Energy, population and the environment: exploring Canada's record on CO2 emissions and energy use relative to other OECD countries

Popul Environ (2012) 34:257–278
DOI 10.1007/s11111-011-0160-2


Energy, population and the environment: exploring
Canada’s record on CO2 emissions and energy use
relative to other OECD countries

Don Kerr • Hugh Mellon

Published online: 21 December 2011
Ó Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Abstract Across the OECD, Canada’s record on CO2 emissions is particularly
poor, with overall emissions up 32% over the 1990–2007 period. The current paper
seeks to better understand this situation by making systematic comparisons of
Canada with other OECD countries. For Canada overall, the rapid increase in
emissions over the 1990–2007 period can be explained by several factors, including
major population growth, increased affluence (although to a lesser extent than
elsewhere in the OECD), a continued dependence on fossil fuels, while continuing
to increase its overall demand for energy. While the energy intensity of Canada’s
economy has declined somewhat over recent years, it actually lagged behind most
OECD countries on this front and remains one of the most energy intense economies
in the world (2nd highest in the OECD on our indicator of energy intensity). While
there are many factors responsible for this, Canada’s particularly energy-intensive
industrial structure is certainly relevant, as is the importance of its primary sector
relative to most developed nations.

Keywords Population  Environment  CO2 emissions  Energy use  Canada 
Climate change  IPAT

D. Kerr (&)
Department of Sociology, Kings University College at the University of Western Ontario, London,
ON N6A 2M3, Canada

H. Mellon
Department of Political Science, Kings University College at the University of Western Ontario,
London, ON N6A 2M3, Canada

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By international standards, Canada’s environmental record has been rather mixed.
As a direct indication of this, the Yale Centre for Environmental Law and Policy
(2010) recently published a ranking of over 160 countries according to a composite
index meant to measure ‘‘sustainable development’’. This composite index
summarizes data across 25 public health and environmental indicators. While
Canada scored 46th overall, it could have ranked much higher had it not been for its
abysmally poor performance on one of the most heavily weighted indicators that
entered into this composite index, that is, the extent to which a country produces
greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. More specifically, Canada currently ranks 151st
across 163 countries in terms of the per capita production of GHG emissions.
   The current paper seeks to better understand Canada’s record on GHG emissions
by making systematic comparisons with other OECD countries. The bulk of
Canada’s GHGs is CO2 emissions from the burning of fossil fuels. With this in
mind, we seek to further examine CO2 emissions by applying a modified and
updated version of what has come to be widely known as Ehrlich’s ‘‘IPAT
Equation’’ (Ehrlich and Holdren 1971). Borrowing from demography and industrial
ecology, IPAT is an acronym used to emphasize the utility of investigating
environmental impact (I) as a direct function of population (P), affluence (A) as well
as technological change (T). Using data from the OECD as well as the International
Energy Association (IEA) on fossil fuel usage and CO2 emissions, we seek to apply
and extend this IPAT equation to better understand Canada’s outlier status
(currently 27th across 30 OECD countries in terms of CO2 emissions on a per capita
   This involves borrowing from a growing literature of energy-related carbon
emission studies that have been used to decompose differences in CO2 emissions
across countries (Kaya 1990; Hamilton and Turton, 2002; IPCC 1996; Karakaya and
Ozcag 2005). This literature seeks to not only demonstrate the centrality of
population growth to environmental impact but to also further decompose the role of
technology (T) in determining energy use patterns. For a variety of reasons, Canada
currently has among the worst records in terms of CO2 emissions, while several
other countries in the OECD have succeeded in either reducing or at least stabilizing
emissions. On the basis of the current decomposition, we will consider some of the
factors responsible for this situation, by systematically comparing Canada’s record
with other countries in the OECD.

The IPAT identity

In the early 1970s, Ehrlich and Holdren (1971, 1972) formulated the IPAT equation
with the intent of refuting any argument that ‘‘population size’’, in and of itself, was
  As of 2007, the most recent year in which comprehensive data on CO2 emissions and energy use is
available, the OECD included 30 countries. More recently, although not included in the current analysis,
additional countries have joined the OECD, including Slovenia, Israel, Estonia and Chile, up to 34
countries in 2010.

