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Early Estimate of National Emissions shows Canada steadily separating economic growth from emissions

An independent estimate of 2021 national emissions data shows promising trends

23 February 2023, OTTAWA—Canada is steadily making progress separating economic growth from greenhouse gas emissions, according to the 2021 data in the independent Early Estimate of National Emissions (EENE), released today at 440 Megatonnes, a project of the Canadian Climate Institute.

That trend—known as “decoupling” economic growth from emissions—is particularly promising given the rebound in economic growth occurring in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, and is a critical indicator of climate progress.

While the rise in economic activity from 2020 to 2021 increased emissions by 32 megatonnes (Mt), improvements in energy decarbonization and energy efficiency contributed to a net overall increase of only 19 Mt. That means that policy and market drivers cut emissions by 13 Mt—leaving the emissions associated with a unit of GDP 2 per cent lower in 2021 than in 2020, and 27.5 per cent below 2005 levels.

The EENE estimates Canada’s 2021 emissions by sector, based on economic activity data and historical trends in energy efficiency, emission intensity, and energy decarbonization. It found Canada released 691 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2021—a 2.8 per cent increase in absolute emissions from 2020, but a 6.7 per cent decrease below 2005 levels. Achieving Canada’s 2030 climate target requires reducing annual emissions to no more than 440 megatonnes in 2030.

While promising, the trends observed for 2021 need to accelerate significantly for Canada to achieve the 2030 target. Previous Institute analysis concluded that quick and effective implementation of the federal government’s 2030 Emissions Reduction Plan, along with provincial and territorial action, will be instrumental to driving the scale of progress required this decade.

Official emissions data is reported each spring in Canada’s National Inventory Report—but with a lag of more than a year between the period being reported on and the release date. If the data shows Canada’s efforts to reduce emissions are off-track, the lag in reporting makes it difficult to take timely action to correct course. By releasing this early estimate of 2021 emissions, the Institute aims to inform more timely and evidence-based decision making. The Institute’s 2022 EENE is anticipated to be publicly available early this fall, significantly closing the reporting gap.


“It’s promising to see Canada starting to make tangible progress in reducing carbon pollution, especially coming out of the pandemic. Time is short, and our goals are ambitious. Hitting those goals is crucial to Canada’s future security and prosperity. The Early Estimate of National Emissions shows promising trends, but long-term success now rests on how quickly the government’s chosen policies are actually implemented.”

– Rick Smith, President, Canadian Climate Institute

“When it comes to cutting carbon pollution, going slowly is not an option. By providing more timely data on Canada’s climate progress, we hope to support and spur on the action necessary to achieve Canada’s emissions targets and build a cleaner, more competitive and more prosperous economy.”

– Dave Sawyer, Principal Economist, Canadian Climate Institute


Catharine Tunnacliffe

Director of Communications

(226) 212-9883