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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So far Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has made a lot of the right moves when it comes to the important issue of climate change, but a new report this week makes it clear that Canada's PM cannot lead on climate change and support the expansion of oil sands pipelines at the same time.

There was a rumor circling earlier this month that the Trudeau government would approve the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion plan in the name of “national interest”. If approved, the pipeline will increase the amount of oil produced and shipped to Vancouver's coastline for export by a whopping 590,000 barrels a day – nearly triple what the pipeline currently transports.

At the same time, the Trudeau government is expected to roll out a plan this fall to fulfill their election promise to take “bold action” on climate change.  

These two positions held at the same time are irreconcilable. 

Salmon have been swimming in Pacific Northwest waters for at least seven million years, as indicated by fossils of large saber-tooth salmon found in the area. During that time, they’ve been a key species in intricate, interconnected coastal ecosystems, bringing nitrogen and other nutrients from the ocean and up streams and rivers to spawning grounds, feeding whales, bears and eagles and fertilizing the magnificent coastal rainforests along the way.

Justin Trudeau and Christy Clark

The federal Liberals are under fire on a number of environment fronts, most notably over the Site C dam and the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline.

And rightfully so.

But sometime in the next few weeks, the federal Liberals will announce their verdict on whether the massive Pacific Northwest LNG export terminal can go ahead or not.

(In fact, given that the environment assessment has been wrapped up and submitted by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, cabinet may already have met and made their decision.)

Tweet: #PNWLNG verdict will be a very real window into how seriously @JustinTrudeau takes climate change http://bit.ly/2czc8Wd #bcpoli #cdnpoliAnd this verdict will be a very real window into how seriously the federal government is going to take climate change, its 2030 greenhouse gas emissions targets and Paris Agreement obligations. It’s a very big deal.

By Mike De Souza for the National Observer.

Erik Solheim doesn’t mince his words when it comes to industry giants that fail to embrace change in the global economy.

Solheim, a former Norwegian cabinet minister, is the new top boss of the United Nations Environment Programme. Speaking at an early-morning breakfast with a mixed crowd of environmental stakeholders, policy experts and media in Ottawa, he said that Canada’s fossil fuel companies need to take stock of what’s happening before it’s too late for them.

Many of you will remember Kodak,” Solheim said at the event hosted by the Winnipeg-based International Institute for Sustainable Development. “They didn't believe in digital photography. Where is Kodak now? In industrial museums somewhere.”

The 2016 finalists for the Canadian Online Publishing Awards have been announced and Tweet: .@DeSmogCanada Nominated for 2 Canadian Online Publishing Awards alongside @MacleansMag @HuffPostCanada @TorontoStar http://bit.ly/2cqQQNbDeSmog Canada has made the cut in two categories — alongside Maclean’s Magazine, the Toronto Star, The Huffington Post, the Winnipeg Free Press and the National Observer.

In the Best Blog category, DeSmog Canada is nominated for its coverage of the indigenous youth suicide epidemic and its relationship to natural resource development.

Also featured in the nomination is DeSmog Canada’s coverage of the Mount Polley mine disaster and the provincial government’s failure to levy any charges or fines against the company responsible and our coverage of Canada’s enormous untapped geothermal energy potential.

In the Best Video Content category, Disturbing the Peace: The Story of the Site C Dam has been selected as a finalist.

National Energy Board panel

This op-ed originally appeared on the National Observer.

After more than a year I decided to withdraw as an expert Intervenor at the National Energy Board hearing into Trans Mountain’s Expansion Project. I came to the discouraging conclusion that the Board was on a predetermined course of action to recommend approval of the Project. The Board did this by narrowly scoping its list of issues, removing cross-examination, and refusing to compel answers to information requests made by myself and most other Intervenors.

Corporations cannot regulate themselves. Their first priority is to maximize returns for their shareholders. Regulation is an accepted method in Canada to ensure private interest is not achieved at the expense of the public interest. Government steps in and establishes a regulatory framework to protect public health, safety and the environment as well as to attain objectives related to the nation’s economic and social goals.

Regulatory capture takes place when the regulator ceases to be independent and advances the commercial interests of the industry it is charged with regulating. The Board’s behaviour during the Trans Mountain hearing not only turned the process into a farce, it exposed the Board as a captured regulator.

Tweet: BC gov quietly slipped subsidies for natural gas sector into #climate plan http://bit.ly/2bVElG5 @christyclarkbc @maryforbc #bcpoliThe B.C. government has quietly slipped subsidies for the natural gas sector into its climate plan, which has been panned as “cynical” by leading experts.

B.C.’s so-called Climate Leadership Plan, quietly released on August 19, includes a vague pledge to subsidize the electrification of upstream natural gas facilities in the northeast of the province, using “renewable” power from BC Hydro projects.

I just could not believe the audacity of it when I was reading the plan,” Alex Doukas, senior campaigner at Oil Change International, told DeSmog Canada.“We’re using public dollars to help them reduce their emissions, when that should be the responsibility of the natural gas producers.”

That’s why B.C. ostensibly has a carbon tax: there’s a principle called the ‘polluters pay principle.’ Taxpayers shouldn’t be picking up the tab for big polluters.”

The National Energy Board is fundamentally broken.

That was a point repeatedly highlighted by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during the 2015 federal election — and one confirmed for many with recent revelations that former Quebec premier Jean Charest had privately met with senior NEB officials while on the payroll of TransCanada.

Trudeau and his federal cabinet have the chance to change that: in June, the government announced dual review panels to assess the mandates and operations of the NEB and the country’s oft-criticized post-2012 environmental assessment processes (it also announced five interim principles until those reviews are completed, including a requirement to assess upstream greenhouse gas emissions although it’s unclear how that information is being used).

A cute graphic of white houses with rooftop solar panels is featured on the U.S. Department of Energy’s website. “Solar Homes Sell for More Money,” the government tells viewers, citing studies that show solar adds an average US$15,000 to the resell value of a home.

Just like a renovated kitchen or a finished basement increases a home’s value, solar has been shown to boost home valuation and shorten a home’s time on the market.”

In contrast to the U.S. government’s cheery promotion of solar, BC Hydro’s webpage called “Solar Power & Heating for Your Home” has a blurry photograph of a man putting on a sweater, and technical information that begins with the somber news that it will take a B.C. homeowner at least 20 years to recoup the cost of a solar installation.

Tweet: .@BCHydro warns ‘Do your research on the practicality of going solar in B.C.’ http://bit.ly/2bGnDvq #bcpoliDo your research on the practicality of going solar in B.C.,” advises the webpage.

It’s 31 degrees outside and I was planning to go to the lake this afternoon — and I’d be willing to hazard a guess that many British Columbians are in the same boat.

Tweet: .@christyclarkbc’s #ClimateActionPlan comes out 6 months late in the summer so no one will notice http://bit.ly/2bktGUS #bcpoli #dogdaysThat’s exactly why B.C. Premier Christy Clark chose tomorrow to release her Climate Action Plan — originally scheduled for release nearly six months ago.

Politicans often “take out the trash” on Fridays during the dog days of summer and this time is no different.

The plan — according to a leak in the Globe and Mail today — will fail to increase the carbon tax or update greenhouse gas reduction targets.

Those were two of the cornerstone recommendations from the province’s own expert committee.

The depths of August on a Friday afternoon is not the time you release a plan that you want a lot of people to pay attention to,” said Josha MacNab, B.C. director for the Pembina Institute.

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