The environment is a hot and major topic around the world. This is essentially due to the major role the environment plays in the existence of both living and non-living things. Environmental issues in Canada are not unique to the nation but to the planet at large.
Environmental issues have been noted to be some of the largest and most significant problems facing our world today. With this notion, we will take a quick survey of the biggest environmental issues in Canada, as there are some other issues in the environment that may be considered minor environmental issues.
Canada as a nation is largely defined by its size, and it’s known as the second-largest country in the world with a vast population. Statistics show that about 75 percent of Canadians live within 100 miles of the United States of America. Around cities in southern Ontario and outside, where the Canadian population is also highly concentrated,
Canada has a landmass of 9,970,610 square kilometers. Being a large country, Canada has a wide range of ecosystems. Lakes and rivers cover 7% of the country. The southern part of Canada is temperate and the northern regions are sub-Arctic and Arctic.
In northernmost Canada only 12% 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 kilometers of the southern border.
Canada’s market-based economy very much resembles that of its southern neighbor, the United States. Some of Canada’s biggest industries involve the extraction of natural resources, including oil, gas, and uranium. Hence, to a large extent, the environment is affected by these activities.
As the second-largest country in the world (from a geographical standpoint), Canada is becoming increasingly aware of the effects of activities on the environment, ranging from global warming, changes in weather patterns, deforestation, climate change, and many other issues occurring within the country. This article is about some of the biggest environmental issues affecting Canada today.
Table of Contents
10 Biggest Environmental Issues in Canada
Rises in temperatures, air pollution, melting glaciers, road salt pollution, etc., are some of the major environmental threats in Canada in the present day. Here are some biggest of them all as discussed below.
- The Melting of Ice Caps and Permafrost
- Mining Pollution
- Climate Change
- Air Pollution
- Loss of Ecosystems and Endangered Species
- Road Salt Pollution
- Continuous Increase in Temperatures
- Oil Sands Pollution
Deforestation in Canada is among the lowest in the world, according to the nation’s government statistics, with the annual deforestation rate declining steadily over the past 25 years, and the country’s efforts in developing sustainable forest management are globally applauded. However, in as much as this is good news, forest loss remains a pressing issue.
Trees and forests are natural carbon sinks. They take harmful chemicals like carbon dioxide out of the air.
Canada’s boreal forests play a crucial role in regulating the global carbon footprint as they store twice as much carbon as tropical forests nearly 27 years’ worth of the world’s carbon emissions from fossil fuel consumption.
Canada’s top three regions were responsible for 50% of all tree cover loss between 2001 and 2021. British Columbia had the most tree cover loss at 8.59 million hectares (21.2 million acres) compared to an average of 3.59 million hectares (8.9 million acres).
Logging in Canada’s boreal forest is a huge issue and it results in 26 million metric tons of uncounted carbon emissions associated with soil emissions and lost sequestration capacity.
A 2019 study suggested that deforestation rates in Ontario are nearly fifty times higher than reported by government officials, even though only 17% of Canada’s logging takes place in the province.
Here, approximately 21,700 hectares (53,621 acres) the equivalent of 40,000 football fields are lost each year in Ontario due to roads and landings imposed by forestry in the boreal forest thereby creating a loss in the rich and diverse ecosystems found in that region.
Vegetation near rivers and streams (riparian) helps maintain balance in the water and provides a home to important species that apex creatures depend on.
In the last three decades, a total area of 650,000 hectares nearly 10 times the size of Toronto, the province’s capital city has been lost due to this logging infrastructure.
2. The Melting of Ice Caps and Permafrost
Environment Canada’s Ice Service closely monitors Arctic sea ice via satellite and remote research stations. The last ten years have shown record losses in the amount of sea ice present, as well as increased changes in the composition of said ice.
What has sometimes been called the ‘Big Thaw’ has seen glacier numbers drop from over one hundred and fifty, to less than thirty in the past hundred years.
Furthermore, the remaining glaciers are rapidly shrinking as surrounding water temperatures rise. Similarly, the permafrost, which for Canada is much of its northern territories, has been thawing.
This melting of the ice within northern Canada and the Arctic means that the water levels in the ocean both rise dramatically and increase in overall temperature.
For this reason, the melting of the ice caps and the thawing of the permafrost are seen as one of the most alarming environmental issues facing Canada and the world at large. It is resulting not only in a loss of habitat for arctic animals but impacts all oceanic life.
