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Households were responsible for 329 megatonnes or 45 per cent of Canada's emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide in 2007. (iStock)

Canadian households share a significant amount of responsibility for Canada's rising greenhouse gas emissions, new Statistics Canada figures show.

Canada is nowhere close to meeting its international commitments to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane, which have been linked to global climate change. And while Canadians may be tempted to blame the oil and gas industry, Statistics Canada has found that Canadian households also contributed, increasing their emissions 15 per cent between 1990 and 2007.

Households were responsible for 329 megatonnes or 45 per cent of Canada's total emissions of greenhouse gases, Statistics Canada reported Tuesday in the first of two reports on Human Activity and the Environment.

The household emissions include those generated directly through the use of heat, electricity and vehicles, and indirectly through the production of goods and services purchased by households.

Based on Canadians' behaviour, household emissions might have been expected to grow even more than that  — proportionately, both household spending and household energy use increased more than emissions. Household energy use increased 22 per cent between 1990 to 2007 from 5,528 petajoules to 6,739 petajoules.

One reason for the disproportionately small increase in emissions is that both households and industry have been switching to cleaner fuels such as natural gas, the report said.

Because Canada's population also increased during the time period studied, household greenhouse gas emissions per capita have remained steady.

The report found that overall, Canada's emissions grew 27 per cent to 725 megatonnes in 2007, from 573 megatonnes in 1990, putting it far from its commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to six per cent below 1990 levels by the five-year period from 2008 to 2012.

Emissions targets

Under the Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement to reduce global warming linked to emissions of greenhouse gases, Canada committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by six per cent below 1990 levels by the five-year commitment period of 2008 to 2012.

Under the Copenhagen Accord, the 2009 successor to the Kyoto Protocol, Canada has committed to reducing emissions to 17 per cent below 2005 levels by the year 2020.

The proportion of emissions generated by households is slightly lower than in 1990, when they made up 50 per cent of emissions, because industrial greenhouse gas emissions have increased more quickly.

Some more detailed findings were that:

  • Direct emissions have increased slightly relative to indirect emissions.
  • The share of emissions from motor fuels and lubricants has increased in proportion from 19 per cent to 22.7 per cent.
  • Heating, lighting and appliances generated 12.4 per cent of emissions in 2007, a down from 14.1 per cent in 1990.

Light bulbs and thermostats

A second report in Statistics Canada's Human Activity and Environment series found that by 2009, most Canadian households used energy-saving devices such as thermostats. Eighty-nine per cent used at least one type of energy-saving light, such as compact fluorescents and 91 per cent of households use a thermostat during the winter.

Ontario households were most likely (61 per cent) and Newfoundland and Labrador households were least likely (20 per cent) to have a programmable thermostat. Those with programmable thermostats were far more likely to conserve energy and reduce emissions by keeping the temperature lower at home while they slept (74 per cent verus 53 per cent respectively).

The increase in Canada's overall emissions were driven largely by a 67 per cent increase in emissions from oil and gas extraction, which generated 111 megatonnes in 2007.

In a report with more up-to-date figures submitted to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change in May, Environment Canada reported that emissions grew 17 per cent between 1990 and 2009 and that the energy sector was reponsible for 82 per cent of emissions or 566 megatonnes in 2009. The same report said emissions from oilsands activities grew 40 per cent between 2005 and 2009.

Oil industry spends most on environment

The new Statistics Canada report shows that while the oil and gas industry is a major greenhouse gas emitter, it also spends more than any other sector on environmental protection.

The oil and gas extraction industry spent $2.9 billion to protect the environment in 2008 — nearly a third of the $9.1 billion spent by all Canadian businesses combined, said a Statistics Canada report released Tuesday. The biggest proportion of spending was on decommissioning and cleaning up older sites and on pollution prevention and control. Environment monitoring, audits and assessments were the next largest categories.

By province, Alberta accounted for 34 per cent of environmental protection spending, followed by Ontario with 24 per cent and Quebec with 16 per cent.