustion of fossil fuels, and accounted for 33% of emissions and 37% of growth in energy-related emission sources since 1990. Of particular note was the 109% increase in the emissions from light-duty gasoline trucks (from 21.3 Mt in 1990 to 44.5 Mt in 2005), reflecting the growing popularity of sport-utility vehicles, vans and light trucks. These vehicles, which emit, on average, 40% more GHG emissions per kilometre than gasoline automobiles, increased emissions by 23.2 Mt from 1990 to 2005.

Mining and oil and gas extraction activities accounted for only 2.6% of energy-related emissions in 2005, but their increase from 1990 levels was 152%. From 1990 to 2000 the energy requirements per barrel of conventional light/medium oil extracted nearly doubled. 10 , 11  At the same time, highly energy- and GHG-intensive synthetic oil production from oilsands has become increasingly competitive with conventional oil extraction. These trends contributed significantly to the rapid rise in emissions attributable to mining and oil and gas extraction activities from 1990 to 2005.

In 2008, oilsands producers intend to invest $19.7 billion, up 23% after a 31% hike in 2007. This exceeds the total investment plans of $19.6 billion by all manufacturing industries (Chart 1.6). Oilsands investment has surpassed manufacturing because of its rapid growth, not because manufacturing has been weak. Just a decade ago, oilsands investment was less than one-tenth capital outlays by manufacturers ($1.4 billion versus $21.6 billion in 1998).

Greenhouse gas emissions from electricity and heat production accounted for 129 Mt, or 21% of energy-related emissions, and 25% of emission growth in this area from 1990 to 2005. The increase over this period was driven by a rising demand for electricity and by an increase in the use of fossil fuels, such as coal for electricity generation, relative to other non-emitting sources, including nuclear and hydro. The contribution of other renewables, mostly new wind installations, increased more than 500% from 2000 to 2005. These electricity sources, however, contribute minimally to the overall supply mix (0.3% in 2005).

Canada's report on energy supply and demand documents that 7,764 petajoules of energy in the form of oil, gas and electricity were exported in 2005. 12  Production of this energy resulted in 72.8 Mt of GHGs, almost 10% of all GHG emissions.

Chart 1.6 Investment1 in oilsands and manufacturing, 1991 to 2008
Data prior to 2007 are actual, 2007 data are preliminary actual, and 2008 are investment intentions (based on data available March 7, 2008).
Source(s):  Statistics Canada, 2008, Canadian Economic Observer, vol. 21, no. 3, Catalogue no. 11-010-X and CANSIM tables 029-0007 to 029-0009.

Non-energy emissions

Non-energy industrial processes accounted for 7% of overall GHG emission in 2005. The marked decrease in emissions from the chemical industry after 1995 (Table 1.3) reflects the introduction of a GHG emission abatement system by Canada's only adipic acid producer in 1997. Adipic acid is used primarily in the production of nylon and other plastics.

Emissions from Canada's approximately 250 thousand farms accounted for 57 Mt of GHG emissions, or 8% of total emissions in 2005. This was an increase of 11 Mt, or 24%, from 1990. Under the reporting guidelines, the only emissions attributed to agriculture are from non-energy sources (51% are N2O and 49% are CH4). Agricultural emissions related to burning of fossil fuels for energy–including driving tractors, heating and drying grain–are reported under energy production and use.

Greenhouse gas emissions from waste management increased 22% between 1990 and 2005. In 2005, these emissions represented 3.7% of total GHG emissions, compared with 3.9% in 1990. Of the 28 Mt of emissions from this sector in 2005, solid waste disposal on land, which includes municipal solid waste landfills and wood waste landfills, accounted for 27 Mt. Methane emissions produced by the decomposition of biomass in municipal solid waste landfills made up 96% of the emissions from this sector.

Land use, land-use change and forestry activities can emit greenhouse gases into the atmosphere or remove them into sinks. In brief, vegetated land absorbs CO2, whereas removal of that vegetation releases the stored CO2 into the atmosphere.

These emissions and removals are estimated and reported for four categories of managed lands: forest land, cropland, wetlands and settlements. Net emissions, calculated as the sum of emissions and removals, are negative in some years and positive in others. In 2005, net emissions amounted to -17 Mt. As per United Nations Framework on Climate Change reporting requirements, these estimates are not included in the national totals.

Canada's greenhouse gas emissions
  1990 1995 2000 2003 2004 2005
  kilotonnes CO2 equivalent
Green household gas source and sink categories  
Total 1 596,000 646,000 721,000 745,000 747,000 747,000
Energy 473,000 514,000 592,000 613,000 608,000 609,000
Stationary combustion sources 282,000 294,000 344,000 360,000 349,000 346,000
Electricity and heat generation 95,300 101,000 132,000 135,000 127,000 129,000
Fossil fuel industries 52,000 54,000 67,000 74,000 72,000 73,000
Petroleum Refining and Upgrading 16,000 14,000 14,000 19,000 18,000 18,000
Fossil Fuel Production 36,000 40,000 53,000 54,000 54,000 55,000
Mining and oil and gas extraction 6,180 7,850 10,400 15,700 14,800 15,600
Manufacturing industries 54,700 52,900 53,000 49,300 50,900 45,900
Iron and steel 6,490 7,040 7,190 6,370 6,480 6,520
Non-ferrous metals 3,180 3,090 3,190 3,200 3,230 3,190
Chemical 7,090 8,450 7,850 5,810 6,760 5,350
Pulp and paper 13,600 11,700 11,000 8,990 9,310 7,340
Cement 3,690 3,670 3,890 4,080 4,210 4,580
Other manufacturing 20,600 19,000 19,900 20,800 20,900 18,900
Construction 1,880 1,180 1,080 1,300 1,350 1,310
Commercial and institutional 25,800 29,000 33,200 37,900 37,900 36,800
Residential 44,000 45,000 45,000 45,000 43,000 42,000
Agriculture and forestry 2,420 2,790 2,570 2,210 2,100 1,950
Transportation 2 150,000 160,000 180,000 190,000 190,000 200,000
Domestic aviation 6,400 5,900 6,600 7,300 7,900 8,700
Road transportation 101,000 112,000 122,000 129,000 133,000 135,000
Light—Duty gasoline vehicles 47,200 45,700 43,300 42,600 42,400 41,200
Light—Duty gasoline trucks 21,300 28,700 37,900 41,700 43,300 44,500
Heavy—Duty gasoline vehicles 8,050 6,270 5,450 6,230 6,600 6,510
Motorcycles 151 125 163 233 252 260
Light—Duty diesel vehicles 363 335 362 408 441 443
Light—Duty diesel trucks 724 1,360 1,730 1,930 2,040 2,200
Heavy—Duty diesel vehicles 21,200 27,100 32,100 35,000 37,400 39,000
Propane and natural gas vehicles 2,200 2,100 1,100 820 860 720
Railways 7,000 6,000 7,000 6,000 6,000 6,000
Domestic marine 5,100 4,400 5,100 6,200 6,700 6,500
Others 30,000 30,000 40,000 40,000 40,000 40,000
Off—Road Gasoline 7,000 7,000 8,000 8,000 8,000 7,000
Off—Road Diesel 20,000 20,000 20,000 20,000 20,000 20,000
Pipelines 6,900 12,000 11,300 9,110 8,520 10,100
Fugitive sources 42,700 57,000 64,700 65,900 66,200 65,700
Coal mining 2,000 2,000 900 700 700 700
Oil and natural gas 40,700 55,300 63,700 65,100 65,500 65,000
Oil 4,180 5,150 5,430 5,780 5,940 5,660
Natural Gas 12,900 16,500 19,400 20,100 20,400 20,800
Venting 19,300 28,600 33,500 33,700 33,700 33,000
Flaring 4,400 5,100 5,400 5,600 5,400 5,500
Industrial processes 53,500 55,700 50,200 50,600 55,400 53,300
Mineral products 8,300 8,800 9,600 9,100 9,500 9,500
Cement production 5,400 6,100 6,700 6,800 7,100 7,200
Lime production 1,700 1,800 1,900 1,600 1,800 1,700
Mineral product use 3 1,090 878 1,020 612 590 599
Chemical industry 16,000 17,000 7,400 7,400 9,800 8,900
Ammonia production 3,900 5,300 5,300 5,000 5,500 5,000
Nitric acid production 1,010 1,000 1,230 1,260 1,230 1,260
Adipic acid production 11,000 11,000 900 1,100 3,100 2,600
Metal production 19,500 19,200 18,900 17,200 17,600 16,200
Iron and steel production 7,060 7,880 7,900 7,040 8,160 7,010
Aluminum production 9,300 9,200 8,200 7,700 7,300 7,900
SF6 used in magnesium smelters and casters 3,110 2,110 2,780 2,480 2,190 1,300
Consumption of halocarbons and SF6 1,800 2,000 4,500 6,000 5,500 6,100
Other and undifferentiated production 8,300 8,700 9,700 11,000 13,000 13,000
Solvent and other product use 170 210 240 220 210 180
Agriculture 46,000 50,000 53,000 54,000 56,000 57,000
Enteric fermentation 18,000 21,000 22,000 23,000 24,000 25,000
Manure management 6,700 7,400 7,800 8,100 8,400 8,600
Agricultural soils 21,000 22,000 23,000 23,000 24,000 23,000
Direct sources 12,000 12,000 13,000 13,000 13,000 13,000
Pasture, range, and paddock manure 3,200 3,700 3,900 4,000 4,300 4,400
Indirect sources 5,000 6,000 6,000 6,000 6,000 6,000
Waste 23,000 25,000 26,000 27,000 28,000 28,000
Solid waste disposal on land 22,000 24,000 25,000 26,000 26,000 27,000
Wastewater handling 780 810 880 910 930 930
Waste incineration 400 350 250 230 230 240
Land use, land—use change and forestry -120,000 150,000 -110,000 22,000 81,000 -17,000
Forest Land -150,000 140,000 -120,000 11,000 70,000 -27,000
Cropland 14,000 7,300 3,700 1,400 1,200 520
Wetlands 5,000 3,000 2,000 2,000 2,000 2,000
Settlements 9,000 9,000 8,000 8,000 8,000 8,000
National totals exclude all GHGs from the land use, land—use change and forestry sector.
Emissions from fuel ethanol are reported within the gasoline transportation subcategories.
The category Mineral product use includes CO 2 emissions from the use of limestone and dolomite, soda ash, and magnesite.
Classification according to United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Totals may not add up due to rounding.
Environment Canada, 2007, National Inventory Report: Greenhouse Gas Sources and Sinks in Canada, 1990–2005, Greenhouse Gas Division, Ottawa, Ontario, (accessed February 25, 2008).

