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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This very long piece is the last of a four-part series on B.C.’s climate action plan. Part One addressed B.C.’s GHG reduction targets. Part Two addressed how that plan is at risk of being co-opted by Big Oil. Part Three took a closer look at the B.C. Climate Leadership Team’s recommendations for the carbon tax. This analysis explores how the oil and gas industry, and especially the LNG industry, might financially benefit from hidden subsidies recommended by that advisory body.

Like so many other governments around the world, British Columbia’s Liberal government led by Premier Christy Clark has been duped by the barons of Big Oil.

Beguiled by the petroleum industry’s promises of new investment and jobs, the Clark government has repeatedly proved itself a patsy in acceding to the LNG industry’s every demand.

In the process, it has subjugated B.C.’s global-leading 2008 climate action plan to its misguided vision for the unchecked exploitation of non-renewable natural gas.

It has broken its own law, in failing to meet B.C.’s legislated targets for provincial greenhouse gas reductions.

Count on Hawaii — tied for No. 1 as the the state with the highest percentage of renewable energy — to deliver yet another blow to B.C.’s lofty liquefied natural gas (LNG) ambitions.

On July 15, the state’s public utilities commission recently shot down a proposed $4.3 billion takeover of the Hawaiian Electric Companies (which provide 95 per cent of the state’s electricity) by Florida-based NextEra Energy in a 265 page ruling.

NextEra, the largest provider of the wind power in the U.S., was positioned to play a key role in financing the importing of 800,000 metric tons per year of LNG from FortisBC’s Tilbury LNG storage facility in Delta for use in an upgraded power plant on the west coast of Oahu.

The deal, struck in May between a Fortis subsidiary and the Hawaiian Electric Company, would have lasted for 20 years beginning in 2021. The LNG would have been exported by WesPac Midstream via its proposed terminal on the Fraser River.

Justin Trudeau and his cabinet must uphold their promise to respect First Nations rights when it comes to federal decision-making for the Site C dam, federal Green Party leader Elizabeth May told DeSmog Canada while visiting a portion of the Peace River that will be flooded should the $9-billion project proceed.

To me this project represents the litmus test for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his entire cabinet in their central commitment to establish a nation to nation relationship built on respect for Canada’s Fist Nations,” May said during an interview for a new DeSmog Canada Site C video.

May and DeSmog Canada were in the Peace Valley for the annual Paddle for the Peace where hundreds of people representing local landowners, First Nations, and environmental organizations voiced their opposition to the Site C dam.

The Site C dam, advanced as the province’s showcase clean energy project by the B.C. government, Tweet: New report: #SiteC will cause significant environmental damage without any significant #climate benefit http://bit.ly/29RAOLg #bcpoliwill cause significant environmental damage without any significant climate benefit, according to a new report from the University of British Columbia.

Authored by Rick Hendriks from Camerado Energy Consulting, the report found Site C, a BC Hydro megadam proposed for the Peace River near Fort St. John, will not provide energy at a lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emission rate than other alternative energy projects.

The government stated that the unprecedented level of significant adverse environmental effects from Site C are justifiable, in part, because the project delivers energy and capacity at lower GHG emissions than the available alternatives,” Hendriks, an energy consultant with more than 20 years experience analyzing large-scale hydropower projects, said.

Our analysis indicates this is not the case.”

Comparing BC Hydro’s own data on Site C and alternative energy scenarios, the report found the megadam provides no substantial benefit over other renewable sources like wind and solar.

This is the third of a four-part series on B.C.’s climate action plan. Be advised, it is a very long read, more like a short book of six chapters. Part One of this series addresses B.C.’s GHG reduction targets. Part Two addresses how that plan is at risk of being co-opted by Big Oil. Part Three takes a closer look at the B.C. Climate Leadership Team’s recommendations for the carbon tax. And Part Four focuses on how the oil and gas industry stands to profit from that advisory team’s proposed climate action plan.

British Columbia’s Climate Leadership Team (CLT) has offered a strategy aimed at achieving several new emissions reduction targets.

It proposes to do that by “right pricing” carbon with an ever-increasing and expanded carbon tax; by mitigating some of that tax’s competitive and consumer impacts; by supplementing that rising tax with additional (mostly unspecified) measures to further reduce emissions; and by regularly reviewing those three elements.

As such, its roadmap to carbon reductions is largely an updated carbon tax plan.

By Chris Tollefson for IRPP.

The Trudeau government has recently announced a sweeping review process that could culminate in what has been described as “the most fundamental transformation of federal environmental law in a generation.” This review, among other things, will determine the fate of the controversial law that governs federal environmental assessments, known as the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012 (CEAA, 2012).

