Canada: Environmental Issues, Policies and Clean Technology

This article was updated on the 7th July 2018.

Welcome to Canada

Canada is largely defined by its size, as the second-largest country in the world, and sparse population, with about 75 percent of Canadians living within 100 miles of the United States of America. The Canadian population is also highly concentrated around its cities, outside of southern Ontario.

Canada is a large country with a land mass of 9,970,610 square kilometers. Being a large country, Canada has a wide range of ecosystems. Lakes and rivers cover 7 percent of the country. The southern part of Canada is temperate and the northern regions are sub-Arctic and Arctic.. In northernmost Canada only 12 per cent of the land is suitable for agriculture due to the harsh climate, resulting in most of the population of Canada living within a few hundred kilometres of the southern border.

Canada’s culture and market-based economy very much resemble that of its southern neighbor, the USA. Some of Canada’s biggest industries involve the extraction of natural resources, including oil, gas and uranium. The country also has strong banking and technology sectors.

Environmental Issues of Canada

With the Arctic warming faster than any other biome recently, Canadians are particularly concerned about the impacts of climate change. The country generates enormous wealth from its oil and gas operations. However, the oil and gas industries account for a quarter of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions, with the oilsands being the most carbon intensive.

The oil extracted in Alberta’s oilsands reserves is shipped in pipelines in its bitumen raw form. The debate about whether Canada should build new pipelines is still ongoing due to worries about climate change, pipeline leaks, oil tanker spills and First Nations rights. The Keystone XL pipeline proposal was rejected by President Obama but has since been approved by President Trump. Other planned pipeline proposals such as the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline and Energy East pipeline have been abandoned.

A large amount of the Canadian population lives in urban areas and cities are notorious for their poor air quality. Environment Canada has singled out air pollution as a major concern as it affects wildlife, vegetation, soil and water. The government agency has said air pollution from urban areas causes acid rain and contributes to climate change.

The oil and gas industry is a huge source of income for Canada but it is also a massive contributor to greenhouse gas emissions
Image credit: Richard Wayne Collens / Shutterstock.com

Canada is home to an abundance of freshwater, but the World Wildlife Fund has raised concerns about water usage and the damming of Canadian rivers. The WWF noted that Canada uses large amounts of water for agriculture, industry and consumption. The conservation organization said Canada moves more water from one watershed to another than any other country in the world and this activity can be devastating to ecosystems.

Environmental Policies of Canada

Experiencing many of the effects of climate change first-hand, Canada has enacted numerous policies aimed at combating emissions. The Canadian Environmental Protection Act was introduced in 1999 to combat specific to air pollutants, and has had many amendments and additions since its introduction.

To tackle greenhouse gas emissions in the electricity sector, the Canadian government has banned the creation of new coal-fired power plants. The government has also passed regulations that mandate lower vehicle emissions and more efficient fuel usage. In 2016 they introduced the Multi-sector Air Pollutants Regulations to limit the amount of nitrogen oxides (NOx) emitted from gaseous fuel-fired non-utility boilers, heaters and stationary spark-ignition gaseous fuel-fired engines.

Canada has also reached numerous environmental agreements with the international community. Canada was the first developed nation to ratify the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. In accordance with this treaty, Canada’s governments have moved to safeguard almost 10 percent of Canada's land mass and 3 million hectares of ocean.

Canadian Oil Sands Create Energy Boom and Environmental Problems
Video credit: VOA News / YouTube

Canada has also signed a number of waste management treaties, including the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants and the Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals.

Canada is also involved in major international environmental organizations, such as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation.

Clean Technology in Canada

While the clean technology sector in Canada has been expanding every year, the sector has not been expanding as fast as it has in other countries, resulting in the nation falling behind in the global marketplace. Canada is only ranked 16th among the top 25 exporters, with China, Germany and the US taking the top three export spots. The federal government has invested $1.8 billion in clean technology, but some of that money will not be available until 2019.

According to a 2015 report from the research firm Analytica Advisors, Canada’s share of the international market for clean technology goods dropped by 41 cent between 2005 and 2013. In 2015 the industry had $13.27 billion in revenues but retained earnings have declined every year for the last five years.

Céline Bak, president of Analytica Advisors, said leading clean technology countries are pursuing a more holistic approach beyond financing startup companies. The Canadian government has put forward a robust financing program for clean technology that is largely funnelled to the not-for-profit organization, Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC).

Canada: Environmental Issues, Policies and Clean Technology

Coal mines, like this one pictured in Alberta, are important for Canada's energy needs. Canada produced 67.3 million tons of coal in 2005, 56 million tons of which were used for energy purposes. Image credit: BGSmith / Shutterstock.com
With the Arctic circle on its doorstep, Canada is well aware of the problems that climate change can cause. It works on an international level to encourage other nations to help slow the effects of this problem. Image credit: jennyt / Shutterstock.com

Coal mines are important for Canada's energy needs. Canada produced 67.3 million tons of coal in 2005, 56 million tons of which were used for energy purposes. With the Arctic circle on its doorstep, Canada is well aware of the problems that climate change can cause. It works on an international level to encourage other nations to help slow the effects of this problem.

The SDTC has three different funds. Since 2001, the Canadian government has allocated a total of $965 million to the SD Tech Fund to invest in air quality, climate change, soil quality and water quality projects. A derivative of the SD Tech Fund, the SD Natural Gas Fund supports the creation and use of new downstream natural gas technology. The NextGen Biofuels Fund backs the creation of demonstration-scale renewable fuel facilities, and although it is no longer accepting applications, the fund will continue to operate until September 30, 2027.

Government investments appear to be bearing fruit and Analytica Advisors has found that Canada’s clean technology sector is the nation’s fastest growing. One company, Alter NRG, is developing waste-to-energy solutions that convert solid waste into electricity-generating fuel.

Another company, CarbonCure, has created a process that recycles carbon dioxide emissions from the making of concrete, which represents more than 5 percent of all global emissions. Hydrostor is a Canada-based company that can store electrical power as compressed air that can be tapped into on an "as needed" basis.

At the SDTC Cleantech Leadership Summit in May, Minister Bains announces $26.3-million investment in clean technology. The funding will be spread across four new companies that join more than 300 others that SDTC has invested in since 2001. D-Wave, MEG Energy, MineSense and Ionomr are expected to deliver environmental benefits to multiple industries and demonstrate our government’s commitment to helping businesses scale and compete on the global stage according to Leah Lawrence, the President and CEO of SDTC.

A Clean Future?

Canada’s clean future largely depends on how the country regulates its large and growing fossil fuel extraction industries. These industries are a major source of Canadian wealth; however, they are associated with massive amounts of emissions.

Virtually sitting on the front lines of climate change, Canada will likely continue to push forward on the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions as it pulls large quantities of emissions-generating fuels from the Earth.

References

Updated by Benedette Cuffari 2018

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the author expressed in their private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of AZoM.com Limited T/A AZoNetwork the owner and operator of this website. This disclaimer forms part of the Terms and conditions of use of this website.

Brett Smith

Written by

Brett Smith

Brett Smith is an American freelance writer with a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Buffalo State College and has 8 years of experience working in a professional laboratory.

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