Energy and Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHGs)

Protecting the environment and growing the economy go hand in hand. Taking action on climate change means reducing emissions and increasing climate resilience, while helping Canada diversify its economy and generate well-paying jobs.

Key Facts

  • 80% of electricity in Canada comes from non-GHG emitting sources
  • Energy consumption grew by 31% between 1990 and 2014
  • Energy efficiency improved by 25% between 1990 and 2014
  • Investment in clean energy technology was over $1.7 billion in 2016

Learn more about energy’s impact on the environment

Energy use and greenhouse gas emissions

A wide variety of factors have an influence on the level of GHG emissions in Canada. In Canada, and around the world, almost 80% of GHG emissions from human activities come from energy consuming activities such as transportation, energy and electricity production, heating and cooling of buildings, operation of appliances and equipment, production of goods, and the provision of services.

In general, Canadians use more energy because of our extreme temperatures, large land mass, and dispersed population.

Over the past two decades, there has been a decoupling between the growth of Canada’s economy and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Between 1990 and 2015, although Canada’s GHG emissions increased over 18%, GHG emissions decreased 33% per dollar of GDP and 9% per capita (largely due to technological improvements, regulations, and more efficient practices and equipment.)

Learn more about Greenhouse gas emissions by Canadian economic sector.

GHG spotlight on oil and gas

GHG emissions from oil and gas production have gone up 20% between 2005 and 2015, largely due to an increase in oil sands production. Oil sands emissions per barrel have decreased 12% during the same period due to technological and operational efficiency improvements performance improvements.

The Government of Canada has committed to reducing methane emissions from the oil and gas sector by 40% to 45% from 2012 levels by 2025. New regulations limiting methane emissions from fugitive sources such as leaks and venting will apply to the oil and gas sector beginning in 2020.

Learn more about GHG emissions intensity by source type for oil and gas industrial sector.

GHG spotlight on electricity

Despite accounting for less than 10% of total electricity generation, coal was responsible for 77% of electricity related GHG emissions in 2015.

Primary energy production by source
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Greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) from electricity generation were stable around 100 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent between 1990 and 1995, but then increased to almost 130 megatonnes in 2001. Since then, GHG emissions have declined to less than 80 megatonnes in 2015.

Coal accounts for the majority of electricity-related GHG emissions followed by natural gas.

In 2015, almost 80% of electricity in Canada came from non-GHG emitting sources. Hydro made up almost 59%, nuclear 15%, and other renewables the remaining 6%.

Percentage of total electricity from non-emitting sources for top 4 electricity generating countries and Canada (2014)

% of Total Electricity from Non-Emitting Sources for Top 4 Electricity Generating Countries and Canada (2014)
Rank Country Percentage
1 Canada 80%
2 Russia 34%
3 United States 32%
4 China 25%
5 India 18%

Renewable energy sources makes up 64.8% of Canada’s electricity mix. Net renewable electricity generation has increased 12% since 2010 with solar and wind having the most relative growth.

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Wind net electricity generation was 1,552 GWh in 2005, rising to 28,184 GWh in 2015. Solar net electricity generation was 17 GWh in 2005, rising to 2,866 GWh in 2015.

GHG spotlight on transportation

Transportation GHG emissions have increased 42% since 1990. Emissions from passenger light trucks and freight trucks have doubled and tripled respectively due to an increased number of vehicles (especially light trucks and SUVs) and higher emissions from freight trucks.

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Overall, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the transportation sector have increased from about 115 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents in 1991 to 173 megatonnes in 2015. GHG emissions from passenger vehicles increased slightly from 70 megatonnes in 1990 to 75 megatonnes in 2015. Freight trucks account for the largest increase from 25 megatonnes in 1990 to 50 megatonnes in 2015.

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Transportation energy use in 2014 totals 2,677 PJ. Motor gasoline accounts for 53% of the total fuel mix, followed by diesel fuel oil at 32%, aviation turbo fuels at 10%, ethanol at 3%, and heavy fuel oil at 2%.

Transportation emissions are split almost half and half between freight and passenger transportation.

Energy efficiency improvements in the transportation sector have saved Canadians 574 PJ of energy and over $19 billion in energy costs in 2014.

