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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


Air quality
Greenhouse gas emissions
Freshwater quality
Connecting the indicators

Air quality

  • Ground-level ozone and fine particulate matter (PM2.5) are two key components of smog that have been linked to health impacts ranging from minor respiratory problems to hospitalizations and premature death. There are no established thresholds below which these pollutants are safe and do not pose a risk to human health.
  • At the national level, from 1990 to 2004, the ground-level ozone indicator showed year-to-year variability, with an average increase of 0.9% per year.
  • In 2004, ground-level ozone values were the highest at monitoring stations in southern Ontario, followed by southern Quebec/eastern Ontario. Southern Ontario exhibited increasing trends since 1990; other regions showed no noticeable increase or decrease.
  • The highest PM2.5 levels for 2004 were in southern Ontario, while some areas in eastern Quebec also showed high levels. There was no discernible national trend in PM2.5 levels for the period 2000 to 2004.

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Greenhouse gas emissions

  • In 2004, Canada’s total greenhouse gas emissions reached an estimated 758 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, up 27% from 1990.
  • Canada’s 2004 emissions were 35% above the target to be achieved in the period 2008 to 2012 under the Kyoto Protocol.
  • Emissions per person rose 10% from 1990 to 2004; emissions per unit of GDP fell 14%.
  • The production and consumption of energy (including road transportation, oil and gas industries and fossil fuel-fired electricity generation) accounted for 82% of total Canadian emissions in 2004 and 91% of the growth in emissions from 1990 to 2004.

Alberta and Ontario had the highest emissions of all provinces in 2004, while Saskatchewan, New Brunswick and Alberta had the highest percentage increases in emissions compared with 1990.

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Freshwater quality

  • This indicator assesses surface freshwater quality with respect to protecting aquatic life (e.g. fish, invertebrates and plants), but not for human consumption. It is based on information gathered from 2002 to 2004 from 340 selected monitoring sites across southern Canada.
  • Freshwater quality in southern Canada was rated as “good” or “excellent” at 44% of the sites, “fair” at 34% and “marginal” or “poor” at 22%.
  • New information has been included for monitoring sites in northern Canada. At these 30 sites, freshwater quality was rated as “good” or “excellent” at 67% of the sites, “fair” at 20% and “marginal” or “poor” at 13%.
  • Freshwater quality for the Great Lakes—Lake Superior, Lake Huron, Georgian Bay, Lake Erie (west, central and eastern basins) and Lake Ontario—was rated as “good” or “excellent” in four basins, “fair” in one and “marginal” in two.

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Connecting the indicators

This chapter uses socio-economic data from Statistics Canada as contextual information to help explain the indicators.

Each of the three indicators focuses on separate issues and reflects different temporal and geographic scales. The air quality indicator has links to human health, while the freshwater quality indicator focuses on the protection of aquatic life. Local water and air quality may change from year to year due to episodic events, while atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases evolve globally and sometimes cumulatively over decades.

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