Emissions and demand

Typically, emissions are reported from the supply perspective as detailed above (Table 1.3), showing what emissions are produced and by whom. While this supply perspective is valuable, it is also useful to look at emissions from the perspective of the demand for products and services.

When businesses meet the demand for goods and services, GHG emissions are an unfortunate by-product of the production processes that ensue. From the final demand perspective (Text box "Final demand"), GHGs emitted by industry are attributed to the end-user of the industrial goods and services rather than to industries themselves. This can provide insights into emissions that are otherwise not apparent.

Canada is a trading nation, producing a significant volume of exports. The proportion of industrial GHG emissions associated with the production of goods and services for export increased from 1990 to 2003. In 2003, exports accounted for 45% of industrial emissions of GHGs, up from 37% in 1990. Over the same period, GHG emissions required to satisfy domestic demands increased by 10% (Table 1.4) in spite of a population that increased by 14.4%.  13  This means that 76% of the increase in domestic industrial emissions from 1990 to 2003 was due to the production of goods and services for export.

What is behind this increase in GHG emissions from the production of goods and services for export? The largest source of this growth was the production of fossil fuels, including coal, crude oil and natural gas, for export. In both 1990 and 2003, the production of these fuels for export resulted in more GHG emissions than the production of any other exported commodity (Table 1.5). Over the period, as worldwide demand for fuels surged, GHG emissions from the production of exported fuels jumped 146%, and the contribution of this sector increased from 16.5% to 26.6% of all exports.

Final demand

Domestic demand

  1. Personal expenditure: the purchase of commodities, commodity taxes, wages and salaries and supplementary labour income of persons employed by the personal sector. Includes expenditures by individuals, families and private non-profit organizations.
  2. Construction, machinery and equipment: the value of a producer's acquisitions, minus disposals, of fixed assets during the accounting period plus certain additions to the value of non-produced assets (such as subsoil assets or major improvements in the quantity, quality or productivity of land) realized by the productive activity of institutional units.
  3. Government expenditure: economic activities of the federal government (including defence), the provincial and territorial governments, local (municipal) governments, universities, colleges, vocational and trade schools, publicly funded hospitals and residential care facilities, and publicly funded schools and school boards.
  4. Inventories: stocks of outputs that are still held by the units that produced them prior to their being further processed, sold or delivered to other units or used in other ways, and stocks of products acquired from other units that are intended to be used for intermediate consumption or for resale without further processing.

External demand

  1. Exports: The sale of goods and services to buyers in other countries.

Source(s): Statistics Canada, Environment Accounts and Statistics Division.

Sources of industrial greenhouse gas emissions by final demand category, 1990 and 2003
  1990 2003 p Percentage change  1990 to 2003 Share of total 1990 Share of total 2003 p
  kilotonnes percent
Internal demand 299,854 329,264 9.8 63.2 55.3
Personal expenditure 189,168 217,366 14.9 39.9 36.5
Construction 43,634 45,196 3.6 9.2 7.6
Machinery and equipment 11,004 10,696 -2.8 2.3 1.8
Government 42,489 44,532 4.8 9.0 7.5
Inventories 13,559 11,473 -15.4 2.9 1.9
External demand  
Exports 174,506 266,619 52.8 36.8 44.7
Total domestic industrial emissions 474,360 595,882 25.6 100.0 100.0
Totals may not add up due to rounding
Statistics Canada, Environment Accounts and Statistics Division, Material and Energy Flow Accounts, special tabulation.
Domestic industrial greenhouse gas emissions associated with the production of exports, 1990 and 2003
  1990 2003 p Share of total 1990 Share of total 2003 p
  kilotonnes percent
Mineral fuels 28,833 70,935 16.52 26.61
Primary metal products and other metal products 16,975 20,621 9.73 7.73
Pulp and paper products 19,474 18,761 11.16 7.04
Agricultural products 16,441 17,820 9.42 6.68
Chemicals, pharmaceuticals and chemical products 12,756 16,754 7.31 6.28
Transportation and storage 10,078 15,450 5.78 5.79
Motor vehicles, other transportation equipment and parts 10,926 15,130 6.26 5.67
Wholesaling, retailing and transportation margins 11,895 14,595 6.82 5.47
Food products 6,377 14,407 3.65 5.40
Petroleum and coal products 10,538 13,271 6.04 4.98
Lumber, wood products, furniture and fixtures 4,022 7,924 2.31 2.97
Other utilities 2,577 7,570 1.48 2.84
Non-metallic minerals, metal ores and concentrates 6,923 6,483 3.97 2.43
Machinery and equipment 2,295 4,243 1.32 1.59
Business and computer services 736 4,187 0.42 1.57
Non-metallic mineral products 1,919 3,386 1.10 1.27
Electrical, electronic and communication products 1,672 2,855 0.96 1.07
Leather, rubber, and plastic products 1,383 2,613 0.79 0.98
Textile products, hosiery, clothing and accessories 2,076 1,910 1.19 0.72
Other finance, insurance, and real estate services 887 1,726 0.51 0.65
Other manufactured products 1,382 1,393 0.79 0.52
Fish, seafood and trapping products 301 1,258 0.17 0.47
Other services 774 1,136 0.44 0.43
Printing and publishing 196 603 0.11 0.23
Beverages and tobacco products 759 395 0.44 0.15
Communications services 303 385 0.17 0.14
Forestry products 99 283 0.06 0.11
Private education services 83 206 0.05 0.08
Sales of other government services 33 123 0.02 0.05
Accommodation services and meals 1,779 119 1.02 0.04
Services incidental to mining 0 62 0.00 0.02
Health and social services 12 15 0.01 0.01
Total 174,506 266,619 100.00 100.00
Statistics Canada, Environment Accounts and Statistics Division, Material and Energy Flow Accounts, special tabulation.

