Statistics Canada - Government of Canada
Accessibility: General informationSkip all menus and go to content.Home - Statistics Canada logo Skip main menu and go to secondary menu. Français 1 of 5 Contact Us 2 of 5 Help 3 of 5 Search the website 4 of 5 Canada Site 5 of 5
Skip secondary menu and go to the module menu. The Daily 1 of 7
Census 2 of 7
Canadian Statistics 3 of 7 Community Profiles 4 of 7 Our Products and Services 5 of 7 Home 6 of 7
Other Links 7 of 7

Warning View the most recent version.

Archived Content

Information identified as archived is provided for reference, research or recordkeeping purposes. It is not subject to the Government of Canada Web Standards and has not been altered or updated since it was archived. Please "contact us" to request a format other than those available.

Skip module menu and go to content.

Executive summary

Canadians' health and their social and economic well-being are fundamentally linked to the quality of their environment. Recognizing this, in 2004 the Government of Canada committed to establishing national indicators of freshwater quality, air quality and greenhouse gas emissions. The goal of these new indicators is to provide Canadians with more regular and reliable information on the state of their environment and how it is linked with human activities. Environment Canada, Statistics Canada and Health Canada are working together to develop and communicate these indicators. Reflecting the joint responsibility for environmental management in Canada, this effort has benefited from the co-operation and input of the provinces and territories.

Air quality: The air quality indicator presented in this report focuses on human exposure to ground-level ozone, a key component of smog. Ground-level ozone significantly harms human health and the quality of the natural environment. Using observations from 79 primarily urban monitoring stations across Canada, this indicator presents a seasonal average concentration, adjusted for the number of people living near the monitoring stations. The national concentration of ground-level ozone increased 16% from 1990 to 2003. Stations in Southern Ontario had the highest average concentrations in 2003 and the most rapid rise from 1990.

The pollutants that lead to ground-level ozone (nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds) are emitted primarily during fossil fuel combustion mainly in and around urban areas, especially by motor vehicles and thermal-electric power plants. Weather conditions—especially hot, stagnant air—and the movement of pollutants from other urban regions in Canada and the United States can boost the observed concentrations.

This indicator will be complemented by a measure of fine particulate matter in future reports. Health Canada will evaluate how measurements of the different air pollutants can be combined to produce an integrated air health indicator.

Greenhouse gas emissions: The greenhouse gas indicator presented in this report focuses on total emissions of greenhouse gases countrywide. Emissions rose 24% from 1990 to 2003, and in 2003 were 32% above the target set by the Kyoto Protocol for 2008 to 2012. Thermal-electric power generation, motor vehicle use and fossil fuel production were the principal sources of the emissions increase. In contrast, while total emissions rose, emissions per unit of gross domestic product fell 13% from 1990 to 2003. The expansion of the Canadian economy, however, more than offset gains in emissions efficiency, resulting in a net increase in total emissions. Greenhouse gas emissions also grew faster than the Canadian population over the same period, resulting in a rise in emissions per person.

Freshwater quality: Good quality water is fundamental to ecosystems, human health and economic performance. The preliminary water quality indicator presented in this report focuses only on the ability of Canada's surface waters to support aquatic life over the period 2001 to 2003. For the 345 sites selected across the country, water quality was rated as "good" or "excellent" at 44% of the sites, "fair" at 31% and "marginal" or "poor" at 25%. Water quality in Canada is under pressure from a range of sources, including agriculture, industrial activity and human settlements.

This is the first time that an index to measure water quality has been applied systematically across Canada . As a result, there is no trend information yet. These preliminary results do not represent the quality of all freshwater in Canada. They apply only to the selected monitoring sites, located mainly in southern Canada, that met data quality standards. Improvements planned for the monitoring network, the water quality guidelines and the analysis that will enable a better assessment of surface water quality in the future.

These three indicators raise concerns—about Canada's environmental sustainability, our health and well-being, 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.

These indicators are connected in fundamental ways:

  • Some of the same substances are involved.
  • Some of the same economic forces drive the changes in the indicators.
  • The indicators reflect stresses in the same regions of the country.

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.

This is the first of an annual set of reports on the Canadian Environmental Sustainability Indicators. Over time, the indicators will be further developed, with increasingly robust analyses to track the changes in water quality, air quality and greenhouse gas emissions. Improvements will be made to make these indicators clearer, more relevant and more useful to decision-makers and the public. The indicators will benefit from better monitoring capabilities, 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 enable users to examine regional and sectoral details and conduct their own analyses.

Home | Search | Contact Us | Français Top of page
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