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Online catalogue: Canadian Environmental Sustainability Indicators: Socio-economic Information Related products PDF version Online catalogue Main page Executive summary Introduction Findings Conclusion Figures and maps Methods and data quality List of acronyms References More information


The health of Canadians and the country’s social and economic progress are highly dependent on the quality of the environment. Recognizing this efforts are being directed towards providing more accessible and integrated information on society, the economy and the environment to  help guide the actions of Canadians and their governments.

As part of this, Canadians need clearly defined indicators that will help them measure progress and foster greater accountability on the part of the federal government and its partners to provide cleaner air, lower greenhouse gas emissions and cleaner water. The Canadian Environmental Sustainability Indicators (CESI) were developed for this purpose. They respond to the recommendations of the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy in May 2003 that the federal government establish a core set of easily understood environmental and sustainable development indicators to track factors of importance to Canadians (NRTEE 2003). Environment Canada, Statistics Canada and Health Canada are collaborating, on behalf of the Government of Canada, to develop and communicate these indicators to policy-makers and Canadians.

The indicators in this annual report are described below.

The air quality indicators reflect the potential for long-term exposure of Canadians to ground-level ozone and fine particulate matter (PM2.5), key components of smog and two of the most common and harmful air pollutants to which people are exposed. Both the ozone and PM2.5 indicators are population-weighted estimates of average warm-season concentrations of these pollutants observed at monitoring stations across Canada.

The greenhouse gas emissions indicator tracks the annual releases of the six greenhouse gases that are the major contributors to climate change. The indicator comes directly from the greenhouse gas inventory report prepared by Environment Canada for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC ).

The freshwater quality indicator reports the status of surface freshwater quality at selected monitoring sites across the country, including the Great Lakes and, for the first time, northern Canada. The indicator uses the Water Quality Index (WQI), endorsed by the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME)1, to summarize the extent to which water quality guidelines for the protection of aquatic life (plants, invertebrates and fish) are exceeded in Canadian rivers and lakes.

These indicators are designed to supplement traditional social and economic measures, such as Gross Domestic Product (GDP), so that Canadians can better understand the relationships that exist among the economy, the environment and human health and well-being. They are intended to assist those in government who are responsible for developing policy and measuring performance, as well as offering all Canadians information about environmental sustainability in Canada. This report is not intended as a summary or evaluation of policies and management activities to address the issues measured by the indicators.

The indicators are in different stages of development. This is the second time a national water quality indicator has been assembled from the different federal, provincial, territorial and joint monitoring programs across the country. The air quality indicators draw on a well-established national network of monitoring sites, but differ from existing indicators by presenting a health-based perspective, population-weighting the results to estimate human exposure. The greenhouse gas emissions indicator is the most developed: it comes directly from the inventory created by Environment Canada to meet international climate change-related monitoring requirements. Under the CESI program, these core environmental indicators have been brought together in a single report.

This report and the indicator results will be further developed in the years ahead: improvements will be made to increase their accuracy, relevance and usefulness to decision-makers and the public. Research will be carried out on the linkages between air quality and human health; new surveys will be conducted on businesses and households regarding their environmental actions; and more integrated and representative national monitoring networks will be put in place. The indicators will also provide the basis for a publicly accessible information system where the underlying environmental data can be used and linked to social and economic information.

For each indicator, this report presents the latest national status, trends over time (where possible), an interpretation of what the indicator trends mean and plans for future improvements. The report concludes with a discussion of how the indicators are linked, primarily by analysing the socio-economic factors influencing the indicator trends.

The Government of Canada website on Sustaining the Environment and Resources for Canadians ( and the Statistics Canada website (/) provide searchable electronic versions of this CESI report, as well as access to additional information related to the indicators.


1. The CCME brings together the Ministers of the Environment from the federal government and all provincial and territorial governments.

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