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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

  • In 2018, 82% of electricity in Canada came from non-GHG emitting sources
  • Energy consumption grew by 30% between 1990 and 2017
  • Energy efficiency improved by 31% between 1990 and 2017

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. Globally, about 78% of GHG emissions from human activity are from the production and consumption of energy. This includes activities such as using gasoline for transportation, non-renewable electricity production, oil and gas production, and heating and cooling of buildings.

In Canada, about 82% of emissions come from energy. Canadians use more energy due to our extreme temperatures, vast landscape and dispersed population.

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Since 2000, there has been a decoupling between the growth of Canada’s economy and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Between 2000 and 2018, Canada’s GHG emissions decreased by 0.4%, GHG emissions decreased 31% per dollar of GDP and 20% 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 23% between 2000 and 2018, largely from increased oil sands production, particularly in-situ extraction.

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CO2 Equivalent emissions from the oil and gas sector increased from 157 Mt in 2000 to 194 Mt in 2018. The share of oil sands has visibly increased over this span, from 17% of oil and gas emissions in 2000 to 43% in 2018.

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.

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Oil sands emissions intensity (in kgCo2e per barrel) has decreased from 123 kgCO2e per barrel in 2000 to 79 kgCO2e per barrel in 2018.

Due to technological and operational efficiency improvements, oil sands emissions per barrel have decreased 36% from 2000 to 2018.

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

GHG spotlight on electricity

Despite accounting for less than 7% of total electricity generation, coal was responsible for 63% of electricity related GHG emissions in 2018. Total electricity emissions decreased by 46% from 2000 to 2018 due to increased generation from non-emitting sources.

Primary energy production by source
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Greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) from electricity generation were stable around almost 130 megatonnes in 2001. Since then, GHG emissions have declined to less than 70 megatonnes in 2018.

Renewable electricity generation has increased 16% between 2010 and 2018, with solar and wind having largest growth.

In 2018, almost 82% of electricity in Canada came from non-GHG emitting sources. Hydro made up 60%, nuclear 15%, and other renewables the remaining 7%.

Renewable energy sources make up 2/3’s of Canada’s electricity mix.

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Wind net electricity generation was 1,552 GWh in 2005, rising to 32,855 GWh in 2018. Solar net electricity generation was 17 GWh in 2005, rising to 3,796 GWh in 2017.

GHG spotlight on transportation

Transportation GHG emissions have increased 27% from 2000 to 2018. Emissions from passenger light trucks and freight trucks have continued to rise due to an increased number of vehicles (especially light trucks and SUVs). Freight emissions have increased due to many factors including increasing trade and globalization, and online shopping.

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Overall, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the transportation sector have increased from about 146 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents in 2000 to 186 megatonnes in 2018. GHG emissions from passenger vehicles increased from 82 megatonnes in 2000 to 99 megatonnes in 2018. Freight trucks account for the largest increase from 49 megatonnes in 2000 to 77 megatonnes in 2018.

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Transportation energy use in 2017 totalled 2,717 PJ. Motor gasoline accounted for 57% of the total fuel mix, followed by diesel fuel oil at 28%, aviation turbo fuels at 11%, ethanol at 3%, and heavy fuel oil at 2%.

Passenger transportation contributes 53% to total emissions, freight emissions are 42% of total and off-road is 5%.

Energy efficiency improvements in the transportation sector saved Canadians 831 PJ of energy and almost $23 billion in energy costs in 2017.

Total transportation energy use increased 17% from 2000 to 2017.

Electric vehicles in Canada

In 2018, electric vehicle sales made up 2.2% of total vehicle sales. Over 44,000 vehicles were sold in 2018, more than double the sales in 2017. 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 44,175 in 2018.

To ensure continued uptake, the federal government is undertaking a series of measures. It includes a $300 million investment in the creation of a new federal purchase incentive to buy zero-emission vehicles, a $130 million investment in new zero-emission vehicle infrastructure deployment, and a $5 million fund to work with automakers to secure ZEV sale targets.

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 2018 was 12,719 petajoules. Natural gas accountedfor 36% of the total primary energy supply, followed by crude oil and NGLs at 33%, hydro at 11%, nuclear at 8%, coal at 6%, and other renewables at 1%.

Fossil fuels made up 76% of Canada’s TPES in 2018.

Renewable energy sources made up 16.4% of Canada’s TPES in 2018.

Comparatively, the global TPES is made up of:

  • 81% fossil fuel (oil 32%, coal 27%, natural gas 22%)
  • 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.