Putting greenhouse gas emissions into context

International picture

In terms of growth in GHG emissions, Canada ranked first among the G8 countries over the period 1990 to 2004 (Chart 1.7).

Several factors explain why Canada's emissions rose more quickly than those of many other countries. Relative to most other developed countries, Canada had a high rate of population growth. Canada's population grew by 16.4% from 1991 to 2006, compared with 7.6% for France, 5.5% for the United Kingdom, and 3.0% for Italy and Germany. 14  At 18.3%, population growth in the United States is comparable to that in Canada. Canada's economy also grew impressively, with a 58.6% increase in gross domestic product from 1991 to 2006. 15 

Provincial picture

In 2005, about 546 Mt (or 73%) of Canada's GHG emissions were from the combustion of fossil fuels. This is an increase of 26% in emissions from fuel combustion since 1990. The jurisdictions with the highest percent increase in GHG emissions over this period were Saskatchewan (60.9%) and Alberta (37.4%).

Quebec, with its abundant hydro-generated electricity, had the smallest increase in emissions (4.8%). Collectively, the Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut showed a net decrease in emissions (-4.1%), largely as a result of decreases in combustion emissions from electricity and heat generation in the Yukon.

Alberta had the highest total emissions of all provinces and territories in 2005 (Chart 1.8). Known for its abundant fossil fuel resources, it provided 64% of Canada's primary energy production in 2005. With 10.2% of the population, 16  Alberta generated 16.1% of Canada's gross domestic product (GDP). 17  From 1990 to 2005, provincial GDP 18  increased 74.3% and GHG emissions increased 37.4% to 233 Mt. The province's GHG emissions are dominated by emissions related to electricity and heat generation because of the high share of coal-fired thermal electricity generation in the province.

In 2005, Ontario was Canada's most populated province, with 12.6 million people (38.9% of the total). It generated 201 Mt of GHGs (27.2% of Canada's total GHG emissions) and $510.7 billion of GDP (39.0% of the country's total). From 1990 to 2005, Ontario's emissions increased 25.8 Mt (14.7%), while GDP increased 51.9%. Over 90% of Ontario's GHG emissions are attributable to the energy (82%) and industrial processes (9.4%), with the majority of the remainder coming from agriculture (5.0%) and waste (3.5%).

A common way of showing GHG emissions is by looking at per capita emissions (Chart 1.9). Dividing Canada's total emissions of 747 Mt for 2005 by its population of 32 million, we see that approximately 23 tonnes of GHG emissions can be attributed to each Canadian that year. Per capita emissions are comparable in the United States (24.4 t), but are markedly less in Germany (12.1 t), the United Kingdom (10.9 t), Japan (10.6 t) and France (9.2 t). 19 ,  20 

Chart 1.7 Percentage change in greenhouse gas emissions, 1990 to 2004
Note(s):  These aggregate estimates are based on data from 39 Parties that submitted inventories to the UNFCCC in 2006, excluding CO2 emissions and removals from land-use, land-use change and forestry.
Source(s):  Environment Canada, 2007, National Inventory Report: Greenhouse Gas Sources and Sinks in Canada, 1990-2005, Greenhouse Gas Division, Ottawa, (accessed March 10, 2008).
Chart 1.8 Greenhouse gas emissions by province and territory, 1990 and 2005
Source(s):  Environment Canada, 2007, National Inventory Report: Greenhouse Gas Sources and Sinks in Canada, 1990–2005, Greenhouse Gas Division, Ottawa, (accessed March 10, 2008).
Chart 1.9 Per capita greenhouse gas emissions for Canada, 1990 to 2005
Source(s):  Environment Canada, 2007, National Inventory Report: Greenhouse Gas Sources and Sinks in Canada, 1990–2005, Greenhouse Gas Division, Ottawa, (accessed March 10, 2008).
Adult polar bear and cub, Akpatok Island, Ungava Bay, Nunavut, Brenda Saunders, 2007 

Climate change impacts

Climate change is predicted to affect all Canadians to a greater or lesser extent as a result of its impact on their environment, health and economy. Climate changes are expected to vary regionally. While it is not possible to predict changes with certainty, there is a very high degree of agreement among scientists that changes are already occurring and that further changes will occur. 21  Expected changes in Canada include warmer winters, more frequent summer heat waves, changes in precipitation, changes in wind patterns, and an increased frequency of severe storms. Warming is expected to be most pronounced in arctic regions, causing permafrost to melt and glaciers to retreat more quickly. 22 

Canadians will face challenges in dealing with and adapting to the effects of climate change. Regional droughts may result in water shortages; rising sea levels and heavy precipitation events may lead to greater flood damage; warmer temperatures will favour more frequent thunderstorms and tornadoes. 23 

Canada's climate

Climate and weather vary greatly across Canada's landscape. Long-term trends in weather elements such as temperature, precipitation, wind patterns, humidity and sunshine form a region's climate. These variables are measured systematically at weather stations, and collected observations, averaged over a minimum period of 30 consecutive years, produce 'normals' for each of the elements of climate. These climate normals are updated at the beginning of each decade.

Canadians experience dramatic changes in temperature, precipitation and other weather conditions from one season to the next (Table 1.6). Latitude, proximity to large bodies of water and altitude are some of the factors that influence climate and account for differences across regions.

Weather is variable–rain one day can give way to sun the next. In a given month, there may be an abnormal number of storms, heavy rain, snow or heat waves. Such weather extremes cannot be taken as evidence of climate change; extremes are a normal feature of climate.

Climate variability indicates departures from climate normals over time. Climatic shifts–changes in the long-term weather characteristics of a region–have occurred repeatedly over the billions of years of the earth's history. Nevertheless, much evidence points to the fact that the world is warming at a rate faster than during any other recent period, and that this change is related to human activity. 24 

Climate trends

In recent decades, Canada has experienced warmer average temperatures. The trend over the period 1948 to 2007 shows a 1.4°C increase when looking at annual temperature departures from the 1951 to 1980 climate normal (Chart 1.10).

