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Status and trends

National status and trends
Sectoral status and trends
Regional status and trends

National status and trends

Canada's GHG emissions were an estimated 740 megatonnes (carbon dioxide equivalent) in 2003, up 24% from 596 megatonnes in 1990. The trend in estimated emissions and the target to which Canada has committed under the Kyoto Protocol—6% below the 1990 baseline by the period 2008 to 2012—are shown in Figure 3. The Kyoto Protocol specifies penalties for countries that do not meet their emissions reduction commitments (Environment Canada 2005a).

Figure 3. Greenhouse gas emissions, Canada, 1990 to 2003. Opens a new browser window.

Figure 3. Greenhouse gas emissions, Canada, 1990 to 2003

Almost 80% of the 2003 emissions are attributed to carbon dioxide, 13% to methane and 7% to nitrous oxide. Sulphur hexafluoride, perfluorocarbons and hydrofluorocarbons accounted for less than 2% of Canada's emissions. Each gas's share of total emissions did not change significantly over the period (Environment Canada 2005a).

As a result of its size, low population density, northern climate and resource base, Canada is one of the highest per capita emitters in the world. Canadians use energy to heat, cool and light their homes, offices and factories, and they use energy to transport goods and people over long distances. The economy relies on energy-intensive industries such as mining, refining, steelmaking, forestry, pulp and paper, and petrochemicals (Government of Canada 2001). Emissions rose 9% from 1990 to reach 23 tonnes per person in 2003. This amount of carbon dioxide would fill 47 houses, each with 1,500 square feet (140 m2 ) of floor space.

In contrast, Canada's GHG emissions per unit of economic activity (as measured by gross domestic product) dropped 13% from 1990 to 2003 (Figure 4). Efficiency improvements in the energy sector partly explain this gain. Without these improvements, total emissions would have been an estimated 52 megatonnes, or 7%, higher (Natural Resources Canada 2005). Despite these gains, rapid growth in the economy has meant higher total emissions.

Figure 4. Greenhouse gas emissions per unit of gross domestic product, Canada, 1990 to 2003. Opens a new browser window.

Figure 4. Greenhouse gas emissions per unit of gross domestic product, Canada, 1990 to 2003

Sectoral status and trends

Estimates of GHG emissions are developed and reported for the following major sectors: energy, industrial processes, solvent and other product use,1 agriculture and waste.2 The energy sector accounted for 81% of total emissions in 2003 (Figure 5). From 1990 to 2003, emissions from this sector rose 28%, accounting for 91% of total growth in Canada's emissions. Within the energy sector, the growth resulted primarily from thermal electricity and heat production (27% of the increase), road transportation (23%), and fossil fuel industries (13%). Emissions from some sources, such as energy use in mining, rose more rapidly, and thus have become more important in the overall total (Environment Canada 2005a).

Figure 5. Greenhouse gas emissions by sector, Canada, 2003. Opens a new browser window.

Figure 5. Greenhouse gas emissions by sector, Canada, 2003

Industrial processes, the only sector with lower estimated emissions, saw a decline of 4% from 1990 to 2003. This sector emits GHGs from the production of minerals, chemicals and metals; from the use of halocarbons and sulphur hexafluoride; and from other industrial processes. Emissions were reduced through technological change at several industrial facilities (Environment Canada 2005a).

The overall increase in emissions was driven by three categories of activity, all in the energy sector.

Thermal electricity and heat production: Electric utilities and industries that generate heat and electricity accounted for 18% of Canada's total GHG emissions in 2003, a 40% rise from 1990 levels. The growth in emissions was driven by the rising demand for electricity and the relative increase in the use of fossil fuels, particularly coal, for electricity generation. Total annual electricity production climbed 21% from 1990 to 2003, although the population rose just 14% (Environment Canada 2005a).

Road transportation: Moving people and goods accounted for 19% of total emissions in 2003 and for 31% of the growth in emissions since 1990. Canadians are increasingly dependent on road transportation. From 1990 to 2003, the number of vehicles rose 8% faster than the number of people. There was also a shift in the types of vehicles used for personal transportation from automobiles to vans, sport-utility vehicles and light-duty gasoline-powered trucks. These heavier vehicles emit, on average, 40% more GHGs per kilometre than do automobiles. Total GHG emissions from light-duty gasoline trucks rose 93% from 1990 to 2003; emissions from cars fell 8%. Another major contributor was heavy-duty diesel vehicles, whose emissions jumped 71% from 1990 to 2003 (Environment Canada 2005a).

Fossil fuel industries: This category includes exploration, production and basic processing of crude oil and natural gas, as well as combustion of fossil fuels during the production of refined petroleum products. Fossil fuel industries accounted 10% of total GHG emissions in 2003, up 39% from 1990 levels due to the combined domestic and foreign demand for fossil fuels. During this period, exports of crude oil and natural gas jumped 466% and 132%, respectively, contributing about one-half of the total increase for this category (Environment Canada 2005a).

Regional status and trends

Greenhouse gas emissions vary from region to region (Figure 6). The geographical distribution of emissions is linked to the location of natural resources, population and heavy industry. Total emissions rose in all provinces and territories except for the Yukon, where they dropped slightly (Environment Canada 2005a).

Figure 6. Greenhouse gas emissions, provinces and territories, 1990 and 2003. Opens a new browser window.

Figure 6. Greenhouse gas emissions, provinces and territories, 1990 and 2003

In 2003, Alberta and Ontario reported the highest emissions. Alberta produced 64% of Canada's energy and accounted for approximately 25% of Canada's emissions in that year. Saskatchewan (45%), New Brunswick (33%) and Alberta (33%) had percentage increases in emissions from 1990 to 2003 that exceeded the national average (Environment Canada 2005a).


1. This sector had very low emissions and made a very small contribution to the growth in emissions relative to other sectors. Hence, it is not discussed further or presented in the figures.

2. Emissions and removals from land use, land use change and forestry, while reported, are not included in the national inventory totals or in the GHG indicator.

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Date modified: 2005-12-14 Important Notices
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