Greenhouse gas emissions–a focus on Canadian households

Alison Clark Milito and Gabriel Gagnon, Environment Accounts and Statistics Division

Households contribute to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in Canada in two ways. Direct emissions from motor fuel use and residential fuel use account for about one-third of household emissions, while indirect emissions from the production of the goods and services that households consume make up the remainder (see textbox for definitions). Consideration of both types of emissions, direct and indirect, gives a more complete picture of the GHG emissions associated with household activities.

Together, direct and indirect household emissions accounted for 46% of Canada 's total GHG emissions in 2004.1 Overall, these emissions increased 13% between 1990 and 2004, from 285,884 kilotonnes (kt) to 321,727 kt.

Between 1990 and 2004, household GHG emissions intensity decreased by 22% (Chart 1). This was partly due to efficiency gains in the production of goods and services by industry and partly to energy efficiency improvements within Canadian homes. However, spending per capita increased by 25% over the same period. The increase in spending resulted in a 10% increase in indirect GHG emissions from households. This, coupled with the 16% increase in household direct emissions offset most of the gains in efficiency. The end result of these combined effects was an insignificant change in emissions per capita between 1990 and 2004.

Chart 1 Emissions per capita remain stable despite increases in efficiency

Chart 1
Emissions per capita remain stable despite increases in efficiency

How much do Canadian households emit directly via household activities?
What are the total indirect emissions related to our purchases?

What you should know about this study

The data used to produce this article are derived from Statistics Canada's Material and Energy Flow Accounts (MEFA), which integrates environmental data with the economic data from Canada 's System of National Accounts (CSNA).The CSNA is the source of a number of Statistics Canada's most important indicators of economic activity, including gross domestic product (GDP). One of the main components of the CSNA are the input-output (I/O) accounts which produce highly detailed production and consumption statistics for 303 industries, 719 goods and services and 170 categories of final demand.

The MEFA follow the I/O accounting framework to track the use of energy and the generation of emissions by each industry and final demand sector. The flows are linked through the common industrial and commodity classification of the I/O tables. This linkage allows analysis of the interplay between economic activity and greenhouse gas emissions. This article analyses the portion of GHG emissions that are included in the MEFA. Total GHG emissions in the account increased 24% from 571,076 kilotonnes (kt) to 706,660 kt, between 1990 and 2004.

Readers may notice that the emissions estimates in this document differ from the totals that appear in the official Environment Canada submission to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. This is due to adjustments that have to be made to National Inventory Report sectoring and definitions in order to ensure consistency with the requirements of the CSNA.

The accounts used for this analysis also include only the three main greenhouse gases, namely carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide, and do not include emissions from the decomposition or incineration of waste. Total GHG emissions reported in Environment Canada's National Inventory Report increased 25.4% from 592,000 kt to 743,000 kt, between 1990 and 2004.

Emissions factors from Environment Canada are applied to Statistics Canada's energy use account data, which are also based on the CSNA industry and commodity frameworks. The energy use data come mainly from Statistics Canada's Industrial Consumption of Energy Survey, transportation surveys, the Report on Energy Supply-Demand in Canada and Natural Resources Canada's Census of Mines. Additional estimates of emissions that are not linked to fossil fuel consumption are taken directly from the Environment Canada greenhouse gas inventory and are applied to the appropriate industries in the CSNA. Chapter 4 of the publication, Concepts, Sources and Methods of the Canadian System of Environmental and Resource Accounts (16-505-G , free) describes in detail the conceptual framework, data sources and empirical methods used in this study.

Definitions:

Direct household emissions are the greenhouse gases that are emitted when people drive their vehicles for personal use and use fossil fuels to heat their homes.

Indirect household emissions are the greenhouse gases that are emitted when industries produce the goods and services that people purchase for household use.

Household emissions intensity is total direct plus indirect household emissions divided by total household spending (personal expenditure) in dollars.

How much do Canadian households emit directly via household activities?

Approximately one-third of total household emissions are a result of motor fuel use and fuel use within the home.

Household emissions from motor fuel use increased by 29% between 1990 and 2004, from 55,770 kt to 71,873 kt, while emissions from fuel use in the home remained relatively stable.

The use of motor fuels is the largest source of direct emissions attributable to households. The increase in emissions associated with motor fuel use outpaced the 16% growth in population during this period, reflecting the increased popularity of larger motor vehicles that require more fuel per kilometre driven. Sales of trucks2 increased 74% from 1990 to 2004 (Chart 2).

Chart 2 Sales of new trucks up 74% since 1990

Chart 2
Sales of new trucks up 74% since 1990

Natural gas and heating oil made up 58% of the energy used in Canadian dwellings in 2004, and accounted for 99% of the emissions from fuel use within the home.3 The latest international comparison showed that Canada ranked third among G8 countries, just behind the United Kingdom and Germany, in direct residential greenhouse gas emissions per capita (Chart 3).