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a minor factor in explaining environmental change. Consistent with Ehrlich and
Holdren’s neo-Malthusian world view, rapid population growth was considered as
one of ‘‘the most unyielding of all environmental pressures’’ (1971:150). The IPAT
equation, in its simplicity, was proposed as a starting point for investigating the
impact of human populations on the environment. As the global population was
growing at an unprecedented pace, a complete understanding of any country’s
environmental record would have to begin with current population size and pace of
population growth (Demeny 1998).
   These interrelationships have been summarized in terms of the ‘‘IPAT equation’’
or ‘‘impact equation’’, as:
          Impact ðIÞ ¼ Population ðPÞ  Affluence ðAÞ  Technology ðTÞ            ð1Þ
   Impact (I) refers to the amount of a particular kind of environmental degradation,
population (P) the size of a population, affluence (A) typically measured in terms of
income (or GDP) per capita and technology (T) meant to capture the environmen-
tally damaging properties of a particular technique. Working with this IPAT
equation, the argument is that an increase in population (P) would lead to a
proportional increase in environmental impact (I), if in fact there were no change in
the other components (and likewise, this is also true of both affluence and
technology). While this model has been criticized as being somewhat of an
oversimplification, its primary utility was to highlight the centrality of demography
to discussions of environmental problems. Although the rate of global population
growth has slowed since the 1960s, there remains considerable variance across
countries, from the particularly low growth associated with many low fertility/low
immigration countries in Europe to the more sustained growth characteristic of
North America and other immigrant-receiving countries.
   Despite the potential for more complex models, IPAT has been used by
researchers as a useful framework for investigating interactions of population,
economic growth and technological change. While extensive debate continues as to
the relative importance or ‘‘weight’’ of each term, there is a wide consensus that
each of the terms definitely belongs in the equation. In treating this model as linear
with the effects of the different terms being proportional, the Intergovernmental
Panel on Climate Change (IPCC 2000) has used a revision of this identity to
decompose change in anthropogenic GHG emissions by major world region. As a
simple, robust model for descriptive work, the IPAT model has been applied as an
identity, such that for a specific country, CO2 emissions can be expressed as a direct
function of (P) population size, (A) GDP/Population and (T) CO2 emissions/GDP:
                                               GDP        CO2 emissions
             CO2 emissions ¼ Population                                         ð2Þ
                                             Population       GDP
   While GDP/Population does not fully capture the social dimension of environ-
mental impact, it does reflect the simple fact that there is substantial variation in
affluence across societies—even within the OECD. While not all countries within
the OECD are affluent (consider Mexico and Turkey, for example), most have
witnessed substantial economic growth over recent years. While populations have
grown steadily throughout the twentieth century, affluence (or economic activity)

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has grown at an even more rapid pace. Affluence is a critical determinant of
environmental degradation because high rates of consumption are associated with a
large ecological footprint and rapid rates of resource use and waste production (Rees
1992). In general, increased affluence—with everything else held constant—implies
a greater demand for energy and higher CO2 emissions. Yet, while Canada is by
global standards a relatively affluent country, other societies of comparable
affluence (for example, Sweden and Norway) have succeeded in reducing their
environmental impact (I). It is necessary to move beyond population (P) and
affluence (A) in the explanation of Canada’s outlier status on CO2 emissions. In this
regard, the technology term in Eq. 2, that is, the carbon intensity of economic
activity (CO2 emissions/GDP) can be further decomposed.

Technology and environmental impact

The technology term (T) incorporates some sort of combination of capital, labor,
energy, materials and information, in the production and consumption of specific
goods or services. The role of technology can be considered as particularly complex,
as it is often at the heart of many environmental difficulties (as for example, the CO2
emissions resulting from burning dirty coal) while also holding the promise for
potential solutions (as for example, the development of ‘‘clean or renewable’’
energy). While Ehrlich and other environmentalists warned against a blind faith in
technological fixes for serious environmental problems, many social scientists
pragmatically view technological variables as potentially easier to manage than
human behavior (Commoner et al. 1971; Simon 1981; Chertow 2001).
   There are various ways in which technology (T) can lower environmental
impact, including the switch away from high polluting fossil fuel to other energy
resources. Fossil fuels (oil, natural gas and coal) continue to be fundamental in
meeting the energy needs of most societies, such that their specific mix in these
fuels can potentially have dramatic effect. Coal is obviously the dirtiest, most
noxious fuel to burn, with the shift toward other sources holding considerable
promise in reducing emissions. Natural gas is clearly preferable to coal or oil,
when possible, as it generates fewer pollutants, particulates and CO2: releasing
14 kg of CO2 for every billion joules of energy produced, relative to 20 and 24 kg
for oil and coal, respectively (Harper and Fletcher 2011). The precise mix (or
carbon intensity) of fossil fuels has an important role to play in explaining the
progress (or lack thereof) of specific OECD countries. The environmental costs
associated with the extraction, mining, refining, transportation, consumption and
substantial polluting by-products vary in an important manner by fuel type and
across OECD countries.
   Electricity is often thought of as a less polluting alternative, although of course,
this depends upon how the electricity is generated. Consumers of energy sometimes
do not recognize the environmental impact at source, as for example, consumers use
electricity in their homes without realizing that it is often generated through the
combustion of fossil fuels. For example, many societies rely heavily upon coal in
the generation of electricity, as is the situation in the United States where 45% of

