How does Canada measure up on climate change? We are of course an economically developed country, and what with all our snow, our beavers and our wilderness one would think we’re doing pretty good, right? Wrong. Maybe there are a few other criteria in the fight against climate change, besides the beavers.
EPI Ranking Map. Highest scores are yellow, and scores lower as the colour gets darker.
On Yale’s EPI (Environmental Performance Index) Canada ranks 46th out of 163 countries, including currently developing countries such as China and places recently hit by climate-change spurred natural disasters like The Maldives and Haiti. Coming out on top are countries like Switzerland, which ranked second, and Sweden which ranked fourth. So how does Canada compare to such high ranked countries?
Based on Yale’s EPI website we can draw some basic conclusions about quality of life in Sweden, Switzerland and Canada. The average GDP per capita of the three countries is just upwards of $34,000. 100% of citizens in all three of the countries also have access to basic needs, such as sanitation and clean water. The countries are also very similar in terms of local climate, which also plays a key role in quality of life, and emissions in terms of heating and cooling. In other words, Sweden, Switzerland and Canada are all developed nations with a great quality of life.
So, if Canada has such a great quality of life, we shouldn’t have any problems setting up environmental reforms and becoming leaders in the fight against climate change! How, then, are we ranked 46th?
The problem seems to lie in policy and practice. In an article by David Richard Boyd, a well-known environmental lawyer and Canadian, he compares Sweden and Canada on ten different environmental criteria. The reason why Canada falls behind is directly linked to their policies. While Sweden has used “innovative economic policies to reduce pressure on the environment” and produced “a bold national strategy to achieve sustainability within a generation”, Canada has taken a different approach. Canada is described in the article as a country which puts emphasis on voluntary contributions to fighting climate change, instead of enforcing policies. They also favour environmental education, which I agree is necessary, but education without action and the support of local government officials will have little effect.
Boyd also seems to cite a lot of the same key issues with Canada’s policy as The Conference Board of Canada. The Conference Board of Canada is an independent and non-profit organization what provides research studies on a wide range of Canada’s economic and political policies. In the board’s article on environment Canada is ranked 15th out of 17 of it’s peer countries, and given a C grade. Below is a list of some of the important issues mentioned by both Boyd and The Conference Board of Canada:
- Canada needs to clean up it’s act on reducing it’s GHGs, which have increased 32% in the past 15 years.
- Water is also an issue. Most of Canada’s water is used in production, and little effort to conserve is made. As well, over 90 of our cities and towns haven’t got the facilities to properly treat their sewage.
- Total municipal waste increased by more than 17% since 1980, and continues to rise. Per person we create more than 791 kg of waste per year!
Population density also plays a big role in climate change, according to a study by Christopher Kennedy, Professor at the University of Toronto. This is largely due to the fact that ground transportation (such as cars, trucks, and buses) contributes a lot to the GHGs we send into the atmosphere. The chart below compares the ten different cities in Kennedy’s study in terms of their population density and GHG output.
Unlike Switzerland and Sweden, Canada is huge! We have a mix of rural and urban areas, but even within our urban centers, such as Toronto, we’re nowhere near as densely populated as most European cities. This means we have to travel a lot more from the suburbs to the down town core. Toronto’s Public Transit has a system length of 70km and 69 stations, Montreal’s Metro is nearly the same, with a length of 69km and 68 stations. Not only is it the distance, but it’s the service area of the transit that effects us. In both cases of Toronto and Montreal there are only four different subway lines, which means the service area is very restricted. We can compare this to Sweden’s Public Transit, the Stockholm Metro, which has 7 different lines, and although it covers about the same distance (105km) it serves 100 different stations. Public transit it then more accessible for those living within the city. In essence, because of our lack of population density and inadequate public transportation, Canada has become a car-oriented city.
The good news is, there’s still room for improvement! Canada can make changes to it’s policies to make climate change an issue of it’s government and it’s citizens as a whole, not just the select few. We can take examples from those countries ranked 1st through 45th and build upon and improve our society in order to ease pressure off of the earth. The goal should be to bring every country to the number one spot, and there’s no reason why a country which has the means and the will cannot change.
06/02/2011 (1): Edited for clarity. Added some background information about the various sources used.
06/02/2011 (2): Added information about Public Transit in Toronto, Montreal and Sweden.