Chart 1.10 Annual national temperature departures
Note(s):  Departures from 1951 to 1980 temperature average. An increasing trend of 1.4°C with a 90% confidence interval of 0.7°C to 1.7°C was detected.
Source(s):  Environment Canada, Meteorological Service of Canada, Climate Research Branch, 2008, Climate Trends and Variations Bulletin for Canada, Annual 2007, (accessed January 11, 2008).
Average temperature and precipitation, selected weather stations, 1971 to 2000
  Average daily temperature Average annual temperature Total average precipitation
January April July October January April July October Annual
  degrees Celsius millimetres
St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador -4.8 1.6 15.4 6.9 4.7 150.0 121.8 89.4 161.9 1,513.7
Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island -8.0 2.7 18.5 7.8 5.3 106.4 87.8 85.8 108.6 1,173.3
Halifax, Nova Scotia -6.0 4.0 18.6 8.3 6.3 149.2 118.3 102.2 128.7 1,452.2
Fredericton, New Brunswick -9.8 4.3 19.3 7.0 5.3 109.6 87.4 87.1 97.7 1,143.3
Montréal, Quebec -10.4 5.5 20.5 7.5 5.8 79.8 86.0 98.1 88.5 1,046.2
Kuujjuaq, Quebec -24.3 -9.1 11.5 -0.7 -5.7 33.2 27.3 59.2 51.9 526.8
Ottawa, Ontario -10.8 5.7 20.9 7.8 6.0 70.2 72.4 90.6 79.4 943.5
Thunder Bay, Ontario -14.8 2.9 17.6 5.0 2.5 31.3 41.5 89.0 62.6 711.6
Toronto, Ontario -6.3 6.3 20.8 8.9 7.5 52.2 68.4 74.4 64.1 792.7
Winnipeg, Manitoba -17.8 4.0 19.5 5.3 2.6 19.7 31.9 70.6 36.0 513.7
Churchill, Manitoba -26.7 -9.7 12.0 -1.7 -6.9 16.9 19.0 56.0 46.9 431.6
Regina, Saskatchewan -16.2 4.5 18.8 4.8 2.8 14.9 23.5 64.4 21.8 388.1
Saskatoon, Saskatchewan -17.0 4.4 18.2 4.5 2.2 15.2 23.9 60.1 16.7 350.0
Calgary, Alberta -8.9 4.6 16.2 5.4 4.1 11.6 23.9 67.9 13.9 412.6
Edmonton, Alberta -13.5 4.3 15.9 4.3 2.4 22.7 26.3 95.2 19.8 482.7
Vancouver, British Columbia 3.3 9.2 17.5 10.1 10.1 153.6 84.0 39.6 112.6 1,199.0
Prince George, British Columbia -9.6 5.2 15.5 4.6 4.0 52.4 32.2 63.5 57.9 600.8
Whitehorse, Yukon Territory -17.7 0.9 14.1 0.6 -0.7 16.7 7.0 41.4 23.8 267.4
Inuvik, Northwest Territories -27.6 -12.8 14.2 -8.2 -8.8 13.8 10.5 33.2 28.0 248.4
Yellowknife, Northwest Territories -26.8 -5.3 16.8 -1.7 -4.6 14.1 10.8 35.0 35.0 280.7
Resolute, Nunavut -32.4 -22.8 4.3 -14.9 -16.4 4.3 6.1 20.2 13.8 150.0
Baker Lake, Nunavut -32.3 -17.4 11.4 -7.5 -11.8 7.5 13.6 41.8 32.1 270.4
Environment Canada, 2006, Canadian Climate Normals or Averages 1971 to 2000, (accessed November 23, 2007).

Climate profiles from west to east

Most of Canada is located within the north temperate zone, 25  and has four distinct seasons. Areas of the country with similar climates are grouped together into 11 distinct climate regions (Map 1.1 or 2.5).

As a result of the moderating effect of warm air off the Pacific Ocean, the Pacific Coast region enjoys the shortest and mildest winters, with average winter temperatures of 2.5°C. It also receives the most precipitation, with an average 1,695 mm of rain and snow. From 1948 to 2007, the annual temperature increased 1.2°C from the climate normal (Table 1.7).

British Columbia's mountainous interior supports glaciers on the mountain peaks and an interior dry belt. The northern boundary of the Great Basin Desert, Canada's only temperate desert, is located in the South British Columbia Mountains climate region. From 1948 to 2007, the annual temperature of this arid region increased 1.5°C from its climate normal.

Canada's interior has a wide range of temperatures, characteristic of a continental climate. Cold winter air from the north is channelled towards the Prairies and the Northwestern Forest region, which experience extremely cold winter temperatures and hot, dry summers. From 1948 to 2007, the temperature rose 1.5°C above normal in the Prairies.

The Great Lakes have a large influence on the climate in Canada's most populous climate region, the Great Lakes / St. Lawrence Lowlands. In summer, moist air from the lakes brings hot, humid weather. Temperatures, which average 18.4°C, are among the hottest in the country.

Atlantic Canada experiences mild winters and short, cool summers. The region also experiences the second-highest amount of precipitation, with over 1,200 mm of rain and snow each year.

Northern and Arctic areas experience the coldest and driest weather in the country. They have also seen some of the largest increases in temperatures over the past 60 years. From 1948 to 2007, temperatures increased 2.1°C in both the Yukon/North British Columbia Mountains region and the Mackenzie District. Temperatures also increased in the Arctic Tundra region (by 1.6°C) and Arctic Mountains and Fjords region (by 1.1°C).

Annual regional temperature departures from climate normal, trends and extremes, 1948 to 2007
  Trend 2 Extreme years Annual 2007 p
Coldest Warmest
Year on record Departure 3 Year on record Departure 3 Rank 4 Departure 3
  degrees Celsius 90% confidence interval 5 year degrees Celsius year degrees Celsius number degrees Celsius
Canada 1 1.4 0.7 to 1.7 1972 -1.8 1998 2.5 13 0.9
Atlantic Canada 0.2 n.s.s. 6 1972 -1.4 1999 2.0 26 0.1
Great Lakes and Lower St. Lawrence 0.6 n.s.s. 6 1978 -1.0 1998 2.3 14 0.7
Northeastern Forest 0.8 n.s.s. 6 1972 -1.9 2006 2.3 14 0.6
Northwestern Forest 1.8 0.9 to 2.4 1950 -2.1 1987 3.0 22 0.8
Prairies 1.5 0.7 to 2.2 1950 -2.1 1987 3.1 17 1.0
South British Columbia Mountains 1.5 1.1 to 2.1 1955 -1.8 1998 2.0 19 0.8
Pacific Coast 1.2 0.8 to 1.7 1955 -1.2 1958 1.6 27 0.3
North British Columbia Mountains and Yukon Territory 2.1 1.3 to 2.9 1972 -2.1 2005 2.8 31 0.9
Mackenzie District 2.1 1.3 to 2.8 1982 -1.5 1998 3.9 18 1.0
Arctic Tundra 1.6 0.7 to 2.1 1972 -2.4 2006 3.4 11 1.1
Arctic Mountains and Fiords 1.1 0.2 to 1.7 1972 -1.9 2006 2.3 6 1.6
The climate regions of Canada are illustrated in Map 1.1 or 2.5.
A linear (least square) trend over the period of record.
Difference from the normal temperature.
This column ranks 2007 temperature departures over the period between 1948 and 2007. For example, the Atlantic Canada Climate Region had a departure that was 0.1°C warmer than the long term temperature average, which ranked the 2007 season as the 26th warmest over the 60 year period.
90% confidence interval obtained by a nonparametric technique.
Not statistically significant.
Environment Canada, 2008, Meteorological Service of Canada, Climate Research Branch, Climate Trends and Variations Bulletin for Canada, Annual 2007, (accessed March 5, 2008).
Map 1.1 Canadian climate regions

Extreme events

While single storm events cannot be attributed to climate change, scientists predict that climate change will affect storm patterns and result in increased storm activity. 26  Extreme weather events such as storms, floods, hurricanes and tornadoes can have devastating consequences. In 2006 in British Columbia, record dryness in August led to water shortages for residents and tourists, while in November and December, wind and rain toppled thousands of trees in Stanley Park and led to power outages, flooding, landslides and Canada's largest-ever boil-water advisory, affecting people in the Lower Mainland for over 12 days. 27 

Impacts on snow and ice

Warming temperatures and changes in precipitation will affect something that Canada has in abundance–snow. Less snowfall would reduce the need for snow clearing and road maintenance in some areas. Other areas would experience costs however, including reduced opportunities for skiing, snowmobiling and dogsledding. More rapid snowmelt would result in increased flooding.

Snow and ice cover in Canada is already changing and signs show that glaciers are receding and sea ice is decreasing in the Arctic. 28 


Glaciers, masses of ice formed by compacted snow that move slowly down mountain sides, are found in Canada's western cordillera and the mountains of the eastern Arctic. Estimates based on available data indicate that just over 200,000 km2, approximately 2% of the country's land mass, are covered by glaciers (Tables 1.8 and 1.9). 29  However, the total inventory of Canada's glaciers is incomplete and the ice volume that they represent is poorly known.