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total electricity comes from the burning of coal (NRC 2010). In Canada, fully 16.5%
of electricity supply is generated from coal, with an additional 5.2% generated by
natural gas and 1.9% from petroleum. Consequently, the ‘‘total supply of energy’’ is
greater than the ‘‘total energy directly consumed by Canadians’’, that is, some
energy is lost in conversion from fossil fuels into electricity. Typically across
societies, CO2 emissions are produced both directly in the burning of fossil fuels and
also indirectly in the conversion of fossil fuels into electricity, with the level of
efficiency involved in this conversion inversely associated with overall emissions.
Typically, the lower the conversion efficiency, the greater the demand for fossil
fuels in meeting the demand for electricity (by both households and industry) and
subsequently, the greater the overall emissions associated with this process.
   In meeting its energy needs, Canada has clearly sunk considerable investment
into infrastructures to produce, process and use coal, oil and natural gas—which in
turn has made it more difficult to shift to alternative (less polluting) energy
technologies. For example, the use of oil in Canada has grown almost exponentially
due to the simple fact that it remains relatively cheap and fundamental to the
transportation sector, in the movement of persons and goods. While the North
American economy is heavily reliant on fossil fuels, this situation is not true to the
same extent in other OECD countries—and in parts of Western Europe and
Scandinavia in particular (Boyd 2001). Just as the ‘‘carbon intensity’’ of fossil fuel
usage varies across societies, so does the ‘‘fossil fuel intensity’’ of economic
activity. As an example, France has managed to reduce its dependency on fossil fuel
imports through a heavy investment in nuclear energy (with all its associated risks
and hazards). Elsewhere, innovation and necessity have lead to the development of
alternative energy sources, such as hydro electricity, nuclear and to a lesser extent,
geothermal, wind and solar energy.
   In the North American context, a wide set of historical factors, including an early
abundance of conventional energy resources, has left a powerful set of tax biases
and subsidies that have encouraged the use of fossil fuels while discouraging longer
term investment in alternative energy technology. In addition, for a wide variety of
reasons, including the economic structure of Canada’s economy, the ‘‘energy
intensity’’ of economic activity is higher here than elsewhere. With all of these
considerations, Hamilton and Turton (2002) have set out to extend the aforemen-
tioned IPAT decomposition, to move beyond the ‘‘carbon intensity’’ of different
economies (CO2 emissions/GDP) as an indicator of the impact of technology. Using
detailed information on levels and type of energy use from the International Energy
Association (IEA), it is possible to further extend the IPAT model, such that the
carbon intensity in economic activity (the T component in Eq. 2) can be broken
down into four further terms (see Eq. 3 below).
   In the following equation, the acronym FOSS represents ‘‘total fossil fuel
consumption’’, TPES represents ‘‘total primary energy supply’’ (prior to any
conversion of energy resources, if applicable), and TFC represents ‘‘total final
energy consumption’’. In addition to the impact of population (P) and affluence
(GDP/Population), we can move on to identify for each OECD country, 4 distinct
technology effects:

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                              GDP           CO2     FOSS     TPES     TFC
CO2 emissions ¼ Population                                     
                            Population     FOSS     TPES     TFC      GDP
   As portrayed by the identity in Eq. 3, it is possible to delineate a (1) carbon
intensity effect FOSS   2
                           , (2) fossil fuel intensity effect FOSS      , (3) conversion
                   TPES                                 TFC  TPES
efficiency effect TFC and (4) energy intensity effect GDP . With regard to the first
term, the ‘‘carbon intensity effect’’ is merely the ratio of CO2 emissions relative to
total fossil fuel combustion [FOSS]. This term would be at its highest in societies
that burn the dirtiest of fossil fuels, including low-grade, high-carbon-content,
sulfur-rich coal. The second technology term, or the ‘‘fossil fuel intensity effect’’,
indicates the proportion of total primary energy supply [TPES] obtained from fossil
fuels [FOSS]. This term is obviously highest in societies that have failed to develop
alternative sources of energy, whether that be nuclear, hydro, geothermal, wind or
solar. The third technology term, the ‘‘conversion efficiency effect’’, represents the
extent to which energy resources are used to create energy in another form (as for
example, coal is used in the generation of electricity). As the ratio of total primary
energy supply [TPES] relative to total final consumption of energy [TFC], it varies
according to conversion efficiency and the fuel mix or type of primary energy
supply used. The fourth technology term, or the ‘‘energy intensity effect of
economic activity’’, is merely total final energy consumption [TFC] relative to the
total size of a given economy [GDP]. This reflects both investments in energy
efficiency (where Canada’s record is not particularly strong) as well as the nature of
economic activity and economic structure (industrial, commercial/service, resource
based, agricultural, etc.).
   Hamilton and Turton (2002) have applied this model to the 1980–1997 data from
the International Energy Association (IEA), comparing a limited number of
European and North American countries. Karakaya and Ozcag (2005) have enacted
a similar exercise across several countries in Central Asia. We shall again use the
IPAT decomposition (1990–2007), yet this time with a specific emphasis on Canada
relative to other OECD countries. In so doing, we will begin with a brief exposition
on Canada’s record on GHG emissions, how this relates to Canada’s population
growth and relative affluence over recent years, prior to directly applying Eq. 3 to
Canada and other OECD countries.

