Canada fares poorly in a new study of green growth among members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), placing with five other worst-performing nations on two key aggregate measures among 46 countries studied.
The OECD’s Green Growth Indicators 2017 report examines data from 1990 to the most recent date available in each country, to determine how well those it examines are doing at becoming “more efficient in using natural resources and the services provided by the environment, generating more economic output per unit of carbon emitted and of energy or raw materials consumed.” Overall, it finds progress on carbon emissions “slow”, and advances in environmental productivity generally “modest”.
The study used a variety of indicators—from land use to CO2 intensity of the economy, “to show where 46 countries rank on balancing economic growth with environmental pressures over 1990 to 2015.”
Denmark, Estonia, the United Kingdom, Italy, and the Slovak Republic are the overall leaders. Canada, however, is grouped with the laggards on two critical aggregate measures, presented graphically on page 24 of the full report. One, showing countries’ effectiveness at “monitoring green growth, relative to the leaders,” finds Canada grouped with Mexico, Greece, South Africa, and China as nations with the “lowest results overall” on factors such as CO2 productivity, material productivity, and environmental innovation. A second graphic, depicting “progress toward green growth,” again groups Canada with Mexico, Greece and South Africa, and this time Norway as well, as the nations showing the “lowest overall improvement.”
Then again, the report’s authors warn, “no country is performing well on all green growth dimensions. Most countries have yet to fully disconnect economic growth from fossil fuel use and pollutant emissions. Progress has often been insufficient to preserve the natural asset base, or relieve pressure on ecosystems and on natural environmental services such as water purification and climate regulation.”
While all members of the G20 and OECD examined have improved their environmental productivity, the report finds, and carbon emissions are no longer rising in tandem with GDP in half of the OECD’s 35 members, “air pollution remains dangerously high.” Two-thirds of OECD countries exceed WHO air quality guidelines for fine particulates, and pollution levels in China and India “are high and rising”. Meanwhile, “globally, an area the size of the UK has been converted to buildings since 1990,” sacrificing productive farm land and producing negative effects for biodiversity and the water cycle.
Although countries are making more use of environmentally-based taxes, their contribution to overall tax revenue has stalled at just over 5%, less than taxes on labour. “A surge in innovation and green technologies in the early 2000s boosted productivity and growth,” the analysis adds, “but since 2011 inventive activity has slowed in all major technological areas related to the environment.” As an OECD average, it takes around 111 kilograms of fossil “energy products” and 429 kilograms of “non-energy materials” to generate US$1,000 of GDP.
“While there are signs of greening growth, most countries show progress on just one or two fronts and little on the others,” said OECD Environment Director Simon Upton. “We need much greater efforts across the board if we are to safeguard natural assets, reduce our collective environmental footprint, and sever the link between growth and environmental pressures.”
Canada’s rank in international comparisons of environmental performance plummeted during the Harper government decade, and has been slow to recover. One earlier assessment found Canada was one of only two G7 countries that saw their per capita greenhouse gas emissions increase between 1992 and 2014. And on the Harvard/MIT 2016 Social Progress Index, Canada scored well on basic human needs and political rights, but fell to 90th place for environmental stewardship.