GLOBE Foundation

Why are Canadians such bad polluters?

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Courtesy of Courtesy of GLOBE Foundation

According to Statistics Canada’s 2007/2008 edition of Human Activity and the Environment, Canadians are among the worst greenhouse gas (GHG) emitters per capita in the world. Although businesses are starting to improve their performance, the average Canadian is doing very little to reduce their own emissions according to StatsCan. Human activity and the environment (HAE) is Statistics Canada’s flagship publication for environmental reporting.

With emphasis on human activity and its relationship to natural systems - air, water, soil, plants and animals - HAE provides a rich compendium of maps, tables and figures punctuated with simple analysis and interpretation, which together paint a statistical portrait of Canada’s environmental behavior. This year’s feature article covers climate change and GHG emissions, recognizing it not only as a concern for Canadians, but as a major global problem that needs to be corrected.

Canada, which has about 0.5% of the world’s population, contributes about 2% of the total global GHG emissions. According to the report, each Canadian produces an average of 23 tonnes of carbon dioxide-equivalent emissions per year, trailing only the U.S., which creates an average of 24.4 tonnes per capita of emissions per year, and Australia, with an average of 27.7 tonnes per capita of emissions per year. Compared to other industrialized nations, on a per capita basis, Canada’s emissions are remarkably high.

Germany emits 12.1 tonnes per capita’ the United Kingdom 10.9 tonnes, Japan 10.6 tonne, and France 9.2 tonnes. Compared to India and China, the biggest polluters overall, the per capita emissions of those countries are 20 times less than those in Canada. Between 1990 and 2003, industrial emissions associated with domestic products bought by Canadians increased by 15%, slightly ahead of the 14% increase in population over the same period. In total, human activities released the equivalent of 747 megatonnes (MT) of carbon dioxide in Canada in 2005, up about 25% from 596 MT in 1990.

One megatonne is equal to one million tonnes. To put this in perspective, driving a mid-size car for 5,000 kilometres will generate one tonne of emissions. 'The largest source of this growth was the production of fossil fuels, including coal, crude oil and natural gas, for export,' the report states. 'In both 1990 and 2003, the production of these fuels for export resulted in more (greenhouse gas) emissions than the production of any other exported commodity. Energy production and consumption accounted for more than 80% of emissions in 2005 and transportation activities accounted for 27% of all emissions.

As worldwide demand for energy has surged since 1990. oil sands related activities have become a significant contributor to Canada’s increasing GHG emissions. Growth in investment in the oil sands has been rapid. Just a decade ago, investment by the industry was less than one-tenth that of the manufacturing sector. In 2008, producers plan to invest $19.7 billion in oil sands, activities surpassing the $19.6 billion in investment planned for the entire manufacturing sector.

Reducing Future Emissions Despite the continued growth of emissions significant effort has gone into lowering the growth rate of Canada’s overall emissions. In 2004, the business sector spent $955 million on environmental processes and technologies to reduce GHG emissions. The oil and gas, wood products and the pulp, paper and paperboard industry each spent over $140 million to reduce their GHG emissions in the same year. About 26% of all Canadian industries adopted new systems or equipment to reduce GHG emissions between 2002 and 2004. Renewable energy other than hydro has also increased six-fold in the past five years.

As part of the 2008 Federal Budget the government of Canada announced $66 million worth of funding to establish a regulatory framework for industrial emissions. The government also promised $250 million for developing carbon capture and storage projects in Alberta and $300 million for the development of the next generation of emission free nuclear power facilities across Canada.

Each province and territory has also developed its own plan for reducing GHG gas emissions as well as for adaptation measures to soften the impact of climate change. (See GLOBE-Net Series Canada in a Changing Climate) Although business and government is beginning to do their part, according to Statistics Canada the average Canadian consumer is not.

The HAE report notes that as consumers, Canadians are indirectly responsible for the GHGs emitted by the companies that make the goods and services they buy. Since 1990 however, Canadian consumer habits have continually favored high GHG emitting products. For example, notes the report, there has been a 109% increase in the emissions from light-duty gasoline trucks since 1990. These vehicles emit, on average, 40 per cent more GHG emissions per kilometre than gasoline automobiles. According to DesRosiers Automotive Consultants Canadians purchased over 10,000 SUVs in 2005, up 23% from 2004. The StatsCan report shows clearly that Canadian’s are emitting CO2 at rates much higher than the rest of the world.

See the full report at

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