Not every fuel is consumed as energy. For example, hydrocarbon gas liquids in Canada are also used as a non-energy feedstock in the petrochemical industry.

Canada’s primary energy consumed in 2017 was estimated at 12,983 PJ.

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In 2017, Canada’s primary energy supply was estimated at 12,983 petajoules. 70% of all primary energy is transformed into secondary energy where 28% of that sum accounts for the industrial sector, 20% for transportation, 12% residential, 8% commercial and institutional, and 2% 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 2017 was 9,090 PJ

Total secondary energy use increased 12% from 2000 to 2017. Natural gas usage grew by almost 18% during the same time period.

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Canada’s secondary energy use in 2017 was 9,090 PJ. Natural gas accounted for 30% of total secondary energy use, followed by electricity at 20%, motor gasoline at 18%, oil at 14%, other oil products at 9%, biomass at 6%, and other fuel types such as coal and natural gas liquids at 3%.

Historical energy efficiency

Canada’s industrial, transportation, commercial and institutional sectors are large 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 and GDP).

What is Energy efficiency?

Energy efficiency is a measure of how effectively energy is used for a given purpose and an important path towards decarbonisation.

Energy Efficiency Facts

  • Energy efficiency in Canada improved by 31% between 1990 and 2017
  • Energy use grew by 31% between 1990 and 2017. Without energy efficiency improvements, energy use would have grown by 60%
  • Energy efficiency savings of 2,037 PJ in 2017 were equivalent to end-user savings of $44 billion
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Secondary energy use grew by 31% between 1990 and 2017. Without energy efficiency improvements, energy use would have grown by 60%. Energy efficiency measures resulted in estimated savings of 2,037 PJ in 2017.

Total Energy use per unit of GDP

Per capita energy consumption was 8% lower in 2017 than in 2000. Canada used 20% less energy per dollar of GDP in 2017 than in 2000. This metric indicates how much energy was consumed for every dollar of economic activity generated.

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Per capita energy use in 2017 was 8% lower than in 2000. Canada used 20% less energy per dollar of GDP in 2017 than in 2000.

Residential energy use

Canadian households use energy every day – to power lights and appliances, heat or cool spaces, run personal vehicles, recharge electronics, and more.

  • 81% of residential energy consumption is used for space and water heating
  • Residential energy efficiency improved by 51% between 1990 and 2017, saving 736 PJ of energy and $15 billion in energy costs
  • Residential energy use increased 5.8% since 1990, but would have increased by 57% without energy efficiency improvements
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Residential appliances energy use in Canada totalled 1,508 petajoules in 2017. 62% is attributable to space heating and 19% to water heating. Appliances accounted for 14%, lighting for 3%, and space cooling for 2%.

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Space heating energy use in Canada totalled 929 petajoules in 2017. 48% of that energy came from natural gas, 27% from electricity, 18% from wood, 5% from heating oil, and 2% from other sources.

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Water-heating energy use in Canada totalled 292 petajoules in 2017. 69% of that energy came from natural gas, 26% from electricity, 3% from heating oil, and 2% from wood.

While the energy intensity of sub-sectors has decreased since 1990 (apart from freight), their energy use has increased, especially in the industrial and transportation sub-sectors.

  • 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.

Commercial and institutional energy use

Commercial and institutional energy use increased 38% between 1990 and 2017, but would have increased 59% without energy efficiency improvements.

Between 1990 and 2017, energy intensity decreased 6% in the sector.

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In 2017, Canada’s commercial and institutional energy use totalled 1,030 petajoules. 56% of which was used for space heating, 15% for auxiliary equipment, 13% for lighting, 6% for water heating, 4% for auxiliary motors, 5% 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. Industrial energy use increased 33% and would have increased 45% without the energy efficiency improvements made to the sector.

From 1990 to 2017, Canada’s industrial sector saved 3.4 billion dollars in energy costs thanks to energy efficiency improvements representing 317 PJ.

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Canada’s industrial sector energy use in 2017 was 3,607 PJ. Natural gas accounted for 42% of that energy use, electricity for 21%, still gas and petroleum coke for 13%, wood waste and pulping liquor for 10%, diesel fuel oil, light fuel oil and kerosene for 7%, and other fuel types for 7%.

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

Canada’s transition to a low 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 low 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 low 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 low 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 17% since 1990 and by 26% since 2000.

Carbon Pollution 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 pollution pricing system.

With existing and planned provincial action, broad-based carbon pollution pricing has started to apply in nearly all provinces and territories, covering a large part of Canada’s emissions.

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

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