Total transportation energy use increased 43% between 1990 and 2014.

Electric vehicles in Canada

In 2014, electricity powered less than 0.2% of all transportation. However, sales of electric vehicles have been on the rise in recent years. Over 11,000 electric vehicles were sold in 2016, up 53% from 2015. Electric vehicle sales are highest in the provinces of Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia.

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Electric vehicle sales in Canada have increased from 468 electric vehicles sold in 2011 to 11,459 in 2016.

To support continued consumer and commercial uptake of electric vehicles and other lower-carbon transportation options, the federal government is making investments in green infrastructure and clean technologies and has committed $182.5 million to support electric vehicle and alternative fuel infrastructure and demonstration projects.

Canada’s energy consumption

A look at Canada’s total primary energy supply (TPES) helps to better understand the impact of energy sources on greenhouse gas emissions. The TPESFootnote 1 is calculated as:

TPES = Production + Imports - Exports + Stock changes

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Canada’s total primary energy supply in 2015 was 11,493 petajoules. Natural gas accounts for 35% of the total primary energy supply, followed by crude oil and NGLs at 30%, hydro at 12%, uranium at 10%, coal at 8%, and other renewables at 5%.

In 2015, Fossil fuels made up 73% of Canada’s TPES in 2015.

Renewable energy sources made up over 17% of Canada’s TPES in 2015.

Comparatively, the global TPES is made up of:

  • 81% fossil fuel (oil 31%, coal 29%, natural  gas 21%)
  • 14% renewables
  • and 5% nuclear

* Not including electricity trade
**“Other renewables” includes wind, solar, wood/wood waste, biofuels and geothermal

Energy use by sector

There are two different kinds of energy use, primary and secondary.

Primary energy use is a measure of the total energy requirements of all users of energy. It includes the energy required to transform one form of energy into another (e.g. coal to electricity); the energy used to bring energy supplies to the consumer (e.g. pipeline); and the energy used to feed industrial production processes Primary energy use includes secondary energy use.

Canada’s primary energy consumed in 2014 was estimated at 12,678 PJ.

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In 2014, Canada’s primary energy supply was estimated at 12,678.2 petajoules. 71.9% of all primary energy is transformed into secondary energy where 39.7% of that sum accounts for the industrial sector, 29.4% for transportation, 17.1% residential, 10.8% commercial and institutional, and 3.1% is agriculture.

Secondary energy use accounts for the energy used by final consumers in the economy.

This includes the energy used to run vehicles; the energy used to heat and cool buildings; and the energy required to run machinery.

Canada’s secondary energy use in 2014 was 9,112.5 PJ, higher as compared to 2013 which was 8,967.7 PJ.

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Canada’s secondary energy use in 2014 was 9,113 PJ. Natural gas accounts for 31% of total secondary energy use, followed by electricity at 19%, motor gasoline at 17%, oil at 16%, other oil products at 8%, biomass at 6%, and other fuel types such as coal and natural gas liquids at 3%.

Historical energy efficiency and energy intensity

Canada’s industrial, transportation, commercial and institutional sectors are huge consumers of energy. One of the key benefits of efficiency improvements is that they slow the rate of growth in energy use and reduce GHG emissions.

What is Energy Intensity?

Energy intensity is the ratio of energy use per unit of activity (such as floor space, GDP, etc.)

What is Energy efficiency?

Energy efficiency is a measure of how effectively energy is used for a given purpose and one of the paths towards decarbonisation.

Energy Efficiency Facts

  • Energy efficiency in Canada improved by 25% between 1990 and 2014
  • Energy use grew by 31% between 1990 and 2014. Without energy efficiency improvements, energy use would have grown by 55%
  • Energy efficiency savings of 1,669 PJ in 2014 were equivalent to end-user savings of $38.5 billion
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Secondary energy use grew by 31% between 1990 and 2014. Without energy efficiency improvements, energy use would have grown by 55%. Energy efficiency measures resulted in estimated savings of 1,669 PJ in 2014.

Total Energy use per unit of GDP

Per capita energy consumption is 2% more than in 1990. Canada used 25% less energy per dollar of GDP in 2014 than in 1990. This metric indicates how much energy was consumed for every dollar of economic activity generated.