Estimated glacial area in Canada
  km 2
Arctic islands 151,057
Axel Heiberg Island 11,735
Baffin Island 37,000
Bylot Island 5,000
Devon Island 16,200
Ellesmere Island 80,000
Other islands 1,122
Drainage Areas 50,041
Nelson River 328
Yukon River 10,564
Great Slave Lake 626
Atlantic Ocean 24
Pacific Ocean (other than Yukon River drainage) 37,659
Arctic Ocean (other than Great Slave Lake drainage) 840
Total 201,098
Satellite image atlas of glaciers of the world, U.S. Geological Survey professional paper 1386 J-1. Glaciers of Canada, Introduction, 2002, Edited by R.S. Williams Jr., and J.G. Ferrigno, 28 pp., canadaintro-hires.pdf (accessed March 7, 2008).

Glaciers play an important role in the provision of fresh water. As snow accumulates and compacts, glaciers slowly proceed downslope under the force of gravity, eventually melting and contributing to streamflow at lower elevations. Glacial streamflow peaks in the hot summer months and provides moisture during the driest times of the year.

Some glaciers in the Rocky Mountains are receding and thinning, resulting in decreases in glacial streamflow during the critical driest months of the year. For example, the total glacial area in the North Saskatchewan River Basin decreased 22% from 1975 to 1998, while glacial cover decreased 36% in the South Saskatchewan River Basin (Table 1.9). Of the 853 glaciers documented in these basins in 1975, 328 have disappeared completely.

Decreases in glacier size are most evident for smaller glaciers.  30  Glacier contraction is likely accelerating as a result of higher air temperatures, less precipitation in winter and albedo feedback effects (Text box "Albedo feedback effects").

Albedo feedback effects

Albedo is the proportion of incoming solar radiation reflected from the earth back into space. It depends on many factors, including the colour and roughness of the terrain. Clouds, ice and snow reflect a greater proportion of radiation than do bare land and ocean surfaces, which tend to absorb this radiation.

Decreasing snow and ice cover leave greater areas of bare earth and ocean surface to absorb solar radiation, thereby contributing to continued and accelerated warming.

Socio-economic impact of reduced snowpack and melting glaciers

Much of western Canada, particularly the driest regions in the southern Prairies, is heavily dependent on snowmelt and glacier runoff for streamflow. Glacier-fed rivers reach peak streamflow during the hot summer months, reducing variability in flow during periods of low precipitation. These rivers are an important source of water for community, agricultural and recreational activities.

With warmer conditions, less snow may accumulate in the mountains and spring runoff may occur earlier in the season. Glacial melt's contribution to streamflow is in decline in the eastern and southern cordillera regions. 31  Reduced streamflow could result in water shortages during periods of peak summer demand. Water availability in these areas could be curtailed, with impacts on drinking water, recreation and industry.

Agriculture in southern Alberta and in parts of Saskatchewan and British Columbia relies heavily on irrigation. The three provinces used over 4.2 billion cubic metres of water to irrigate crops in 2001, 96% of all irrigation in Canada. 32  Oilsands producers are also heavy users of water–currently 3 to 4 m3 of water is used to produce 1 m3 of oil. 33  Streamflow variability is a risk for the hydro power industry and lower water levels in rivers and lakes will challenge the health of freshwater fisheries.

Rising sea levels as a result of thermal expansion of sea water and the melting of glaciers, ice caps and ice sheets 34  are expected to contribute to flooding and erosion of coastal areas. 35 

Glacier area and volume, North Saskatchewan and South Saskatchewan river basins
  Total glacier area Total glacier volume
1975 1998 Percentage change  1976 1998 Percentage change
  km 2 percent km 3 percent
North Saskatchewan 1 393 306 -22 25.87 21.54 -17
South Saskatchewan 138 88.4 -36 5.21 3.24 -38
Not including Brazeau.
Demuth, M.N., V. Pinard, A. Pietroniro, B.H. Luckman, C. Hopkinson, P. Dornes and L. Comeau, 2008. Recent and past-century variations in the glacier resources of the Canadian Rocky Mountains – Nelson River System. Terra Glacialis 11 (248): 27-52.

Sea ice

Sea ice controls the timing and amount of maritime activity in Canada's eastern and northern waters. Arctic waters are normally covered by solid pack ice throughout the winter, while summer break-up signals the opening of the shipping season.

Arctic sea ice has experienced enhanced summer break-ups over the last few decades, adding to evidence of warming near the North Pole. In September 2007, sea ice throughout the circumpolar region shrunk to its lowest level since satellite measurement began. 36 

In the Canadian Arctic, the summer of 2007 was a year of very low sea ice coverage, but did not set record minimums. Ice conditions are highly variable on a year-to-year basis; however, satellite observations indicate that the extent of sea ice has declined since 1969 and submarine measurements indicate Arctic ice thickness diminished by 40% from 1961 to 2001. 37  (Text box "Ayles Ice Shelf")

Chart 1.11 shows the percentage of ice coverage in the eastern Canadian Arctic each year since 1968 on September 10, the date when ice coverage is generally close to the year's minimum. Ice coverage on this date has been consistently below the 1971 to 2000 average since 1998.

Evidence shows that the length of the navigation season is increasing marginally in the Canadian Arctic while sea ice is decreasing. 38  The cost of shipping could be reduced if the Northwest Passage were ice-free for longer periods in the summer, allowing shorter routes between Europe and Asia. Longer shipping seasons could also improve access to remote communities and mines, to deliver supplies and retrieve goods and ore for export.

Ayles Ice Shelf

In August, 2005, the Ayles Ice Shelf, located on the north coast of Ellesmere Island in Nunavut, collapsed as a result of warm temperatures and persistent offshore winds.

The collapse created the Ayles Ice Island, the largest calving–or breaking away - from a Canadian ice shelf in 30 years. The ice in the Ayles Ice Island is suspected to be up to 4,500 years old. Over the course of two years, it drifted a total of 470 km before splitting in two in September 2007.

The movement of ice islands and icebergs is a potential danger to ship operations and drilling platforms in the Arctic Ocean.

Source(s): Environment Canada, 2007, Ayles Ice Shelf, 11835&Lang=eng (accessed October 4, 2007).

Chart 1.11 Ice coverage in the eastern Arctic region on September 10, 1968 to 2007
Source(s):  Environment Canada, Canadian Ice Service, (accessed March 5, 2008).

Other impacts affecting society and the economy

Climate change will have profound effects on Canada's natural resources and ecosystems. Biodiversity, the variability of life forms within a given ecosystem–including both marine and terrestrial systems–will also be affected.

These changes to Canada's climate will have beneficial and adverse effects on society and the economy. Although the costs and benefits are hard to quantify–lower costs to heat homes and buildings as a result of warmer winters may be offset by increases in air conditioning in the summer–changes are more likely to be negative if climate change is severe and occurs rapidly than if it is moderate and progresses gradually, allowing time for Canadians to adapt.

With warming temperatures, species and habitat will shift north, move to higher elevations and even disappear. Boundaries between forest and tundra ecosystems are expected to advance in altitude and latitude in response to climate warming. 39  Climatic limits for agricultural crops will also shift, though soils in more northern regions may be less suitable for agriculture.

A longer growing season and increasing levels of CO2 could increase the productivity and yields of agricultural crops and timber forests. However, water shortages resulting from changes in the timing and amount of precipitation could limit yields, especially in the already drought-prone Prairies. Pest problems could also become more severe.

Range shifts in pests have already had a large impact on the forestry industry. In British Columbia, the spread of the mountain pine beetle (Text box "Mountain pine beetles") in the central interior of the province has coincided with warmer winter extremes. 40 

Mountain pine beetles

Mountain pine beetles prefer mature (80 years or older) lodgepole pine and kill trees by laying their eggs under tree bark. The developing larvae eat the tree's phloem, cutting off the supply of nutrients. The beetles also transmit a fungus that stains wood blue.

Cold winter temperatures of -35°C to -40°C over several days will kill a large proportion of the beetle population; however, the mild winters and dry summers of recent years have allowed beetles to thrive in British Columbia.

As temperatures rise, climate may no longer present a barrier limiting the range of mountain pine beetles to British Columbia. Beetles have recently moved into parts of western Alberta and concern is growing that they will spread across the Prairies and eastern Canada. Jack pine, a major component of the boreal forest, is a viable host tree for the beetles.