Greenhouse gas (GHG) and CO2 emissions in the Canadian context

Following the guidelines set out by the United Nations Framework Convention on
Climate Change (1992), Canada on an annual basis carefully documents a national
inventory of human-induced GHG emissions from various sources (industry,
transportation, fuel combustion and agriculture) as well as removals from sinks
(most of Canada land mass is covered by forest, with only the southernmost portions
used for agriculture and other land uses). An upward trend in GHGs has
characterized Canada over the 1990–2007 period, with an estimated increase of

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fully 21% over this period. This is almost twice the increase estimated for the
OECD overall (at about 12–13%) and dramatically higher than estimates for the
OECD Europe (up by only 2–3%). Underlying this Canadian trend in GHGs is a
phenomenal growth in CO2 emissions associated with the consumption of fossil
fuels, which continues to be by far the single most important type of GHG, in
Canada as elsewhere.
   While there are many different gases that also contribute to the greenhouse effect
(including methane, nitrous oxide, ozone, halocarbons, perfluorocarbons and other
halogenated compounds), as of 2007, CO2 emissions were responsible for about
80% of all GHGs produced in Canada. In limiting our focus exclusively to CO2
emissions, overall Canadian levels have risen even more dramatically than with
GHGs—by 32% during the 1990–2007 period. This compares to 17% for the OECD
overall and 4% for OECD Europe (Table 1). Canada has clearly failed to respect
some of its most important international commitments, including the Kyoto
protocol, which committed the federal government to total GHG emissions at 6%
below 1990 levels by 2012.

CO2 emissions and population growth

As Canada has experienced considerable demographic growth without shifting away
from its heavy reliance on fossil fuels, overall CO2 emissions have climbed rapidly.
The question we ask in this context is ‘‘to what extent might this record in terms of
environmental impact over time be explained by Canada’s rapid rate of population
growth’’? As demonstrated in Table 1, Canada’s population growth has been
relatively robust over recent decades, growing at a rate that is considerably faster
than most other OECD countries. If Canada’s population growth rate had been the
OECD average rather than the observed rate, what might have been the level of CO2
   While Canada’s population increased by 18.5% over the 1990–2007 period,
almost one half of all countries in the OECD experienced a percentage growth of
less than a third of this amount. Despite having below replacement fertility since the
1970s, Canada’s population has continued to expand at a relatively rapid rate, due to
high immigration and the momentum associated with past fertility. There are
relatively few countries in the world that receive on a proportional basis as many
immigrants as Canada (responsible for 58% of all demographic growth over the
period 1991–2006). Only a few OECD countries have grown more rapidly than
Canada, including the high-fertility countries of Turkey and Mexico, as well as
other countries also noted as being particularly open to immigration, including
Australia, New Zealand and the United States.
   Consistent with the logic of the IPAT model, a substantial proportion of Canada’s
increase in CO2 emissions is the direct by-product of this important population
growth. In assuming that demographic growth has a proportional impact on the
environment, compare Canada’s situation with some of the slower growing OECD
countries (consider either Italy or Japan, at only 3 and 4%, respectively). Would less

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Table 1 Percentage change in CO2 emissions, population and GDP per capita, OECD countries,
CO2 emission                         Population                       GDP per capita 2000 US dollars

Percentage change 1990–2007          Percentage change 1990–2007      Percentage change 1990–2007

Rank                                 Rank                             Rank

1      Korea                113.1    1      Turkey           32.2     1      Ireland          146.8
2      Turkey               108.8    2      Mexico           28.0     2      Korea            120.9
3      Spain                  67.5   3      Luxembourg       25.3     3      Hungary          119.3
4      New Zealand            66.4   4      Australia        22.4     4      Slovak           117.4
5      Australia              52.5   5      New Zealand      21.0     5      Poland            89.1
6      Mexico                 49.5   6      United States    20.5     6      Luxembourg        76.7
7      Ireland                44.1   7      Canada           18.5     7      Spain             62.1
8      Portugal               40.5   8      Iceland          18.4     8      Greece            59.5
9      Greece                 39.5   9      Ireland          17.1     9      Norway            54.9
10     Canada                 32.5          OECD total       12.7     10     Iceland           54.8
11     Norway                 30.5   10     Korea            12.6     11     Turkey            51.5
12     Iceland                24.5   11     Netherlands      10.8     12     Australia         46.4
13     Austria                24.0   12     Switzerland      10.5     13     United            45.2
14     United States          18.6   13     France            9.5     14     Finland           43.2
15     Finland                18.5   14     Norway            9.1     15     Netherlands       41.1
       OECD—total             17.4          OECD Europe       7.9     16     Czech Republic    41.1
16     Netherlands            16.4   15     Portugal          7.3     17     Sweden            40.5
17     Japan                  16.1   16     Denmark           6.4     18     Austria           40.5
18     Italy                  10.0   17     Austria           6.2     19     New Zealand       40.5
19     France                  4.9   18     United            5.7            OECD Europe
       OECD Europe                   19     Greece            5.7            OECD—total        37.5
20     Switzerland             3.6   20     Finland           5.1     20     United States     37.4
21     Luxembourg              2.5   21     Sweden            5.0     21     Belgium           36.3
22     Denmark                 0.2   22     Belgium           4.2     22     Denmark           35.9
23     Belgium               -1.8    23     Germany           3.8     23     Canada            34.9
24     UK                    -5.4    24     Slovak            3.5     24     Portugal          33.8
25     Poland              -11.4     25     Japan             3.2     25     Mexico            30.9
26     Sweden              -12.4     26     Spain             2.8     26     Germany           29.2
27     Germany             -16.0     27     Italy             2.5     27     France            26.2
28     Hungary             -19.1     28     Poland            1.0     28     Italy             23.7
29     Czech Republic      -21.4     29     Czech Republic   -0.8     29     Japan             22.4
30     Slovak Republic     -35.1     30     Hungary          -4.0     30     Switzerland       15.2

