December 19, 2017

By Katherine Monahan

Where does Canada rank in environmental, climate and green economy indicators compared to other peer nations? How are government policies affecting our environmental indicators? How can we improve? The OECD EPR is an in-depth external study that helps to answer these questions.

Today the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) launched their Environmental Performance Review (EPR) of Canada, including recommendations for how Canada can improve its environmental record across a broad range of indicators, including: climate change, wastewater, green growth, environmental governance, clean air & water, biodiversity, and materials management.  The OECD launch was hosted by Smart Prosperity Institute.

“Overall, the Environmental Performance Review of Canada is very positive,” said OECD project Head Nathalie Girouard, “it highlights significant achievements such as the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change, the national regulation on wastewater treatment, and renewed leadership in international environmental initiatives.”

“However, Canada remains one of the OECD’s most energy-intensive, resource-intensive, and carbon-intensive economies with a vast wealth of natural assets in need of protection.”

Canada’s last review was in 2004. The current report includes activities and progress since then, covering the entire era of the previous Conservative government (2006 – 2015). Although the review also describes the new policies and measures under the current Government, these polices may not yet be fully reflected due to lags in data availability (up to 2015), and pending implementation. The report also describes actions by provinces and cities.

Canada ranks well in most measures related to the state of the environment (such as water quality), but generally poorly in measures of environmental pressures (such as freshwater use per person – ranked among the worst in the OECD). Canada’s ranking is also low in waste management, resource efficiency, CO2 emissions, and the pace of eco-innovation. In this sense, looking at what better performing OECD countries are doing can help inform policy development.

The report also notes some bright spots for Canada, such as having one of the cleanest electricity production systems, and it praises recent climate progress both domestically (e.g. the Pan Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change) and internationally (leadership in global climate discussions).

“The review’s recommendations focus on accelerating and improving implementation of environmental policies, expanding the use of economic instruments and taxation across environmental issues, and effectively managing societal transition” explained Dr. Girouard.

Rachel Samson (Carist Consulting), and author of the Green Growth chapter of the report, elaborates on recommendations about economic instruments and taxation:

“Adequately pricing negative environmental externalities is at the heart of transitioning toward green growth.  Canada’s move towards national carbon pricing represents a major advancement in this respect. However, there remains scope for greater use of taxes and economic instruments to address other environmental issues…  Provinces and territories also need to do more to phase out remaining fossil fuel subsidies.”

Ms. Samson also points to recommendations in the report pursuant on green infrastructure:

“Canada, like many OECD countries, will need to make significant investments in infrastructure in the coming decades to address aging assets while supporting the greening of transportation, buildings, energy and water systems.  The scale of investment needs requires a more strategic and creative approach to selecting infrastructure projects that considers multiple environmental, economic, and social criteria in an integrated manner.”

Table 1: Recommendations – Select Examples by Category


 Key Recommendations


Develop air emissions standards for heavily-polluting industries that are not already covered  (e.g. refineries, oils sands)



Accelerate efforts and collaboration to achieve the Aichi 2020 targets – Currently, about 10% of terrestrial and 1% of marine and coastal areas are protected, significantly below the Aichi 2020 targets of 17% and 10%


Continue to develop extended producer responsibility schemes, and increase landfill charges (household waste has increased by 30% since 2002).


Monitor and mitigate the effects of fertilizer use on water quality in areas such as the Great Lakes, Lake Winnipeg and the St. Lawrence River basin.




Increase the transparency and improve the implementation of strategic environmental assessment of major projects.


Ensure cost-benefit analysis of infrastructure projects consider environmental externalities, such as GHG emissions.

Economic drivers

Ensure taxation policy and government subsidies considers environmental externalities beyond climate change, such as water and air quality.



Use public procurement to foster domestic demand for clean technology and eco-innovations.



Increase efforts and collaboration to strengthen implementation of national measures on waste water treatment.


The OECD is a forum of countries describing themselves as committed to democracy and the market economy. The OECD reviews essentially acts as an environmental audit where policies and performance are weighed against peer OECD countries, and recommendations are based on best practices. The scope and depth of the review allows for identifying areas of potential governance and enforcement improvements, as well as policy priorities, including in areas that might not be top-of-mind for Canadian policy makers.  These international reviews also serve as a mechanism to track and promote the implementation of government pledges and promises, promote transparency, and ensure that environmental measures continue to strengthen over time.

The very nature of many environmental challenges is that they require constant and long term attention. This means that policy makers not only address specified problems, but that “instruments are designed in a way to produce long-term, durable results,” explains Prof. Ben Cashore, from the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and visiting Fulbright research chair at the University of Ottawa’s Institute for the Environment. In recent years, a number of scholars and practitioners have made significant advances in thinking about how to promote ‘policy stickiness’ to address these types of long-term environmental challenges. If we are to ameliorate environmental challenges including the global climate crisis, Cashore argues that those deliberating over policy instrument design need to place enhanced attention not only on substance, but also on developing mechanisms that can enhance prospects for policy durability.

Katherine Monahan

Senior Fellow