Source(s): British Columbia Ministry of Forests and Range, 2007, Mountain Pine Beetle, beetle#info (accessed October 10, 2007).

Mountain pine beetle damage, Otway, British Columbia, Dezene Huber, 2007 

By 2007, the area affected by the infestation covered almost 13 million hectares. It is estimated that the standing volume of dead wood was approximately 530 million m3 in 2007–approximately 40% of the merchantable pine volume and 12% of the province's total merchantable timber. 41  This dead wood presents a fire hazard, especially for communities located in the infestation zone.

Altered temperature and precipitation patterns could affect water levels in wetlands, whose functions include flood protection, water filtration and wildlife habitat. Water levels in the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River are expected to decline, and this would affect the quantity and quality of aquatic habitats, as well as shipping, recreational activities and drinking water facilities.

Commercial fisheries and aquaculture, important industries for many communities in the Atlantic provinces and the West Coast, would also be affected by changes in temperature, precipitation, wind and storms. In 2005, the landed value of commercial fisheries totalled $2.1 billion, 42  while production of aquaculture products, including fish and shellfish, totalled over $700 million. 43 

Environmental factors, such as freeze–thaw cycles and frost action, cause roads to deteriorate and crack. Warmer winter weather could significantly alter the cost of maintaining roads in southern parts of Canada by affecting freeze-thaw patterns which impact frost heave and frost damage to pavements. In 2006 governments spent more than $8 billion building roads. 44 

Melting permafrost in Canada's North will likely have severe impacts on infrastructure and transportation. Consequences of melting include soil subsidence, slope instability, and frost heave, with design implications for highways, buildings, bridges and pipelines. 45  Winter roads made of ice and snow are common in many areas of the north, for both community and industrial (for example, mining) activities. Changes in runoff and snowmelt might result in reductions in the operating period of these roads.

Warmer summer temperatures can also enhance the formation of ground-level ozone and lead to increases in emissions of air pollutants–through the greater use of air-conditioning systems, for example. 46  These air pollutants affect human health, especially for those with allergies, asthma and respiratory disorders. Nationally, exposure to ground-level ozone increased an average of 0.8% per year from 1990 to 2005. 47 

Wind turbines, Alberta, TransAlta

How are we adapting? How are we responding to the challenge?

There has been a significant societal response to the problem of climate change. It is a daily topic in the media; consumer investment in hybrid vehicles, alternative power sources and green building materials is growing; and even our language is changing. The terms "carbon footprint," "green audit," "carbon neutral" and "emissions trading" have all been added to the latest Shorter Oxford English Dictionary.

Society's response to climate change includes two fundamental strategies–adaptation, where Canadians respond to a changing environment, and mitigation, where efforts are made to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This section outlines some of the projects and activities occurring on a national, industrial and individual basis that can help us adapt to, and mitigate, climate change.


Given the climate system of the earth, temperatures will continue to rise even if we manage to stabilize GHG emissions at an acceptable level. Therefore, independent of our efforts to decrease the rate and magnitude of climate change, we need to reduce our vulnerability to the impacts and position ourselves to capitalize on the opportunities it may present. As mentioned in Section 1.3, Climate change impacts, climate change will have serious impacts on many ecosystems and human activities. Agriculture will suffer if there are more frequent droughts, some communities will be impacted by sea-level increases, and more frequent storms will tax our emergency response systems. Adaptation strategies can be put in place to help minimize these adverse effects.

Adaptation can take place both before and after the impacts of climate change are observed, and there are many different types of adaptation strategies (Table 1.10).

The Canadian Climate Impacts and Adaptation Research Network (C-CIARN) brings together players in the climate change issue–researchers, decision makers from industry and governments, and non-governmental organizations–to facilitate the generation and discussion of new ideas about climate change. 48  The Canadian government is taking steps to improve our ability to adapt to the effects of climate change. Expenditures under the Climate Change Impacts and Adaptation Program 49  have increased significantly in recent years (Chart 1.12). This fund supports research and activities to improve knowledge of Canada's vulnerability to climate change. In December 2007 the federal government announced a new initiative on climate change adaptation. The four-year program includes developing new tools to aid the development of adaptation strategies, and to facilitate collaboration amongst players in government, economic sectors and local organizations. Specific funds will be targeted towards the development and implementation of regional adaptation programs. 50 

Chart 1.12 Climate Change Impacts and Adaptation Program expenditures on research and assessment
Source(s):  Natural Resources Canada, 2006, "Climate Change Impacts & Adaptation Program (CCIAP) Evaluation (E05023)", (accessed March 5, 2008).
Adaptation strategies
  Explanation Example
Bear costs Do nothing to reduce vulnerability and absorb losses. Allow household lawns and gardens to wither.
Prevent loss Steps are taken to reduce vulnerability. Protect coastal communities with seawalls.
Spread or share loss The burden of loss is spread across different systems  or populations. Crop insurance.
Change activity Stop activities that are no longer viable under the  new climate, and substitute with activites that are more  appropriate. Convert a ski resort into a four-season facility to  attract tourists year round.
Change location Move the activity. Move ice fishing operations farther north.
Enhance adaptive capacity Improve the ability of a system to deal with stress by  enhancing its resiliency. Reduce non-climatic stresses, such as pollution.
Natural Resources Canada, 2004, Climate Change Impacts and Adaptation: A Canadian Perspective, (accessed March 22, 2007).

Mitigation: Domestic activities

With a number of celebrities and industries publicizing their efforts to compensate for their GHG-emitting activities, the concept of carbon offsetting has received a lot of public attention in recent months. As of November 2007, 60 communities in British Columbia had pledged to become 'carbon neutral' by the year 2012. Communities plan to calculate their GHG emissions and then reduce them through buying hybrid vehicles, using alternative energy. To compensate for emissions released they will plant trees and buy carbon offsets. 51  The jury is still out on the effectiveness of these carbon offset programs, but they have definitely brought the climate change problem to a broader audience and fuelled the mitigation discussion.

There are many GHG-reducing programs at both the federal and provincial levels in Canada. Among other things, domestic programs encourage energy efficiency in homes and transportation, as well as partnerships among levels of government.

Energy efficiency in homes and transportation

Two key steps in the process of reducing GHG emissions are educating the public about the implications of climate change and encouraging energy efficiency and conservation.

The federal ecoEnergy initiatives are a series of programs aimed at helping Canadians use energy more efficiently through building retrofits and construction of more energy-efficient buildings. The initiatives also encourage the development of renewable energy and clean energy technologies. 52 

The provinces are also encouraging energy efficiency. Hydro-Québec has launched an Energy Wise program as part of its mandate from the province to find 4.1 terawatt hours of energy savings. 53  It is offering rebates for residential energy-saving equipment, and an online diagnostic tool makes energy-saving recommendations that can be implemented at home. 54 

Transportation is a significant source of GHG emissions. In 2004, light automobiles emitted 50.6 Mt of GHGs.  55  Increasing the number of commuters who use public transit can go a long way in reducing GHG emissions. Urban transit use increased slightly in Canada, from 1,270.6 million trips in 2003 to 1,364.1 in 2006. 56 

Where we choose to live has an impact on our transportation choices. People living in low-density (suburban) neighbourhoods, often located far from the city centre, have a higher level of automobile dependence than those living in high-density (urban) neighbourhoods. In a snapshot of a single day in 2005, over 80% of residents of areas comprised exclusively or almost exclusively of suburban-type housing made at least one trip by car (as the driver). In contrast, less than half of those living in very high-density areas did so. 57 

The goal of the federal ecoTransport 58  initiative is to help municipalities reduce transportation emissions by increasing public transit ridership. The program will also educate the public about emerging energy-efficient technologies and help reduce the environmental and health effects of freight transportation through the use of technology. This program also encourages Canadians to buy fuel efficient vehicles by offering rebates.

