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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

Status and trends

National status and trends
Sectoral status and trends
Regional status and trends

National status and trends

Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions were an estimated 758 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2004, up 27% from 1990, when they were estimated to be 599 megatonnes. To put this in perspective, a typical mid-sized car driven 20 000 kilometres per year produces about 5 tonnes of carbon dioxide (Environment Canada n.d.c). The trend in estimated emissions and the target to which Canada committed in December 2002 when it ratified the Kyoto Protocol—6% below the 1990 baseline by the period 2008 to 2012—are shown in Figure 4. In 2004, Canada was 35% above the Kyoto target.

In terms of individual greenhouse gases, 78% of the 2004 emissions were attributed to carbon dioxide, 15% to methane and 6% to nitrous oxide. Sulphur hexafluoride, PFCs and HFCs accounted for the remaining 1%. These shares of total emissions were about the same as in 1990 (Environment Canada 2006a).

Figure 4: Greenhouse gas emissions, Canada, 1990 to 2004. Opens a new browser window.

Figure 4: Greenhouse gas emissions, Canada, 1990 to 2004

The 27% increase in total greenhouse gas emissions between 1990 and 2004 outpaced the increase in population (15%). This means that emissions per capita rose 10% from 1990 to reach 24 tonnes per person in 2004, making Canada one of the highest per capita emitters in the world (Figure 5). Although Canadians make up only 0.5% of the global population, Canada’s share of global greenhouse gas emissions is approximately 2% (Environment Canada 2006a). The growth in Canada’s economy has been in resource-based energy-intensive industries such as oil and gas, mining, steelmaking, pulp and paper and petrochemicals largely destined for export. Canada’s large size, low population density and northern climate are also contributing factors. Together, these factors lead to high energy usage for the transportation of goods and people and for space heating (Government of Canada 2001).

Greenhouse gas emissions per person, Canada, 1990 to 2004. Opens a new browser window.

Figure 5. Greenhouse gas emissions per person, Canada, 1990 to 2004

Canada’s total greenhouse gas emissions per unit of GDP decreased 14% from 1990 to 2004 (Figure 6), which means that more goods were manufactured and more commercial activity occurred for each tonne of greenhouse gases emitted. Efficiency improvements in the energy sector partly explain this decrease. Without improvements in energy efficiency, it is estimated that total emissions would have been 52 megatonnes, or 7%, higher for the year 2003 (Natural Resources Canada 2005b). Despite these gains, rapid growth in the economy has resulted in higher total emissions.

Figure 6. Greenhouse gas emissions per unit of Gross Domestic Product , Canada, 1990 to 2004. Opens a new browser window.

Figure 6. Greenhouse gas emissions per unit of Gross Domestic Product , Canada, 1990 to 2004

Figure 7 illustrates the breakdown of industrial greenhouse gas emissions by final demand category.1 From a demand perspective, almost half of Canadian industrial greenhouse gas emissions in 2002 can be attributed to satisfying exports (46%), with personal expenditure the next largest emissions source, at 37% (Figure 7). In 1990, exports accounted for 36% of industrial greenhouse gas emissions from a demand perspective, while personal expenditure accounted for 40%.

Figure 7. Industrial greenhouse gas emissions by final demand category, 2002. Opens a new browser window.

Figure 7. Industrial greenhouse gas emissions by final demand category, 2002

Sectoral status and trends

Estimates of greenhouse gas emissions are reported for the following major sectors defined by the IPCC: energy, industrial processes, solvent and other product use, agriculture and waste. Emissions and removals from managed lands (forests, croplands, wetlands) and deforestation are not included in the total national emission estimates.

The energy sector

The production and consumption of energy accounted for most (82%) of the total greenhouse gas emissions in 2004 (Figure 8). This broad category of emissions includes sources such as transportation, electricity generation, space heating, fossil fuel production and consumption, mining and manufacturing. From 1990 to 2004, emissions from these sources rose 30%, accounting for 91% of the growth in total emissions in Canada. The increase in total emissions was driven mainly by the oil, gas and coal industries (32% of the overall increase), road transportation (24%) and thermal electricity and heat production (22%) (Environment Canada 2006a).

Figure 8. Greenhouse gas emissions by sector, Canada, 2004. Opens a new browser window.

Figure 8. Greenhouse gas emissions by sector, Canada, 2004

Oil, gas and coal industries: Overall, the greenhouse gas emissions from the oil, gas and coal industries increased 49% from 1990 to 2004. By 2004, greenhouse gas emissions (including fugitive emissions2 from oil, gas and coal production and transport) accounted for 20% of total emissions. This category includes emissions related to the production and processing of oil, natural gas and coal, petroleum refining and transportation by pipelines. Much of the increase in this category is attributable to the rapid growth in the production and export of crude oil and natural gas. In addition, Canadian crude oil requires much more energy for extraction than in the past, as a larger share of production comes from oil sands as conventional reserves become harder to exploit.