3. Mining Pollution
One of the major environmental issues faced in Canada is mining which is a major contributor to the country’s economic sectors and a major job creator, employing approximately 700,000 people annually.
Canada is known as a top 5 global producer of fourteen mined substances, including gemstones, indium, potash, platinum, uranium, and gold. Canada is also home to about 75% of mining companies. Mining added $107 billion to Canada’s GDP, accounting for 21% of the nation’s total domestic exports in 2021.
However, mining has adverse and devastating consequences on the environment and is associated with forest loss, contamination of freshwater resources as well and the impoverishment and displacement of communities.
According to MiningWatch, a non-governmental organization based in Ottawa, Ontario, mining in Canada generates over 30 times the volumes of solid waste that all citizens, municipalities, and industries combined produce every year.
Between 2008 and 2017, mining waste failures in the country killed more than 340 people, polluted hundreds of kilometers of waterways, wiped out our fish populations, and jeopardized the livelihoods of entire communities.
Contamination of water bodies from tailings ponds and dam failures has also been noted as a major effect of mining on the environment. The process of acid rock drainage is the process by which crushed rock reacts with air and water to produce acids that can leach heavy metals from the rock and contaminate water.
This process remains a persistent problem in and around mine sites, lasting potentially thousands of years. In 2014, the Mount Polley tailings dam failure captured worldwide attention for the scale of the disaster.
In 2019, former Commissioner of Environment and Sustainable Development Julie Gelfand accused the mining industry of a lack of transparency following a government audit.
Indeed, the department could carry out just two-thirds of its planned inspections for non-metals operations, as they did not have adequate information for all metal mines in the country.
According to the National Forestry Database, over 8,000 fires occur in Canada each year, and burn an average of over 2.1 million hectares. This is a result of hot and dry weather an effect of global warming, that makes the forest more vulnerable to wildfires.
Forest fires result in the destruction of habitats and a reduction of biodiversity, damage to trees typically resistant to fires, animal displacement, and more rapid melting of the boreal permafrost, which is associated with the release of a potent planet-warming gas known as methane.
Furthermore, fires also have devastating human and economic repercussions, besides their impacts on wildlife and plant species. In the summer of 2014, over 150 separate fires broke out across the Northwest Territories, an area of about 442 square miles (580 square kilometers) in northern Canada. Thirteen of them were believed to have been caused by humans.
The smoke they generated sparked air quality warnings across the whole country as well as in the United States, with smoke visible as far away as Portugal in Western Europe. A total of nearly 3.5 million hectares (8.5 million acres) of forest were destroyed, and firefighters’ operations cost the government a staggering US$44.4 million.
2016 saw a devastating forest fire that blazed through Fort McMurray, Alberta, which razed nearly 600,000 hectares of land, destroying around 2,400 homes and buildings and forcing over 80,000 people to evacuate. In British Columbia, wildfires caused a province-wide state of emergency in 2017 and 2018.
5. Climate Change
Climate change is a top environmental issue that inevitably will not be left without being discussed. Though some may argue otherwise, scientific data is clear that the average global temperature are rising, and there have been significant shifts in the overall climate both within Canada and on a global scale.
However, in Canada as well as around the world measures are being taken as much as possible to curb climate change and its negative consequences on the environment.
Environment Canada, the exclusive group that studies climate change at a national level, targets a variety of areas for research and prevention, from weather patterns to water and ice analysis, changes in localized temperatures, air quality, and overall risk factors.
Everything that falls under the category of climate analysis is studied at the highest level to better understand humans’ impact on the environment and thus begin to mitigate the damage.
6. Air Pollution
One of the areas in which Canada has been taking specific action is air pollution. Air Pollution is a major environmental issue in Canada due to the presence of oil refinery companies that release pollutants into the atmosphere during their processes.
These pollutants, which include ozone, methane, Nitrous Oxide, and black carbon, contribute to many of the major environmental issues for Canada and the world.
Unfortunately, Canada had some of the highest levels of emissions before 2010. Since then, Canada has taken a keen interest in this issue, and is a founding member of the Climate and Clean Air Coalition, in the hopes of mitigating some of the damage already done, and preventing further large impacts to global and national 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.
Short-lived climate pollutants have been of specific interest, as reducing these pollutants can result in more immediate positive change. To that effect, Canada’s Emissions Trends tracks emissions data as well as forecasts potential areas of concern.
7. Loss of Ecosystems and Endangered Species
As ecosystems continue to decrease, the number of endangered species continues to rise. All these are resultant effects of deforestation, which destroys habitats.
