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The three indicators reported here raise concerns for Canada's environmental sustainability, the health and well-being of Canadians, and our economic performance. The trends for air quality and greenhouse gas emissions are pointing to greater threats to human health and the planet's climate. The water quality results show that guidelines are being exceeded, at least occasionally, at most of the selected monitoring sites across the country.

A challenge for future reports will be to refine and clarify the three indicators and to add detail to the results. This first report is an essential step toward tracking environmental quality in three critical areas for long-term decision-making. It lays the foundation for consistent national reports on water quality and for a better understanding of the links between air quality and human health. This information is complemented with estimates of Canadian trends in greenhouse gas emissions. Improvements are already planned for each of the three indicators.

The air quality indicator builds on the base of an established national monitoring network. However, the task of linking policy measures to air quality and then to human health effects is formidable: ozone levels are influenced by complex factors, including weather and transboundary flows of pollutants. The approach taken in this report—analysing the observed concentrations in relation to where people live—is just a start. It will benefit from refinements in future reports. Ground-level ozone is only one component of air pollution. Systematic measurements of other pollutants, especially fine particulate matter, will need to be analysed. Their cumulative effects must then be integrated into a comprehensive air health indicator.

The greenhouse gas emissions indicator is the best developed of the three indicators. It clearly shows a rise in Canada's emissions since 1990, and helps to pinpoint the key sources of the increase—fossil fuel production and consumption. Further development and improvements are underway for this indicator.

This year's effort to assemble water quality information from across the country demonstrates that jurisdictions can co-operate to sketch a national picture of water quality. Revisions and improvements to the preliminary indicator for future reports will require a better understanding of how well particular monitoring sites represent the quality of water bodies or watersheds in which they are located and how they relate to all the rivers and lakes in Canada. A more accurate national indicator will rely on choosing variables and developing water quality guidelines that better match the ecological diversity of Canada's water bodies.

Reports will be produced annually on a continually improving set of indicators with increasingly robust analyses to track the changes in water quality, air quality and greenhouse gas emissions in Canada. The indicators will benefit from enhanced monitoring capabilities, new survey results for both water quality and air quality, new scientific knowledge and guidelines, as well as improved data management and analytical methods. Future reports will be supported with an online information system that will allow users to examine regional and sectoral details and conduct their own analyses.

One of the biggest challenges will be the transition from reporting these indicator results separately to reporting them as a set that is integrated with other information on the environment, measures of economic performance and indices of social progress. The long-term goal is better decision-making that fully accounts for environmental sustainability.

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Date modified: 2005-12-14 Important Notices
Online catalogue Main page Executive summary Introduction Findings Conclusion Figures and maps Methods and data quality References More information PDF version Related products Online catalogue: Canadian Environmental Sustainability Indicators: Socio-economic Information