Nova Scotia has introduced the TRAX project to promote environmentally friendly transportation options. 59  The goal of the project is to encourage active forms of transportation, such as walking or biking, and the use of public transportation and carpooling.  60 

Other responses

In April 2007, the government of Canada released a plan to regulate both greenhouse gases and air pollution from industrial emitters. 61  This plan is entitled the Turning the Corner Action Plan to Reduce Greenhouse Gases and Air Pollution, and has the objective to cut GHGs by 20% by 2020 and by 60% to 70% by 2050.

The Canada ecoTrust for Clean Air and Climate Change is a national fund intended to help provinces and territories develop technologies and projects to reduce air pollution and GHG emissions. 62  Currently, the government of Canada has ecoTrust partnerships with all provinces and territories.

The federal, and some provincial governments, are trying to set an example by reducing the GHGs emitted during their day-to-day activities. Programs to improve the energy efficiency of government buildings and reduce GHG emissions from government vehicles are the most common.

Mitigation: Industry response

Reducing industrial energy use per unit of production, thereby improving economic performance, also contributes to reducing Canada's GHG emissions. Industry is also involved in developing innovative GHG-reducing technologies.

Adoption and impact of new or significantly improved systems or equipment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by industry, 2004
  Introduced new or significantly improved systems or equipment Impact on emissions 2
Yes No Low Moderate High
Logging 15 85 64 18 18
Oil and gas extraction 63 37 39 41 20
Mining 24 76 69 31 0
Electric power generation, transmission and distribution 27 73 44 33 22
Natural gas distribution 53 47 25 50 25
Food 24 76 53 35 18
Beverage and tobacco products 33 67 57 29 14
Wood products 19 81 45 36 18
Pulp, paper and paperboard mills 38 63 34 49 17
Petroleum and coal products 43 57 83 17 0
Chemicals 19 81 52 31 17
Non-metallic mineral products 18 82 53 40 7
Primary metals 26 74 41 43 15
Fabricated metal products 16 84 47 35 18
Transportation equipment 31 69 68 20 12
Pipeline transportation 35 65 58 42 0
Total 26 74 49 36 14
Adoption of new or significantly improved systems or equipment within a three-year period, 2002 to 2004.
Respondents who answered Yes to the adoption of new or significantly improved systems or equipment were asked to rank the impact on greenhouse gas reductions as being low, moderate or high.
This table includes reported data only. Figures may not add up to totals due to rounding.
Statistics Canada, 2007, Environment Accounts and Statistics Division, Environmental Protection Expenditures in the Business Sector, 2004, Catalogue no. 16F0006X.

Expenditures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions

From 2002 to 2004, 26% of Canadian industries adopted new systems or equipment to reduce GHG emissions (Table 1.11). Of these industries, 50% indicated that the improvements had a moderate or large impact on GHG emissions.

In 2004, the business sector spent $955 million on environmental processes and technologies to reduce GHGs (Table 1.12). The oil and gas industry, the wood products industry and the pulp, paper and paperboard mills industry each spent over $140 million to reduce their GHG emissions. Furthermore, in October 2007 the Forest Product Association of Canada announced a commitment by Canada's forest products industry to carbon neutrality by 2015–without the purchase of carbon offset credits. A partnership with WWF-Canada will inform and help guide the initiative. 63 

Total operating and capital expenditures on environmental processes and technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by industry, 2004
  Operating expenditures 1 Capital expenditures 1 Total
  millions of dollars
Logging 52.0 8.5 60.5
Oil and gas extraction 23.0 124.8 147.8
Mining 38.0 10.1 48.1
Electric power generation, transmission and distribution 75.7 21.2 96.9
Natural gas distribution 3.5 5.2 8.7
Food 8.8 23.7 32.5
Beverage and tobacco products 1.7 3.7 5.4
Wood products 106.5 45.9 152.3
Pulp, paper and paperboard mills 129.8 37.2 167.1
Petroleum and coal products 1.2 37.1 38.3
Chemicals 57.9 25.7 83.6
Non-metallic mineral products 11.0 8.1 19.1
Primary metals 34.9 5.4 40.3
Fabricated metal products 22.4 8.7 31.1
Transportation equipment 6.5 10.8 17.3
Pipeline transportation 3.1 3.1 6.2
Total 575.8 379.3 955.1
Capital expenditures refer to all costs in 2004 (reporting year) for machinery and equipment and their installation and repair, as well as for the construction of non-residential facilities (by contractors or own employees). Operating expenditures refer to all cash expenses, rather than accruals, incurred during the 2004 reporting year for maintenance and repair (of existing environmental equipment), labour, fuel and electricity, materials and supplies, and purchased services.
Figures may not add up to totals due to rounding.
Statistics Canada, 2007, Environment Accounts and Statistics Division, Environmental Protection Expenditures in the Business Sector, 2004, Catalogue no. 16F0006X.

Research and development

According to a study by the National Advisory Panel on Sustainable Energy Science and Technology in Canada, Canadian industry spends, on average, 3.8% of corporate revenues on research and development. However, the energy industry spends 0.75%, and the oil and gas sector 0.36%–less than one-tenth the Canadian average. 64 

Revenues from greenhouse gas-related products

Some industries have seen climate change as an opportunity to begin marketing GHG emissions-reducing technologies. These technologies range from alternative energy systems to co-generation and methane capture. Revenue from sales of these technologies has increased from 2002 to 2004 (Chart 1.13).

Mitigation: Renewable energy

One way that Canada can reduce its GHG emissions is by substituting renewable energy for non-renewable fossil fuels. Renewable energy sources produce electricity or thermal energy without depleting resources. Approximately 59% of Canada's electricity is produced using renewable energy  65  but almost all of this is hydroelectric (Table 1.13). The other sources of renewable energy–including, wind, tidal, solar, earth and geothermal, and bioenergy–currently contribute minimally to the overall supply (0.3% in 2005). This area has expanded more than 500% in the last five years, and will need to expand much more in coming years if we are to significantly decrease our dependence on fossil fuels for electricity.

Chart 1.13 Revenues from sales of greenhouse gas reducing environmental goods and services
Source(s):  Statistics Canada, 2007, Environment Accounts and Statistics Division, Environment Industry: Business sector 2002 (revised) and 2004, Catalogue no. 16F0008X.
Generation of renewable electric energy in Canada
  Hydro Wind and tidal Total energy from renewable and non-renewable sources
  megawatt hours percent of total megawatt hours percent of total megawatt hours
2000 354,548,761 60.52 263,820 0.05 585,813,884
2001 329,479,379 57.91 365,559 0.06 568,912,241
2002 346,462,100 59.63 434,798 0.07 581,062,857
2003 333,399,814 58.63 704,071 0.12 568,604,674
2004 336,659,556 58.30 971,873 0.17 577,466,928
2005 358,446,082 59.30 1,709,361 0.28 604,499,903
These figures include electricity generated by both utilities and industry.
Statistics Canada, 2007, Manufacturing, Construction and Energy Division, Electric Power Generation, Transmission and Distribution, multiple issues, Catalogue no. 57-202-X.

Different levels of government are encouraging investment in renewable energy. As one example of a provincial initiative, Ontario now allows electricity customers who generate their own electricity from renewable sources to sell any excess electricity to the Ontario grid.  66  Funding from the federal ecoENERGY Renewable Initiative will be used to increase Canada's supply of electricity from renewable sources.

Hydroelectric energy

Canada is the world's leading producer of hydroelectricity. It draws on one of Canada's most abundant resources–water. However, this resource is not equally dispersed among the provinces: in 2004, Quebec generated almost half of the hydroelectricity in the country (Table 1.14).

Hydroelectricity generated, by province and territory, 2004
  Electricity generated
  megawatt hour percentage of total
Canada total 336,659,556 100.00
Newfoundland and Labrador 39,589,147 11.76
Prince Edward Island 0 0.00
Nova Scotia 897,189 0.27
New Brunswick 3,013,367 0.90
Quebec 166,572,168 49.48
Ontario 39,498,038 11.73
Manitoba 27,219,340 8.09
Saskatchewan 2,746,393 0.82
Alberta 1,876,384 0.56
British Columbia 54,652,337 16.23
Yukon Territory 305,994 0.09
Northwest Territories 289,199 0.09
Nunavut 0 0.00
Statistics Canada, 2006, Manufacturing, Construction and Energy Division, Electric Power Generation, Transmission and Distribution, 2004, Catalogue no. 57-202-X.