Source: IEA (2010); UN (2010), author’s calculations

Popul Environ (2012) 34:257–278                                                    265

demographic growth have led to a much more modest increase for Canada? If these
components—population, affluence and technology—have roughly independent and
proportional effects, then population stability might have implied a much slower
growth in emissions, perhaps in line with other OECD countries. In other words, had
Canada experienced the same demographic growth as witnessed throughout much
of Europe over recent decades, its growth in total CO2 emissions might have been
cut in half. In this context, it is noteworthy that per capita emissions in Canada grew
by only about 14% over the 1990–2007 period relative to the 32% increase as
observed for emissions overall.
   Many countries are growing at a snail’s pace, due to both low fertility and lower
levels of immigration. The Kyoto target for Canada (at 6% below 1990 levels) is
shared with most of Western Europe, including Italy, Spain, Japan, Germany,
Belgium and Sweden—all countries with substantially lower population growth.
In terms of the Kyoto protocol, it follows that most Annex I countries in Europe
have not had nearly the same pressures, demographically speaking, when it comes
to reducing environmental impact. Similarly, much of Eastern Europe, including
countries that are currently experiencing population decline, are expected under
Kyoto to achieve a 2% reduction under 1990 levels by 2012. The Kyoto Accord
clearly demands a greater reduction in per capita emissions for the most rapidly
growing populations. In this context, GHG emissions as associated with specific
source countries (i.e., countries witnessing much emigration) are shifted to their
respective countries of destination (countries witnessing much immigration,
including Canada, Australia and the United States).

CO2 emissions and affluence

While Canada stands out in terms of its demographic growth relative to the OECD
average, the same cannot be said of economic growth. In fact, while Canada’s
economy grew at a robust pace over the 1990–2007 period, its economic
performance was more or less in the middle of the pack among OECD economies.
After adjusting all figures to constant US dollars, the growth in Canada’s GDP on a
per capita basis over the 1990–2007 period (?34.9%) ranked it 23rd across 30
OECD countries, expanding at a rate, which was less than the OECD average
(37.5%). While economic growth is important in explaining why emissions have
increased across the OECD, it certainly cannot explain why emissions in Canada
increased at a particularly rapid rate relative to elsewhere. While relative affluence
and economic expansion are fundamental in determining environmental impact,
there are several countries whose economies grew at an even more rapid rate than
Canada, without this being directly translated into the same sort of proportional
increase in CO2 emissions.
   Although the IPAT indicator ‘‘GDP/population’’ is an imperfect measure of the
average level of affluence for a specific population, it does serve to highlight the
economic pressures contributing to increased CO2 emissions. As a general rule, in
following the logic of the IPAT equation, the greater the affluence, the greater the
environmental impact—everything held constant. As of 2007, Canada’s GDP per

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capita is reported to be slightly higher than the OECD average, although as
suggested above, this relative ranking actually slipped somewhat since 1990.
Figure 1 portrays GDP per capita of OECD countries for 2007, ranging from the
least developed economies of Mexico and Turkey through to the United States,
Norway and Luxembourg. Figure 1 also ranks countries according to CO2 emissions
on a per capita basis, to provide some indication as to the nature of the association
between affluence and environmental impact.
   The OECD (2002) has used the term ‘‘decoupling’’ to refer to the breaking of the
link between ‘‘environmental bads’’ and ‘‘economic goods’’. In other words, while
most highly affluent countries have very high carbon footprints (consider
Luxembourg or the United States), others have managed to ‘‘decouple’’ somewhat
their prosperity from this form of environmental impact. Norway, second only to
Luxembourg in terms of GDP per capita, reports only about one-third of its CO2
emissions per capita (7.98 metric tons of CO2 emissions per capita relative to 22.35
metric tons). Sweden, also very high in terms of ‘‘affluence’’, produced in 2007 less
than one-third of Canada’s CO2 emissions per capita (5.12 metric tons per capita
relative to 17.40 metric tons). Across the OECD, only two countries produce lower
emissions on a per capita basis than Sweden, yet both are noted as being particularly
poor by OECD standards (Mexico and Turkey). Typically, while population,
economic growth and environmental impact tend to increase together, Sweden and a
few other OECD countries have managed to remain relatively prosperous while at
least partially ‘‘decoupling’’ economic growth from CO2 emissions. On the other
hand, Canada’s economy remains particularly carbon intensive, with both per capita
and total emissions up sharply over recent years.

