Canada Ranks Low on Environment

GLOBE-Net - Canada’s environmental performance fares poorly when compared to 16 other developed countries, according to a report by the Conference Board of Canada. Canada placed 15th overall, beating out only Australia and the United States.  The Nordic countries swept the podium with Sweden holding top spot, followed by Finland and Norway.

One reason why Canada, Australia and the United States are at the bottom of the list  is because these countries are geographically large and resource intensive.   Extracting and processing minerals often requires lots of water.  Greater distances means greater amounts of energy required to transport people and goods, leading to more greenhouse gas emissions.

“We are the among the world leaders in managing our forests, our air quality is good overall, and we have made progress on using energy efficiently,” says Len Coad, Director of Environmental Energy and Transportation Policy.  “But we generate far too much waste, we still use water as though we have an unlimited supply, and our record on greenhouse gas emissions is terrible.”

The country generates 791 kilograms of municipal waste per capita, well above the 17-country average of 610 kg per capita.   That’s almost twice the amount generated by Japan, declares How Canada Performs - An Environment Report Card.  In addition, municipal waste, also contributes to habitat destruction and groundwater pollution, which has increased by 24 percent between 1990 and 2005.

The same poor performance applies to Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions.  They are almost double the 17-country average.  Most of these emissions come from the increased growth in such exports as petroleum, natural gas and forest products.  They were 32 percent above 1990 levels in 2005.

Canada earns a “B” for its water quality but is at risk from industrial effluent, waste matter, agricultural runoff and municipal sewage.  These liquids stimulate the growth of aquatic plant life, leading to the depletion of oxygen for other forms of life.  These water quality issues affect the Prairie Provinces, southern Ontario and southern Quebec.  Drinking water guidelines for nitrate have also been exceeded in groundwater across Canada.

Yet the research by this not-for-profit research organization echoes calls made by industry over the years.  The Canadian Council of Chief Executives, for instance, was one of the first organizations to publicly declare its support for the concept of sustainable development.   Twenty years ago, it wanted business leaders and the public to look for ways to integrate environmental protection with economic development.

Today industry still wants to protect the environment, including those manning the oil sands of Alberta.  “Oil sands production and upgrading emits more greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide, than conventional oil production,” says Canada’s Oil Sands, the industry’s web site. “Industry is focused on finding and developing technology to reduce emissions.”

That is why the provincial government is helping fund at least 10 carbon capture and storage research initiatives to reduce emissions.  The idea is to capture carbon dioxide emissions and store them in geological formations deep inside the earth.

Responsible forest management practices have also been in place for years.   Since 1993, the Forest Stewardship Council works with representatives from environmental groups and the timber industry to operate a voluntary and market-based mechanism that ensures healthy forests.  In fact, the industry’s own efforts to ensure good practices through forest certification, gets praise from the conference board.

“With a clear national strategy and policies to promote investment and innovation, Canada has the potential to become both an energy and environmental superpower,” says Thomas d’Aquino, head of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives.  “Right, now, unfortunately, we see various provinces and levels of government heading off in different directions, setting different targets and timetables instead of working together to maximize the national effort.”

This lack of coordination leads to conflicting approaches that drive up costs with few environmental gains.  Yet business leaders are committed to breaking environmental ground.  All they want are clear rules of the game to move their environmental initiatives forward.  And when this happens, the Conference Board of Canada will no longer issue the country with underperforming grades.  Canada might even find itself on top of the environmental heap.

For More Information: Conference Board of Canada

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