Chart 3 Canadian GHG emissions per capita for residential fuel use-third highest in G8, 2005

Chart 3
Canadian GHG emissions per capita for residential fuel use–third highest in G8, 2005

From 1990 to 2004, emissions from the consumption of natural gas rose 22%, while those from the use of heating oil decreased 43% (Chart 4). The 2004 emissions from residential fuel use were 1% lower than in 1990 in spite of a 10% increase in total fuel use over the same period. The switch to more fuel-efficient heating and cooling appliances, and the replacement of oil with less carbon-intensive4 natural gas help explain the relative stability of emissions from household fuel use.

Chart 4 Switching from heating oil to natural gas helped stabilize emissions from home fuel use

Chart 4
Switching from heating oil to natural gas helped stabilize emissions from home fuel use

What are the total indirect emissions related to our purchases?

Close to two-thirds of total household GHG emissions are the result of releases by industry in the production of goods and services purchased by households (Table 1). Greenhouse gases emitted domestically to meet the demand of households for goods and services increased by 11% between 1990 and 2004, from 189,168 kt to 209,249 kt (Chart 5).

Table 1 Canadian greenhouse gas emissions attributable to household spending and consumption, 2004p

Table 1
Canadian greenhouse gas emissions attributable to household spending and consumption, 2004p

Chart 5 Two thirds of household GHG emissions result from spending on goods and services

Chart 5
Two thirds of household GHG emissions result from spending on goods and services

In 2004, 66% of total indirect household emissions were linked to the production of goods (137,074 kt) while the remainder was due to the production of services (72,174 kt). This proportion was 72% for goods and 28% for services in 1990.

Goods and services purchases that resulted in the highest indirect GHG emissions in 2004 were electricity; food and non-alcoholic beverages; restaurant meals and accommodations; and motor fuels and lubricants. These four categories represented 54% of the total indirect emissions from households. In contrast, they accounted for just 21% of overall household spending (Table 2).

Table 2 Goods and services purchases resulting in the highest indirect emissions from households, 2004p

Table 2
Goods and services purchases resulting in the highest indirect emissions from households, 2004p

Electricity purchases

Electricity represents 42% of total energy used in the home, but greenhouse gases are not directly emitted when households turn on their lights. However, greenhouse gases are emitted when electricity is generated using fossil fuels. Approximately one-quarter of electricity in Canada is produced using fossil fuels,5 such as coal and natural gas. The electric power industry is the top greenhouse gas emitter in Canada.

The use of electricity resulted in the greatest indirect emissions from households in 2004 even though it represented a small portion (2%) of total household spending. This is due to the high emissions associated with the production of electricity.

Food and non-alcoholic beverage purchases

Household purchases of goods from the food and non-alcoholic beverages category resulted in the second greatest indirect emissions. This reflects the importance of food and non-alcoholic beverages in overall household spending (9% in 2004), as well as the association of these commodities with the agriculture industry, which is one of the most GHG- intensive industries in the economy.

Restaurant and accommodation services

The restaurant and accommodation services category of personal expenditure is the third largest source of indirect emissions. The emissions intensity associated with purchases of restaurants and accommodation services is not particularly high (0.317 kt/millions of dollars), but the category ranks high overall because of the relatively large amount of personal expenditure devoted to it ($50 billion in 2004). Greenhouse gases associated with purchases of restaurant and accommodation services are related primarily to the food and electricity production needed to generate these services.

Motor fuel and lubricant purchases

Emissions released in the production of motor fuels and lubricants to meet household demand are almost equal to emissions from spending on restaurants and accommodations, despite household spending being 51% lower in this category (Table 2). This is due to the higher emissions intensity of motor fuel and lubricant purchases (0.624 kt/millions of dollars).


Notes:

  1. The remaining 54% of total emissions were the result of industrial production to meet the demand for goods and services from other consumers (for example, exports to foreign countries) and the emissions associated with government activities.
  2. Includes light-duty trucks, minivans, and sport-utility vehicles.
  3. Electricity represents the remaining 42% of total energy used in the home, but its consumption does not directly result in the release of greenhouse gas emissions. See: Statistics Canada, CANSIM table 153-0032, accessed September 25, 2008.
  4. When burned, heating oil releases 47% more carbon dioxide per unit of energy (73.11 tonnes/terajoule) than natural gas (49.68 tonnes/terajoule). See: A.P. Jaques, 1992, Canada's Greenhouse Gas Emissions: Estimates for 1990, Environment Canada.
  5. Statistics Canada, CANSIM table 127-0001, accessed September 24, 2008.