                                                                              Emmissions per capita

                                                                              Turkey                   3.54
                                                                              Mexico                   4.03
                                                                              Sweden                   5.12
                                                                              Portugal                 5.19
                                                                              Hungary                  5.42
                                                                              Switzerland              5.58
                                                                              France                   5.80
                                                                              Slovak Republic          6.75
                                                                              Italy                    7.52
                                                                              OECD EUROPE              7.56
                                                                              Iceland                  7.75
                                                                              Poland                   7.91
                                                                              Norway                   7.98
                                                                              Austria                  8.50
                                                                              Spain                    8.52
                                                                              New Zealand              8.58
                                                                              UK                       8.61
                                                                              Greece                   9.14
                                                                              Denmark                  9.23
                                                                              Germany                  9.69
                                                                              Japan                    9.70
                                                                              Korea                   10.13
                                                                              Belgium                 10.20
                                                                              Ireland                 10.74
                                                                              Netherlands             11.00
                                                                              OECD                    11.01
                                                                              Czech Republic          11.94
                                                                              Finland                 12.30
                                                                              Canada                  17.40
                                                                              Australia               19.10
                                                                              US                      19.15
                                                                              Luxembourg              22.35

Fig. 1 GDP/population for OECD countries and CO2 emissions per capita, 2007

Popul Environ (2012) 34:257–278                                                    267

CO2 emissions and technology

The technology component in IPAT is fundamental in better understanding
Canada’s outlier status on CO2 emissions. As aforementioned, the technology
component can be further delineated into four separate terms, including the
following: (1) a fossil fuel intensity effect, (2) a carbon intensity effect, (3) a
conversion efficiency effect and (4) an energy intensity effect. Table 2 summa-
rizes this decomposition for 2007, including each of the four separate terms across
all 30 OECD countries. Table 2 also provides the rank order across the OECD,
which theoretically, at least, ranks all countries from having the lowest
environmental impact (rank 1) through to highest (rank 30). In 2007, Canada
ranked reasonably well on the first three terms (11th, 10th and 11th, respectively),
whereas quite strikingly, ranked near the bottom of the OECD with regard to the
fourth term ‘‘the energy intensity of economic activity’’ (29th out of the then 30
OECD countries).
   The ‘‘fossil fuel dependency effect’’ indicates the proportion of total primary
energy supply obtained from coal, oil and natural gas, with Canada’s rank of 11th
in 2007 indicating that a majority of OECD countries are actually even more
reliant on fossil fuels than Canada (as a proportion of total energy use). While
Canada does have major reserves of coal, natural gas and oil (including both
conventional and oil sands reserves), it is certainly far from fully exploiting these
resources, just as much of existing production is currently generated for export. For
example, net exports are currently equivalent to roughly 1/10th, 1/3rd and 2/3rds of
total domestic production of coal, crude oil and natural gas, respectively. In
addition, Canada has invested more than most in the development of both
hydroelectricity and nuclear energy in meeting its domestic needs. Across the
OECD, there is a wide range in this dependency on fossil fuels, from only 19.3% in
Iceland through to fully 96.1% in Ireland, although both Canada and a clear
majority of OECD countries are closer to Ireland than Iceland in this regard. For
example, while 75.8% of Canada’s energy needs are derived from fossil fuels, this
percentage is even higher for OECD Europe (77.6%), as is the OECD overall
(82.3%) as measured for 2007.
   While Canada does use coal, primarily in the generation of electricity, it is not
nearly as reliant on this energy source as in other countries (as for example, while
16% of Canada’s electricity comes from the burning of coal, the United States uses
coal to produce 45% of its electricity). As a result, in terms of the second technology
term, the ‘‘carbon intensity effect’’, Canada fares no worse than most OECD
countries. As the ratio of CO2 emissions to total fossil fuel combustion, Canada’s
2.78 Mt of CO2 per Mtoe of energy is lower than the OECD’s average of 2.87.
Similarly, with regard to the ‘‘conversion efficiency effect’’, Canada’s rank of 11th
is again better than most—with its ratio of primary energy supply to final
consumption (1.33) lower than what is observed in Europe (1.44) or for the OECD
overall (1.46). Although increasingly the energy supply of OECD countries has
become diversified, there are several countries that continue to rely heavily on fossil
fuels, often with rather inefficient and dirty conversion technologies (consider the

Table 2 Technology components, OECD countries, rank 2007

      Fossil fuel dependency effect           Carbon Intensity Effect             Conversion Effect                Energy intensity

      FOSS/TPES (2007)                        CO2/FOSS (2007)                     TPES/TFC (2007)                  TFC/GDP 2007

      Rank                                    Rank                                Rank                             Rank