Ironically, CEAA, 2012, a statute that the Harper government radically revamped to be industry-friendly, nowadays has very few friends. Even key industry insiders admit that the legislation, aimed primarily at expediting the approval of major new resource development projects, has been a spectacular failure. Not only are many major environment assessments (EAs) that are underway under CEAA, 2012 stalled, mired in controversy, tied up in litigation (or all of the above), but more importantly, Canadians have lost trust in the way we assess and make decisions about these projects.

Tweet: Can the #Enviro Assessment Act be renovated, or is it a tear-down? 10 good reasons to believe the latter: http://bit.ly/29HSgR5 #cdnpoliCan CEAA, 2012 be renovated, or is it a tear-down? There are at least ten good reasons to believe the latter.

This is the second of a four-part series on B.C.’s climate action plan. Part One addresses B.C.’s GHG reduction targets. Part Two addresses how that plan is at risk of being co-opted by Big Oil. Part Three takes a closer look at the B.C. Climate Leadership Team’s recommendations for the carbon tax. And Part Four focuses on how the oil and gas industry stands to profit from that advisory team’s proposed climate action plan.

In accepting its mission as defined by the government, the Climate Leadership Team (CLT) also implicitly accepted the government’s plan for increased emissions from LNG and from other carbon-intensive development.

As laudable as the CLT’s climate action plan is in most respects, it is wrongly predicated on accommodating the oil industry’s vision for increased fossil fuel extraction.

Which is to say, it is innately co-opted by its mandate, which is wedded to the acceptance of an overriding economic plan for carbon-fueled growth.

That is not to suggest that all, or even a majority, of the CLT members support that economic vision. Far from it.

After decades of insufficient or insincere attempts to address emissions from Canada’s fastest growing source of climate pollution, a new government-sponsored oilsands advisory group may help resolve political gridlock surrounding the nation’s most contentious natural resource by bringing together industry, environmental and indigenous stakeholders.

The Oil Sands Advisory Group (OSAG) is tasked with helping the province implement a new emissions cap for the oilsands that limits greenhouse gas output to 100 megatonnes per year and will also advise on reducing the overall environmental impacts of production, according to a government statement released Wednesday.

According to Tzeporah Berman, the group's co-chair and a well-known environmentalist, the composition of the advisory group represents a notable shift in the political landscape.

Let's be clear: under previous governments environmental leaders had very little access and were outright ridiculed by many ministers and departments,” Berman told DeSmog Canada. “First Nations leaders were simply shut out. Climate change was denied.”

Tweet: ‘A lot has changed in a year in #Alberta and it is opening up new conversations.’ http://bit.ly/29UdURT @Tzeporah #ableg #bcpoli #cdnpoliA lot has changed in a year in Alberta and it is opening up new conversations.”

This is the first of a four-part series on B.C.’s climate action plan. Part One addresses B.C.’s GHG reduction targets. Part Two addresses how that plan is at risk of being co-opted by Big Oil. Part Three takes a closer look at the B.C. Climate Leadership Team’s recommendations for the carbon tax. And Part Four focuses on how the oil and gas industry stands to profit from that advisory team’s proposed climate action plan.

Any day now, the B.C. government is expected to release its updated climate action plan. Then again, it initially promised to do that last December and then last spring, before revising that deadline again to the end of June, so who knows?

Honouring its commitments has never been the Clark government’s strong suit, to put it mildly.

Nothing proves that more than its failure to honour B.C.’s legislated targets to reduce provincial greenhouse gas emissions.

As premier Christy Clark’s Climate Leadership Team determined, the province won’t even come to close to meeting its legal obligation to cut its GHG emissions by 33 per cent below 2007 levels by 2020.

Nor will it fulfill its statutory requirement to reduce those emissions by 18 per cent as of this year.

And it is wildly off-track from being able to meet the 80 per cent reduction in greenhouse gases that it is legally required by 2050.  

In only its earliest phases of construction, the Site C dam project has already spent more money than projected and missed key benchmarks, threatening to undermine Premier Christy Clark’s commitment to taxpayers to keep the project on budget and on time.

BC Hydro documents filed June 10 with the province’s independent public utility watchdog, the B.C. Utilities Commission (BCUC), show that that Site C expenditures totalled $314 million more at the end of March than was originally budgeted for that date.

The same documents, reviewed by DeSmog, also Tweet: Big trouble for #SiteC if interest rates & taxes increase, & Canadian $$ continues to depreciate over 8 yrs http://bit.ly/29uL9b9 A#bcpoliflag the potential for cost overruns if interest rates climb, taxes increase or the Canadian dollar continues to depreciate over the projected eight remaining years the dam is under construction.

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