Environmental Issues in Canada


With its abundant forests, natural resources and surrounding oceans, environmental issues in Canada are a hot topic.

There are many environmental issues in Canada and below you will find an overview of the major themes that arise time and again, followed by our latest news and analysis on the subject.


Canada's Oilsands 

One of the most controversial environmental issues in Canada is the extremely high-carbon process of extracting oilsands deposits found in Northern Alberta.

According to Environment Canada, the single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions (responsible for climate change) is Canada's oil industry. In a report released in 2014, Environment Canada found that oil and gas now accounts for one-quarter of all of Canada's greenhouse gas emissions.

Oilsands Pipelines

Much of the oil extracted in Alberta's oilsands reserves is shipped by pipelines in a raw form called “bitumen.” As oil companies look to expand their extraction operations in the oil sands, they need to expand their capacity to ship the oil to global markets. 

There is an ongoing public debate about whether new pipelines should be built in Canada. Concerns include global climate change, pipeline leaks, First Nations treaty rights and oil tanker spills. One of the most high-profile pipeline debates has centered around the Keystone XL pipeline that would have shipped oil from the oilsands to refineries in the United States. On November 6, 2015, U.S. President Barack Obama officially stopped the Keystone pipeline from being built by stating he would not issue the necessary presidential permit.

The Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline has been proposed for nearly 10 years, but is also essentially dead after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau came to power on a promise to implement a ban on oil tankers on the north coast of B.C. The B.C. Supreme Court also ruled early in 2015 that the province of B.C. had failed to adequately consult affected First Nations.

Other oilsands pipelines are still in the environmental assessment stages: TransCanada's Energy East pipeline would ship bitumen from Alberta to Quebec and Atlantic Canada and Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline would ship bitumen from Alberta to Burrard Inlet near Vancouver.

Coal Exports

Canada is responsible for shipping large amounts of coal overseas. When it comes to climate change, the continued burning of coal is a major concern because it is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the world, when compared to other fossil fuels. When burned, coal also produces toxic pollutants like mercury. 

While coal exports are not accounted for in domestic reporting of greenhouse gas emissions, Canada is in essence exporting greenhouse gas emissions to other countries like China, Japan and India. Canada also still uses coal to generate a portion of its electricity, but Ontario has already phased out coal use, and Alberta has committed to phasing out coal-fired electricity generation by 2030.

A major issue is the proposed expansion of coal export facilities on Canada's Pacific coast, which would export thermal coal from Wyoming's Powder Basin, creating both local pollution issues as well as the global implications of increased greenhouse gas emissions.

Image credit: Ben Powless on Flickr.


DeSmog Canada's latest news coverage on environmental issues in Canada


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Bruce Anderson

By Laura Bouchard for CANADALAND.

A few weeks ago, Bruce Anderson, a popular pundit and pollsterwrote an opinion piece criticizing the NDP’s Leap Manifesto as a clumsy political misstep. Canadians, Anderson argues, would never go for bold action addressing climate change. We’re a mild people. A simple people. He wrote:

Canadians want 'pro-growth environmentalism.' They want to tap entrepreneurship, innovation, technology, science, capital and yes, capitalism, to help create ideas that marry our desire to put food on the table, money away for our kids’ education, and some sense of security about how we’re going to live in retirement.”

This last sentence caught my eye. If you read it closely, you’ll notice two lists. First are the feel-goodisms the oil industry likes to drape itself in: innovation, science, entrepreneurship; second are the actual anxieties of average Canadians. Rather artfully Anderson has fused the interests of everyday Canadians with the rhetoric of the oil patch; perfectly aligned and indistinguishable.

The B.C. Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations (FLNRO) granted BC Hydro several exemptions from the B.C. Wildlife Act to keep Site C dam construction from falling behind expected timelines, DeSmog Canada has learned.

The exemptions have some local First Nations and legal experts concerned Premier Christy Clark’s promise to “push the project past the point of no return” is occurring at the cost of B.C.’s own permitting rules and wildlife management.

BC Hydro has gone rogue,” Chief Roland Willson of the West Moberly First Nation told DeSmog Canada. “Worse yet, the province is aware of the situation and chooses to look the other way. What’s the point of having a regulator if it refuses to regulate?”

E-mail correspondence obtained by DeSmog Canada show BC Hydro requested last-minute permission from the Ministry of Forests to undertake “emergency amphibian salvage” along the banks of the Peace River. The ministry granted BC Hydro several exemptions from the Wildlife Act to conduct the work — something legal experts say is against the law.

By Charles Mandel for the National Observer.

A Canadian climate change denial group has popped up in a U.S. coal giant's bankruptcy proceedings that have lifted the curtain on the funding of a sophisticated continent-wide marketing campaign designed to fool the public about how human activity is contributing to global warming.

document, nearly 1,000 pages long, lists the Calgary-based Friends of Science Society as one of the creditors expecting to get money from the once-mighty coal company, Peabody Energy.

Climate scientists and environmentalists have long suspected that the so-called “Friends” group was a front for fossil fuel companies trying to block government action to reduce carbon pollution, but Friends of Science members always declined to reveal their source of funding.

Doctors, nurses and health care professionals from across Canada are urging the federal government to phase out coal-fired power plants within the next decade because of coal’s harmful effects on human health and its contribution to climate change.

The unusual activism from groups such as the Canadian Lung Association, the Asthma Society of Canada and the Heart and Stroke Foundation, led by the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, comes on the heels of growing global recognition of the damage caused by greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power generation.

