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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 made to provide more accessible and integrated information on society, the economy and the environment to help guide the actions of Canadians and their governments.

A key component of this is the tracking of clearly defined environmental indicators that convey complex information in a simple form. These indicators can help measure progress and can be used to foster greater accountability on the part of the federal government and its partners as Canadians work together to achieve cleaner air and water and to limit greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The Canadian Environmental Sustainability Indicators (CESI) were developed for this purpose. They respond to the May 2003 recommendations of the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy (NRTEE) 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 have been collaborating, on behalf of the Government of Canada, to develop and communicate these indicators to policy makers and the Canadian public.

This report presents the latest national status for each indicator, trends over time (except for fresh water), an interpretation of the indicator results, a short description of influences that may have affected them and plans for future improvements to the indicators. Where trend information is available, as in the case of the air quality and GHG emissions indicators, the main focus is on long-term trends, not annual fluctuations. The report concludes with a discussion of how the indicators are linked, primarily focusing on the socio-economic factors influencing the status and trends associated with the indicators.

The indicators in this annual report are described below.

The air quality indicators track measures of long-term exposure of Canadians to ground-level ozone and to fine particulate matter (PM2.5). These are key components of smog and two of the most pervasive and widely spread air pollutants to which people are exposed. Both the ozone and PM2.5 exposure indicators are population-weighted average concentrations of these pollutants observed at monitoring stations across Canada during the warm season (April 1 to September 30).

The greenhouse gas emissions indicator tracks annual releases of the six GHGs that are the major contributors to climate change. The indicator for this report comes directly from the National Inventory Report: Greenhouse Gas Sources and Sinks in Canada, 1990–2005 prepared by Environment Canada for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) for 1990 to 2005 emissions estimates (Environment Canada 2007a).

The freshwater quality indicator reports the status of surface freshwater quality at selected monitoring sites across the country. 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 not met in Canadian rivers and lakes.

These three indicators are designed to supplement traditional social and economic measures such as the 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. The indicators are intended to assist those in government who are responsible for developing policy and measuring performance, as well as to offer all Canadians information about environmental status and trends, and about the implications of the choices they make for the sustainability of the environment. This report is not intended to be a summary or evaluation of policies and management activities designed to address the issues tracked by the indicators.

The CESI indicators are currently in different stages of development. While the quality and regional detail of the national freshwater quality indicator is improving, work is still needed to fill regional gaps in the monitoring network, to improve consistency in monitoring among sites and to report on trends and on other uses, such as drinking water sources. The air quality indicators draw on a well-established national network of monitoring sites, but differ from other existing indicators in presenting a health-based perspective with population-weighted results to estimate human exposure. The GHG 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 initiative, these core environmental indicators and related socio-economic information have been brought together in a single report.

The suite of reporting products and the indicator results will be further developed in the years ahead, with improvements made to increase their accuracy, relevance and usefulness to decision makers and the public. These efforts are being supported by research on the linkages between air quality and human health, by new surveys being conducted on the environmental actions of businesses and households, and by more integrated and representative national monitoring networks now being established. The indicators already form the basis for a publicly accessible information system providing underlying environmental data that can be used and linked to social and economic information. This system will be refined as the CESI initiative evolves.

The Government of Canada website on Sustaining the Environment and Resources for Canadians and the Statistics Canada website provide searchable electronic versions of this report, as well as additional information and online analytical tools related to the indicators.


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