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Canada is an environmental laggard: Conference Board

Report cites high consumption and throwaway habits for a C grade.


OTTAWA — A huge landmass, economic dependence on resources and overconsumption have earned Canada a C from the Conference Board of Canada’s How Canada Performs-Environment ranking.

Of the 17 countries the Ottawa-based research firm evaluated, Canada checks in at 15th, ahead of the Australia and the US.

The Conference Board says in addition to generating the most waste, Canadians’ water withdrawals are nearly double the average of the other countries and are lower only than the US. And despite some improvement, Canadians are still the largest users of energy in the developed world.

“Our large land mass, cold climate and resource-intensive economy make us less likely to rank highly on some indicators of environmental sustainability, but many of our poor results are based on our inefficient use of our resources,” said Len Coad, the Conference Board’s director energy, environment and technology policy.

Canada, Australia and the US are similar as the three largest countries in terms of land area, and most resource-intensive economies in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

The rankings do show some excellent environmental results. The Conference Board says forests are generally well protected and well managed; air quality has improved modestly; and energy use per person is down and water quality is still high.

Here are some highlights:

• In 2009, Canada generated 777 kilograms of municipal waste per capita. The 17-country average was 578 kg. Most of the waste goes to landfills or incinerators. Of the 34 million tonnes generated in 2008, 26 million went there for disposal.

• Canadian greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions per capita in 2010 earned a D grade, likely because of increased exports of natural resources but greenhouse gas emissions per capita fell by almost 5% between 1990 and 2010.

• Canada is last for the highest level of total energy consumption, but energy intensity decreased by almost 20% between 1990 and 2009. Canada’s share of electricity produced by nuclear and renewable sources (mostly hydroelectric power) also improved, increasing from 72% in 2000 to almost 78% in 2011.

• There was improvement of all four air quality indicators between 1990 and 2009, but Canada still emits higher levels per capita of nitrogen oxides, sulphur oxides, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

• Canada earns an A for water quality and ranks fourth on this indicator although the Prairies, southern Ontario and southern Quebec have water quality concerns, due in part to municipal water discharges (still, despite upgrades, one of the largest sources of pollution in Canadian waters). Water withdrawals are also nearly double the 16-country average, and Canadians use more than nine times the water per capita that Denmark does.

• Canada gets an A and is second only to Japan on use of forest resources, and earns a B for its change in forest cover between 2005 and 2010.

• Canada gets an A for the proportion of threatened species as a share of all species but the number of at-risk species is increasing, although federal biodiversity action plans have been prepared for the agriculture and forestry sectors. In contrast, the Marine Trophic Index declined between 2000 and 2006, which is good for D.

Click here for access to the report.