Tweet: #Canada doctors & nurses: ‘We urge the government of Canada to phase out coal-fired power plants by 2025’ #cdnpoli http://bit.ly/1tvOtv4We urge the government of Canada to phase out coal-fired power plants by 2025 as a critical and immediate action toward achieving Canada’s emissions commitments and as a means to reap significant health benefits for Canadians,” reads a submission from 15 health organizations, representing more than 300,000 health professionals.

Peace Valley farmers and outspoken critics of the Site C dam Ken and Arlene Boon say BC Hydro intends to force them from their third-generation family farm by the end of this year even though the dam would not flood their land until 2024.

The Boons received the unexpected news from their lawyer, following a conversation the lawyer had with officials from BC Hydro’s Properties division.

It was a shocker,” Ken Boon, says. “We didn’t know they wanted us out by Christmas.”

Boon says if they refuse to sell their farm to BC Hydro it will be expropriated for the “re-alignment” of Highway 29 away from the Site C flood zone, a two-year construction project that BC Hydro says must begin in 2017.  

While the B.C. government may like to claim it’s a “climate leader,” the province has quietly become a climate laggard compared to Canada’s other most populous provinces according to a new analysis released by the Pembina Institute on Tuesday. 

The analysis indicates that eight years after B.C.’s Climate Action Plan was implemented, B.C.’s emissions are projected to continue increasing — standing in stark contrast to Ontario, Quebec and even Alberta.

Between 2011 and 2014, B.C.’s emissions increased by the equivalent of adding 380,000 cars to the road — putting B.C. on track to blow past its legislated 2020 emissions target.

Tweet: BC’s inaction on #climatechange means emissions will increase 39% above 2014 levels by 2030 http://bit.ly/1US7GNDIf the province’s inaction on climate change continues, B.C.’s emissions will increase 39 per cent above 2014 levels by 2030, according to modelling.

Meantime, carbon pollution in Alberta, Ontario and Quebec is expected to decrease by 26 per cent, 22 per cent and 23 per cent, respectively, over the same period.

BC Hydro deeply regrets the impacts of the W.A.C. Bennett Dam on First Nations and will not repeat the “mistakes of the past,” Hydro’s Deputy CEO Chris O’Riley said Thursday at the unveiling of a new First Nations gallery at the dam’s visitor centre.

While we remain very proud of the engineering marvel that is the Bennett dam, and we continue to be thankful in this province for the prosperity that it underpins, we recognize a need to acknowledge those parts of the picture that we can’t be proud of,” O’Riley told representatives from six First Nations in the Peace who gathered under a tent in the rain, overlooking the two kilometre-long dam.

We recognize the need to acknowledge the adverse impacts of the dam on the environment and on the original people of the land. We think this acknowledgment is a really important part of reconciliation,” said O’Riley.

When the Bennett dam was completed in 1967 and the floodwaters of ten rivers and creeks converged to form the massive Williston Reservoir, local First Nations were not even informed, much less consulted.

To celebrate Clean Air Day, June 8, the B.C. Government issued a press release celebrating the province’s air quality in the Peace region, home to extensive natural gas operations and Site C dam construction.

The press release, which praises the “successful partnership to ensure continued clean air in the Peace region,” came on the heels of a federal warning issued to BC Hydro for failing to turn on air quality monitors near Site C dam construction.

Federal investigators with the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) discovered monitors near Site C operations, Tweet: #SiteC decides not to turn on air quality monitors #carbonmonoxide #nitrogendioxide #sulphurdioxide http://bit.ly/1U9v8ca #bcpoliwhich measure total suspended particulates, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide were not collecting any data.

CEAA compliance and enforcement chief Michel Vitou issued a warning letter to BC Hydro on May 26, saying the crown corporation “has been unable to monitor air quality effects in order to inform the appropriate authorities of exceedance of federal and provincial air quality standards.”

Toxic heavy metals, including arsenic, barium, cadmium, lithium and lead, are flowing unchecked into the Peace River following a series of unusual landslides that may be linked to B.C's natural gas industry fracking operations.

The landslides began nearly two years ago and show no sign of stopping. So far, they have killed all fish along several kilometres of Brenot and Lynx creeks just downstream from the community of Hudson’s Hope.

Tweet: Plumes of muddy water laced with contaminants pulse into #PeaceRiver http://bit.ly/1PhGs1n @maryforbc #bcpoli #cdnpoli #SiteCAs plumes of muddy water laced with contaminants pulse into the Peace River, scientists and local residents are struggling to understand what caused the landslides and why they have not ceased.

Hudson’s Hope mayor Gwen Johansson is also worried about a broader question raised by the ongoing pollution. The toxic metals are entering the Peace River in a zone slated to be flooded by the Site C dam. That zone could experience nearly 4,000 landslides should the dam be built and the impounded waters begin to rise in the landslide-prone area.

This article originally appeared on The Tyee.

Politicians who advocate for more bitumen pipelines and LNG exports are making a “have your cake and eat it too argument” because there is no way Canada can meet its climate change commitments under such a scenario says David Hughes, one of the nation's top energy experts.

Tweet: 1 #LNG terminal + modest #oilsands growth = oil&gas emissions go from 26% of Canada's GHG in 2014 to 45% by 2030 http://bit.ly/1U6yr3TEven building just one LNG terminal coupled with modest oilsands growth would increase oil and gas emissions from 26 per cent of Canada's total greenhouse gas emissions in 2014 to 45 per cent by 2030.

Under such a scenario, as forecasted by the National Energy Board, the rest of the economy would be forced to contract its emissions by 47 per cent in order to meet promised greenhouse gas reduction targets set by the Paris talks.

“This level of reduction is near-impossible without severe economic consequences,” concluded Hughes in a new report for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA).

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