Road transportation: Greenhouse gas emissions from road transportation rose 36% from 1990 to 2004. By 2004, moving people and goods by road accounted for 19% of total greenhouse gas emissions. Changes in both passenger and freight transportation explain this growth. From 1990 to 2004, the number of vehicle-kilometres increased for passenger transportation. There was also a shift in the types of personal vehicles from automobiles to minivans, sport utility vehicles (SUVs) and small pickup trucks. These heavier vehicles with lower fuel efficiency emit on average 40% more greenhouse gases per kilometre than automobiles. As a result, whereas total greenhouse gas emissions from cars fell about 8% from 1990 to 2004, emissions from light-duty gasoline trucks rose 101% (Environment Canada 2006a).

Freight transportation, for its part, saw a doubling in the number of heavy-duty diesel vehicles from 1990 to 2004. Greenhouse gas emissions from this class of vehicles jumped 83% over the period. This is partly due to the advent of “just-in-time” delivery systems, which eliminate the need for the manufacturing and commercial sectors to keep large inventories in stock. Other modes of transportation (domestic aviation and marine, railways, off-road vehicles) accounted for a lesser share (6%) of the 2004 greenhouse gas emissions total from road transportation.

Thermal electricity and heat production: Greenhouse gas emissions from thermal electricity and heat production rose 37% from 1990 to 2004. By 2004, electric utilities and other industries that generate electricity and steam accounted for 17% of Canada’s total greenhouse gas emissions. The growth in emissions was driven by a rising demand for electricity—total annual electricity production increased by 23% between 1990 and 2004—and by the increase in the use of fossil fuels for electricity generation relative to other non-emitting sources, such as nuclear and hydro. Hydroelectricity’s share of national generation fell from 63% to 59%, while coal, oil and natural gas together rose from 21% to 25% of the mix during this period (Environment Canada 2006a).

Factors that influenced growth in demand for electricity at the residential level included population growth, increased numbers of electrical appliances in use (such as secondary refrigerators) and a slight increase in the average home size, resulting in greater heating and cooling needs (Natural Resources Canada 2005b).

Other sectors

The emissions from industrial processes include emissions such as carbon dioxide from limestone calcination in cement production and carbon dioxide from the use of natural gas as feedstock in the manufacture of fertilizers. The overall emissions from this sector remained relatively stable between 1990 and 2004 (2% increase) and accounted for 7% of the 2004 total. However, the individual sources within this sector showed different trends—for example, carbon dioxide emissions from cement production grew by 31% due to the increase in clinker3 production capacity over the years, whereas PFC emissions from aluminum smelting decreased by 54% due to application of emission control technologies to the process.

The agricultural sector also accounted for 7% of the 2004 emissions total; however, emissions from this sector increased by 23% from 1990 levels, mainly as a result of expansion in the beef cattle, swine and poultry industries, along with increased applications of fertilizers in the Prairies (Environment Canada 2006a).

For its part, the waste sector, representing 4% of the 2004 total, increased its emissions by 16% from 1990, slightly more than the 15% growth in population. This increase would have been larger if landfill gas recovery projects, composting and recycling programs had not been implemented in Canada.

Regional status and trends

Greenhouse gas emissions vary from region to region. Between 1990 and 2004, total emissions rose in all provinces and territories except for the Yukon, where they dropped slightly (Figure 9) (Environment Canada 2006a). In 2004, Alberta and Ontario reported the highest emissions, accounting for 31% and 27% of Canada’s emissions, respectively. The geographic distribution of emissions is linked to the location of natural resources, population and heavy industry.

Figure 9: Greenhouse gas emissions, provinces and territories, 1990 and 20043. Opens a new browser window.

Figure 9: Greenhouse gas emissions, provinces and territories, 1990 and 2004


  1. These are the emissions associated with the production activity required to produce final demand. They do not represent the emissions associated with the final consumption of commodities once they have been purchased. Please see Appendix 2 (Box A.1) for a description of the data sources and methods associated with Figure 7.

  2. Fugitive emissions are intentional or unintentional releases of gases from industrial activities. In particular, they may arise from the production, processing, transmission, storage and use of fuels and include emissions from combustion only when it does not support a primary activity (e.g. flaring of natural gases at oil and gas production facilities).

  3. An intermediate product from which cement is made. Gypsum is added to clinker to produce portland cement.

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