Both the species and the ecosystem are continually being affected due to all the environmental issues. When a habitat is lost, the species living there will also be lost.
Others may find a new place to stay while it may not be possible with others. Giving full support to organizations in Canada dedicated to fighting the extinction of species is one of the most effective ways to save species.
8. Road Salt Pollution
Road salt pollution is one environmental issue that is not unique to Canada, however, it is much more experienced there more many other countries. This is as a result of the harsh winter conditions.
Road salt, or sodium chloride, is largely utilized to melt ice on roadways and prevent snow build-up for drivers. Much of Canada sees long and ardent winters, where snowfall and freezing conditions are common.
Because of this, road salt is used for a large period of the year. While salt does a wonderful job of melting through ice to reduce driving hazards and improve road traction, it is inherently harsh on the environment.
Highways and street runoff cause this salt to be washed into the soil, thereby increasing chloride levels between 100 and 4,000 times those of the normal local levels.
Salt kills most living things and can prevent plant growth in many soil cultures. This change in soil structure also affects various micro-organisms and in turn, wildlife in the area.
While some regions have switched away from sodium chloride-based products to a more sand-like grit, salt continues to be an ongoing environmental issue in Canadian winters.
9. Continuous Increase in Temperatures
Rising temperatures are one of the most obvious environmental issues that has become apparent over the last decade or two. An overall increase in the global temperature is one of the most alarming environmental issues facing Canada, and the world at large.
Canada’s average temperature is rising at nearly double the rate of the global temperature rise. These temperature increases are primarily due to greenhouse gases, thus named because they create a barrier of sorts in the atmosphere, trapping heat.
Between 1948 and 2014, the average temperature within Canada’s land mass increased by 1.6 degrees Celsius. This is twice the global average, meaning Canadian temperatures are increasing at a far more rapid rate than any other country on record.
It has been projected that average temperatures in Canada will rise anywhere from 2.0 degrees Celsius to 9.5 degrees Celsius within the current century if the level of emissions is not reduced. This is in contrast to the global average, which is projected to rise by 5.6.
10. Oil Sands Pollution
The single largest source of carbon emissions in the country is Canada’s oil industry, according to Environment and Climate Change Canada. Canada is the world’s fourth-largest oil-producing nation and the top exporter of crude oil to the United States, with oil refineries located primarily in Alberta.
The federal department found that oil and gas account for a quarter of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions. Of that, the oilsands are the most carbon-intensive.
Alberta’s oil sands (or tar sands), a mixture of sand, water, clay, and a type of oil known as bitumen, are the world’s largest deposit of crude oil with about 1.7 to 2.5 trillion barrels of oil trapped in the complex oil sand mixture.
They are also the country’s fastest-growing source of greenhouse gas emissions, releasing huge quantities of nitrogen and sulfur oxides into the air.
Between 2010 and 2030, oil sand-related emissions are predicted to increase by 64 Mt to about 115 Mt a 124% rise in just 20 years. This, according to government figures, would raise oil sands’ share of national emissions from ~7% in 2010 to ~14% by the end of the decade.
The extraction of tar sand, typically done through “in-situ” mining or surface mining, releases up to three times more pollution than producing the same quantity of conventional crude. This also results in water pollution, as it not only releases toxic pollutants into freshwater resources but also creates giant ponds of toxic waste.
Canada’s oil sands have been built on lands once home to Indigenous communities, covering an area bigger than New York City. In 2014, Stéphane McLachlan, an environmental scientist at the University of Manitoba, released a report revealing alarming quantities of toxic pollutants, including arsenic, mercury, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, in the flesh of moose, ducks, and muskrats in the region.
Oil sands in Alberta have become a global focus for climate activists. Environmentalists target it for its emissions-intensive extraction process and destructive land use.
The industry is aware of these criticisms and has made some progress in reducing the carbon intensity. Its cumulative impact, however, continues to grow.
Deducing from all the environmental issues, it can be noted that humans are a major source of environmental issues in Canada as well as on a global scale. Likewise, our activities are the major reason that the level of harmful gases and pollutants has increased in the environment.
However, the Canadian government has taken this problem seriously and is now working to eradicate it.
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Ahamefula Ascension is a Real Estate Consultant, Data Analyst, and Content writer. He is the founder of Hope Ablaze Foundation and a Graduate of Environmental Management in one of the prestigious colleges in the country. He is obsessed with Reading, Research and Writing.