      1         Iceland               0.193   1         Norway            24.06   1        Luxembourg       1.07   1         Ireland           77.36
      2         Sweden                0.330   2         Netherlands       24.44   2        Ireland          1.22   2         United Kingdom    77.58
      3         France                0.516   3         Iceland           24.83   3        Austria          1.24   3         Switzerland       77.79
      4         Switzerland           0.516   4         Belgium           25.43   4        Portugal         1.25   4         Greece            81.34
      5         Norway                0.559   5         Hungary           25.55   5        Switzerland      1.27   5         Denmark           87.76
      6         Finland               0.564   6         Korea             26.89   6        Netherlands      1.27   6         Italy             87.84
      7         New Zealand           0.680   7         Italy             26.97   7        Italy            1.29   7         Turkey            92.93
      8         Slovak Republic       0.708   8         France            27.14   8        Denmark          1.30   8         Japan             94.58
      9         Austria               0.725   9         Mexico            27.42   9        Turkey           1.31   9         Spain             94.74
      10        Belgium               0.731   10        Canada            27.79   10       Norway           1.32   10        France            94.88
      11        Canada                0.758   11        UK                27.80   11       Canada           1.33             OECD Europe       97.04
                OECD Europe           0.776   12        Portugal          27.83   12       New Zealand      1.34   11        Mexico            97.92
      12        Hungary               0.790   13        Sweden            28.02   13       Finland          1.36   12        Germany           98.41
      13        Portugal              0.791   14        Luxembourg        28.52   14       Greece           1.39   13        Austria          100.48
      14        Germany               0.805             OECD Europe       28.67   15       Spain            1.40   14        Portugal         106.94
      15        Korea                 0.818             OECD—total        28.74            OECD Europe      1.42   15        Norway           109.23
      16        Denmark               0.822   15        Spain             28.79   16       Hungary          1.43   16        Australia        113.23
                OECD—total            0.823   16        Japan             28.81   17       Belgium          1.44             OECD—total       115.29
      17        Czech Republic        0.830   17        United States     28.84   18       Sweden           1.45   17        Sweden           115.43
      18        Spain                 0.832   18        Austria           28.89   19       Germany          1.46   18        Hungary          116.96
      19        Japan                 0.833   19        Slovak Republic   29.13            OECD—total       1.46   19        Netherlands      117.73
      20        United States         0.856   20        Turkey            29.28   20       United Kingdom   1.48   20        Poland           122.12
                                                                                                                                                       Popul Environ (2012) 34:257–278
Table 2 continued

      Fossil fuel dependency effect               Carbon Intensity Effect            Conversion Effect                 Energy intensity

      FOSS/TPES (2007)                            CO2/FOSS (2007)                    TPES/TFC (2007)                   TFC/GDP 2007

      Rank                                        Rank                               Rank                              Rank

      21        Mexico                0.890       21        Germany          29.80   21       United States     1.48   21        New Zealand       122.22
      22        Luxembourg            0.892       22        Ireland          30.62   22       Poland            1.49   22        Belgium           122.38
      23        United Kingdom        0.896       23        Finland          31.19   23       Japan             1.51   23        Luxembourg        127.60
                                                                                                                                                            Popul Environ (2012) 34:257–278

      24        Turkey                0.905       24        Denmark          31.21   24       Korea             1.51   24        Slovak Republic   128.12
      25        Italy                 0.906       25        New Zealand      31.26   25       Slovak Republic   1.55   25        Czech Republic    128.48
      26        Netherlands           0.929       26        Switzerland      31.80   26       Mexico            1.56   26        Korea             132.64
      27        Greece                0.930       27        Czech Republic   32.14   27       France            1.60   27        United States     135.26
      28        Australia             0.944       28        Poland           33.19   28       Australia         1.66   28        Finland           164.54
      29        Poland                0.946       29        Australia        33.72   29       Czech Republic    1.70   29        Canada            196.11
      30        Ireland               0.961       30        Greece           34.81   30       Iceland           1.95   30        Iceland           227.68

      Source: IEA (2010); author’s calculations

270                                                      Popul Environ (2012) 34:257–278

many coal-fired power plants that are scattered throughout Central and Eastern
Europe in the generation of electricity).
    While Canada’s record does not depart significantly from most of the OECD on
the first three terms, it is with the 4th term—the energy intensity effect—that its
performance differs most dramatically from what is observed elsewhere (second
only to Iceland in terms of the energy used in driving its economy). It is really with
this component, in combination with a continued reliance on fossil fuels, that
Canada’s record in terms of CO2 emissions can best be understood. This fourth
technology term is merely total final energy consumption relative to the total size of
a given economy, with the Canadian ratio more than twice that of OECD Europe
(196.11 Mtoe/$US billion relative to 97.04). It is not so much that Canada is more
reliant than most countries on fossil fuels in meeting its energy needs, nor is it
relying on particularly dirty fossil fuels, but Canada on the most basic level
continues to use very high levels of energy in meeting its economic needs. This
reflects both investments in energy efficiency as well as the nature of economic
activity and economic structure. By both OECD and global standards, Canada’s
energy use is a clear outlier—a simple observation that we shall return to in the
concluding discussion and summary.
    Table 3 returns to these four technology terms, yet this time by presenting
‘‘percentage change’’ for the 1990–2007 period, again as observed across all 30
countries in the OECD. In so doing, Table 3 rank orders all countries from what are
considered the greatest gains in terms of reducing environmental impact (rank 1)
through to the worst performance (rank 30). Briefly, in terms of fossil fuel
dependency, Canada has actually increased its dependency (?1.67%), while an
overwhelming majority of countries have done the opposite. In terms of carbon
intensity, Canada has more or less remained unchanged over this period (-0.04%),
relative to more substantial reductions made elsewhere (for example, the carbon
intensity of OECD Europe was reduced by -4.55%). In terms of conversion
efficiency, Canada is actually worse off in 2007 (?1.01%), whereas OECD Europe
is slightly better off (-1.13%). In terms of the fourth technology term, the ‘‘energy
intensity of economic activity’’, Canada has managed to reduce this component
(down by -19.25%), although most other countries have achieved even greater
efficiencies (down by -21.17% overall across the OECD).
    Among those countries that have reduced their carbon footprint over recent
years, the most successful have managed to reduce environmental impact across all
four of these technology components. For example, Sweden has managed to reduce
overall emissions (-12.42%) by reducing its fossil fuel dependency (-12.78%),
the carbon intensity of fossil fuels used (-5.27%), its losses through energy
conversion (-1.03%) as well as reducing the energy intensity of economic activity
(-27.40%). As of 2007, Sweden fossil fuel dependency had fallen to only 33% of
its total energy requirements, through ongoing investments in hydroelectricity and
nuclear. Likewise, seven additional OECD countries have managed to reduce
emissions in a meaningful manner over this same period. Again, this compares
with an increase of 32.5% in total CO2 emissions for Canada over the 1990–2007