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Per capita energy use in 2014 was 2% higher than in 1990. Canada used 25% less energy per dollar of GDP in 2014 than in 1990.

Energy use by subsector

While the subsectors have all reduced their energy intensity since 1990 (except for freight), their overall energy use has gone up, most notably the industrial and transportation subsectors.

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Energy use increased significantly between 1990 and 2014 for every sector (residential, commercial, passenger transportation, freight, and industrial) except for the oil and gas industry (without upstream mining) which decreased its energy use by 2%. Every sector significantly decreased their energy intensity except for freight which increased their energy intensity by 6%.

Commercial and institutional energy use

Commercial and institutional energy use increased 32% between 1990 and 2014, but would have increased 61% without energy efficiency improvements.

Between 1990 and 2014, energy intensity decreased 11% in the sector.

Energy efficiency in the commercial and institutional sector improved 29%, saving Canadians 213 PJ of energy and $4.4 billion in energy costs in 2014.

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In 2014, Canada’s commercial and institutional energy use totalled 983 petajoules. 56% of which was used for space heating, 14% for auxiliary equipment, 11% for lighting, 8% for water heating, 6% for auxiliary motors, 4% for space cooling, and 1% for street lighting.

Industrial sector energy use

The industrial sector includes all manufacturing, mining (including oil and gas extraction), forestry and construction activities. In 2014, these industries spent $47.6 billion on energy. Industrial energy use increased 33% and would have increased 41% without the energy efficiency improvements made to the sector.

Due to a 7.8% increase in energy efficiency improvements in 2014, Canadian industry saved $2.7 billion in energy costs and 210 PJ of energy.

Energy intensity (MJ/$ of GDP) decreased 10%.

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Canada’s industrial sector energy use in 2014 was 3,613 PJ. Natural gas accounts for 42% of that energy use, electricity for 21%, still gas and petroleum coke for 12%, wood waste and pulping liquor for 11%, diesel fuel oil, light fuel oil and kerosene for 6%, coke and coke oven gas for 3%, and other fuel types for 5%.

* “Other” includes HFO, coal, LPGs, NGL, steam and waste

Canada’s transition to a lower carbon future

The international community, along with Canada, have agreed that tackling climate change is a priority and an opportunity to shift towards a global lower carbon economy.

The Paris Agreement, adopted in December 2015 under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), is a commitment to accelerate and intensify the actions and investments needed for a sustainable lower carbon future, to limit global average temperature rise to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, and to pursue efforts to limit the increase to 1.5°C.

As a first step towards implementing these commitments, Canada developed the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change. The Pan-Canadian Framework has four main pillars:

  • pricing carbon pollution;
  • complementary measures to further reduce emissions across the economy;
  • measures to adapt to the impacts of climate change and build resilience; and
  • actions to accelerate innovation, support clean technology, and create jobs.

Together, these interrelated pillars form a comprehensive plan to support Canada’s transition to a lower carbon future.

Phasing Out Coal

To support this transition and to reduce GHG emissions, Canada has committed to phasing out its coal-fired electricity power plants by 2030.

Canada has reduced its coal consumption by 24% since 1990 and by 41% since 2000.

Carbon Pricing

Canada has committed to reduce GHGs by 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.

In 2016, the federal government announced a national climate change policy, which included a Canada-wide carbon pricing system.

With existing and planned provincial action, broad-based carbon pricing will apply in provinces with nearly 85 percent of Canada’s economy and population by 2017, covering a large part of Canada’s emissions.

Learn more about the Pathway to Canada’s 2030 target.

Residential energy use

  • Distributed generation and storage technologies – e.g. rooftop solar arrays, battery storage systems – will allow an increasing number of households to produce and use their own electricity. This will reduce household reliance on the grid.
  • Electric passenger vehicles will gradually replace traditional passenger vehicles, reducing residential consumption of gasoline. The price of electricity will eventually supplant the price at the pump as the most salient energy price for household budgeting.
  • Net-zero energy homes are homes that produce at least as much energy as they consume on an annual basis. Net-zero energy homes are technically feasible, but not yet scaleable or affordable for the average homebuyer. The costs are falling, however, and net-zero energy homes may eventually become common.