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The Fraser Institute

New Study Says Environmental Quality in Canada Continues to Improve


Laura Jones, Director of Environmental and Regulatory Studies,
The Fraser Institute, (604) 714-4547 Email:

Release Date: 14 April 2000

VANCOUVER,BC>>>Environmental quality in Canada has increased 18% since 1980, according to the Fraser Institute's 4th annual study Environmental Indicators 2000 released today. The study examines relative conditions in Canada, the United States, Mexico, Great Britain, and South Korea and shatters the common misconception that environmental quality is deteriorating.

"There have been dramatic improvements in environmental quality since Earth Day put environmental degradation on the front burner of political discourse in North America thirty years ago," says Laura Jones, one of the report's authors and Director of Environmental and Regulatory Studies at The Fraser Institute.

The report details environmental indicators in five categories: air quality, water quality, natural resource use, land use and condition, and solid waste. The goal of the study is to provide a `big picture' of general environmental trends in Canada and other countries. It does not attempt to develop indicators for global controversies such as tropical rainforest deforestation, climate change, and bio-diversity.

The greatest improvements in Canada have occurred in the air quality category (see table 1).

  • Levels of sulphur dioxide in the air fell roughly 60 percent between 1974 and 1997;
  • Ambient lead concentrations fell 88 percent in Canada between 1974 and 1997;
  • Levels of nitrogen dioxide measured in the air fell 19 percent between 1974 and 1997;
  • Carbon monoxide levels fell 74 percent between 1974 and 1997, and;
  • Levels of total suspended particulates fell 53 percent between 1974 and 1997.
"Although there are still some local air quality concerns in Canada, overall air quality has improved dramatically. We meet the strictest health standards for each of these pollutants," said Jones.

The study provides further evidence of Canada's environmental improvement in other areas:

  • a 130 percent increase, since 1975, in the percentage of harvested forest area that is replanted;
  • an 11 percent decline, since 1984, in the number of provincial water quality readings exceeding local standards;
  • a 56 percent increase in paper and glass recycling;
  • a 198 percent increase, since 1973, in the amount of land set aside for parks, wilderness, and wildlife;
  • an 84 percent decline, since 1974, in the amount of DDE found in bird eggs near the great lakes;
  • a 95 percent drop in the concentrations of dioxins and furans measured in great blue heron eggs on the West Coast, and;
  • 21 percent more of the municipal population across Canada was provided with waste-water treatment between 1983 and 1994.

Not all of the evidence in the report indicates improvement, however. Ground level ozone increased 48 percent between 1974 and 1997, and there have been substantial increases in the amount of solid waste generated, and the amount of freshwater consumed.

"One of the most serious environmental problems Canada faces today is the large gap between public perception and reality, which can lead to focusing on the wrong problems and the wrong solutions," according to Jones. "People continue to believe that overall environmental quality is deteriorating. This false perception is actually harmful to the environment because it prevents us from focusing on the most serious remaining environmental problems. Perhaps the federal government's new initiative to develop and publicize their own set of environmental indicators will help," she says.

Using available indicators, the authors have created an overall environmental quality index. According to this index, Canada's environmental quality improved by 18 percent relative to conditions in 1980 (see table 2). "The index is a feature unique to this report. It provides a barometer by which to gauge whether overall environmental quality is improving or declining," says Jones. "It is the environmental equivalent of GDP."

Composite indices for the United States, Mexico, South Korea, and the United Kingdom are included in the final chapter of the report. These indices were created in collaboration with the Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy of San Francisco, the Institute of Economic Affairs in London, England, and the Korea Center for Free Enterprise of South Korea.

Table 1: Air Quality Changes in Canada 1974-1997
Pollutant Change in the annual average (1974-1997) 1997 annual average Strictest annual health standard
Carbon Monoxide (CO) -74% .6 ppm 5.2 ppm
Total Suspended Particulates (TSPs) -53% 36.7 ug/m3 60 ug/m3
Ground Level Ozone +48% .0217 ppm .015 ppm*
Nitrogen Dioxide -19.05% .017 ppm .032 ppm
Sulphur Dioxide -60.61% .0052 ppm .011 ppm
Lead -88.24% .08 ug/m3 1 ug/m3**

Data and health standards from Environment Canada
*There is no annual standard for ground level ozone. The strictest 8-hr standard is .015 ppm. ** World Health Organisation standard for lead.

Table 2: Environmental Trends for Participating Countries
Country Time Period Overall Improvement
Canada 1980-1997 18 percent
Mexico 1990-1996 0 percent
South Korea 1985-1997 9 percent
United Kingdom 1980-1996 10 percent
United States 1980-1995 19 percent

Source: Environmental Indicators 2000, The Fraser Institute.

Established in 1974, The Fraser Institute is an independent public policy organization based in Vancouver.

For further information contact:

Suzanne Walters, Director of Communications,
The Fraser Institute, (604) 714-4582,

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