Hydroelectric power stations can convert more than 90% of the energy in water into electricity, making hydro one of the most efficient energy conversion technologies. However, some hydro stations produce methane (CH4), a powerful GHG, because of the anaerobic respiration taking place in the flooded areas behind dams. 67 

Wind energy

Like hydroelectric energy, wind energy generation also takes advantage of a natural phenomenon–the wind. In 2007, Canada's installed wind capacity was 1,770 MW (Chart 1.14). As wind energy production does not result in GHG emissions, 1 MWh of electricity generated by wind energy is equivalent to a reduction of 0.8 t to 0.9 t in GHG emissions from coal or diesel electricity production. 68 

Chart 1.14 Canada's installed wind capacity
Source(s):  Canadian Wind Energy Association, "Canada's Current Installed Capacity," (accessed March 5, 2008).

One of the largest wind farms in Canada is currently being built in Manitoba. When it is finished, it will supply 99 MW of electricity into the provincial grid. Manitoba's ultimate goal is to develop 1,000 MW of wind power over the next decade. This would result in annual GHG reductions of more than 3.5 Mt.  69  The current installed wind capacity of all provinces and territories is shown in Table 1.15.

Canada's installed wind capacity, by province and territory, 2006
  Installed capacity
Newfoundland and Labrador 390
Prince Edward Island 72,360
Nova Scotia 59,260
New Brunswick 0
Quebec 422,250
Ontario 501
Manitoba 103,950
Saskatchewan 171,180
Alberta 523,970
British Columbia 0
Yukon Territory 810
Northwest Territories 0
Nunavut 0
Canadian Wind Energy Association, "Canada's Current Installed Capacity", (accessed March 5, 2008).

Tidal energy

Tidal power harnesses the kinetic energy of moving water to generate electricity. This is done in two ways–with tidal dams or with ocean currents. Tidal dams trap water during high tides and release it through hydroelectric turbines as the tide recedes. Turbines are also usually placed in narrow and shallow constrictions where the water flows the fastest. In the Bay of Fundy, Nova Scotia Power is currently operating one of the only three tidal power plants in the world. The plant can produce up to 20 MW of power a day. 70 

While tidal dams produce renewable energy, this type of energy generation raises some environmental concerns because the most suitable locations for tidal dams tend to be among very sensitive ecosystems, which can be disrupted by the functioning of the dam. 71 

Solar energy

Solar power generation uses the free and unlimited supply of energy from the sun. In 2004, 7% of Canadian industries were using solar energy systems or equipment. 72  Solar power is also convenient for remote communities because a home does not need to be connected to the grid to take advantage of solar energy.

Earth and geothermal energy

Earth and geothermal energy are two types of energy that can be obtained from the earth. Earth energy can be used to cool or heat air and water for buildings. A heat pump can extract heat from the ground to heat a building in winter, or pump warm air into the ground to cool a building in summer. This kind of energy is efficient because it requires less energy to move heat from one place to another than to convert one form of energy into another. 73 

Geothermal energy uses the steam or hot water found in the earth's crust. This hot water can be used directly to heat buildings, or to power turbines and generate electricity.


Bioenergy is created by the combustion of biomass, i.e. any organic material. Sources of biomass for bioenergy production include agricultural waste, forest waste, municipal waste and food processing waste. As a result of the short replication cycle of biomass, using bioenergy does not increase atmospheric carbon dioxide, and can actually decrease emissions of methane (another more potent greenhouse gas)–which is given off by decaying plant matter.  74 

The government of Canada has regulated the use of biofuels. As of 2010, gasoline must have 5% biofuel content. 75  The federal ecoENERGY for Biofuels program supports the production of cleaner, renewable alternatives to gasoline and diesel and encourages the development of a domestic industry for renewable fuels.  76 


A wide range of technologies can help reduce energy consumption and GHG emissions. Some of these technologies are applicable only to large-scale industrial processes, but others are equally suited to industrial and residential purposes.

Low-emission alternatives

A variety of products available for personal consumption provide a low-GHG alternative to things we use every day. Among these are hybrid electric vehicles, on-demand hot water heaters and energy-saving light bulbs.

True to its name, a hybrid electric vehicle 77  combines two systems–a battery and an internal combustion engine. With the battery providing some of their power, hybrids burn less fuel to travel the same distance as regular cars, producing less GHG. The federal government and several of the provinces offer rebates on hybrid cars. 78 

On-demand hot water systems 79  heat water only when it is needed. Less energy is used overall, as it is no longer necessary to keep a storage tank of hot water warm.

Doing something as simple as replacing a light bulb can help save energy. Incandescent light bulbs only use 10% of the energy that they consume to produce light; the other 90% is converted into heat. 80  Fluorescent lights can reduce lighting energy costs by up to 75%. 81  From 1994 to 2006, the share of households in Canada having at least one compact fluorescent light bulb (CFL) went from 19% to 56%. Households in all provinces contributed to this increase. In 2006, British Columbia and Ontario had the highest percentage of households using CFLs (63% and 60% respectively). 82 

Light-emitting diodes (LEDs), the small bulbs that have become a popular choice for Christmas light strings, use 95% less energy than their incandescent counterparts. 83 

Programmable thermostats, which automatically adjust the temperature setting according to the time of day, also allow households to save energy and reduce emissions. These devices have become increasingly popular among Canadians. In 1994, 16% of households with a thermostat had a programmable thermostat. This percentage grew to 40% by 2006, with increases seen in every province. 84 

Cogeneration: Waste not, want not

Simultaneously producing electrical and thermal energy from a single fuel is known as cogeneration. The heat produced during the electricity generation process is used to convert water into steam. The steam can then be used in industrial processes or piped to residential areas to heat homes. In 2004, 8% of Canadian industries 85  were using this technology.

Carbon dioxide capture and sequestration

Carbon dioxide (CO2) capture and sequestration is an approach to mitigating climate change by preventing the release of CO2 into the atmosphere. The technology involves capturing CO2 released at large point sources, including fuel combustion or industrial processes, and storing it. There are several potential storage methods including, geological storage (in geological formations, such as oil and gas fields and deep saline formations), ocean storage (direct release into the water column or onto the deep seafloor) and industrial fixation of CO2 (into inorganic carbonates). 86  Some of the necessary technical expertise for carbon capture and sequestration is already available.

Canada is involved in various CO2 capture and sequestration pilot projects, and EnCana Corporation in Weyburn Saskatchewan has been running one of the largest carbon storage facilities in the world for the past seven years. At this facility CO2 is transported from an American coal gasification plant 161 km away in Beulah, North Dakota and injected 1.6 km underground, where it forces up oil from the existing oil reservoir. This extends the life of the oil field and serves the duel purpose of storing CO2. The revenue received from the additional oil extracted pays for the cost of transportation and injection of the CO2 into the ground.

The potential of CO2 capture and storage is considerable, and the costs for mitigating climate change can be decreased compared to strategies where only other climate change mitigation options are considered. According to a 2005 IPCC report the importance of future capture and storage of CO2 for mitigating climate change will depend on a number of factors, including financial incentives provided for deployment, and whether the risks of storage can be successfully managed. 87 

There are local and global concerns associated with the risk of leakage. If CO2 leaks out of a storage formation there may be local impacts on humans, ecosystems and groundwater, and this risk increases if the injected CO2 contains toxic impurities. The release of CO2 may contribute significantly to global climate change if some portion leaks from the storage formation into the atmosphere. Continuous leakage could, at least in part, offset the climate benefits of sequestration.

Countries around the world are striving to reduce GHG emissions, but dependence on fossil fuels in the short term seems certain. How society responds to this challenge, and the role that carbon capture and storage will play, are important issues for Canadians to consider.


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