Table 3 Technology components, OECD countries, percentage change, 1990–2007, rank
      Fossil fuel dependency effect            Carbon Intensity Effect            Conversion Effect                  Energy intensity

      FOSS/TPES (1990–2007)                    CO2/FOSS (1990–2007)               TPES/TFC (1990–2007)               TFC/GDP 1990–2007

      Rank                                     Rank                               Rank                               Rank

      1       Iceland                 -41.57   1       Luxembourg        -17.10    1      Luxembourg        -12.47   1       Slovak Republic   -67.46
      2       Slovak Republic         -13.30   2       Belgium           -13.51    2      Poland            -10.64   2       Hungary           -57.12
      3       Switzerland             -12.98   3       Slovak Republic   -10.60    3      Ireland           -9.75    3       Poland            -44.89
                                                                                                                                                        Popul Environ (2012) 34:257–278

      4       Sweden                  -12.78   4       Hungary           -10.51    4      Greece            -6.30    4       Ireland           -42.45
      5       France                  -11.29   5       Iceland            -9.10    5      Spain             -5.63    5       Czech Republic    -42.45
      6       Czech Republic          -10.91   6       Korea              -8.51    6      Netherlands       -4.71    6       Luxembourg        -36.20
      7       Austria                 -8.39    7       Norway             -7.29    7      Belgium           -4.48    7       United Kingdom    -32.77
      8       Denmark                 -8.18    8       Italy              -7.16    8      New Zealand       -2.00    8       Germany           -29.35
      9       Germany                 -7.33    9       UK                 -6.16    9      Switzerland       -1.43    9       Norway            -29.21
      10      Finland                 -5.62    10      Czech Republic     -6.06    10     Austria           -1.35    10      Sweden            -27.40
              OECD Europe IEA         -4.39    11      Sweden             -5.27    11     United Kingdom    -1.16    11      United States     -26.13
      11      Belgium                 -3.85    12      Portugal           -4.64           OECD Europe IEA   -1.13    12      Australia         -25.93
      12      Poland                  -3.24            OECD Europe IEA    -4.55    12     Denmark           -1.07            OECD Europe IEA   -22.47
      13      Netherlands             -3.15    13      Germany            -4.31    13     Sweden            -1.03            OECD—total        -21.17
      14      Hungary                 -3.13    14      Denmark            -3.76    14     Turkey            -0.68    13      New Zealand       -21.10
      15      Italy                   -3.04    15      Finland            -2.75    15     Portugal          -0.60    14      Denmark           -20.73
      16      Korea                   -2.39    16      Poland             -2.62    16     United States     -0.21    15      Finland           -19.36
      17      Ireland                 -2.23    17      Spain              -2.47    17     Germany           -0.01    16      Canada            -19.25
              OECD—total              -1.84            OECD—total         -2.47           OECD—total          0.39   17      Netherlands       -18.04
      18      Greece                  -1.63    18      United States      -1.84    18     Canada              1.01   18      Mexico            -17.19
      19      Portugal                -1.59    19      Ireland            -1.83    19     Italy               1.40   19      Iceland           -16.77
      20      Japan                   -1.45    20      Netherlands        -1.67    20     France              2.04   20      France            -16.40

Table 3 continued

      Fossil fuel dependency effect               Carbon Intensity Effect           Conversion Effect                 Energy intensity

      FOSS/TPES (1990–2007)                       CO2/FOSS (1990–2007)              TPES/TFC (1990–2007)              TFC/GDP 1990–2007

      Rank                                        Rank                              Rank                              Rank

      21      United Kingdom          -1.20       21      Turkey            -0.42   21      Japan              2.84   21      Switzerland   -14.73
      22      United States           -0.96       22      Canada            -0.04   22      Hungary            3.31   22      Belgium       -12.99
      23      Luxembourg              -0.03       23      Mexico             0.03   23      Korea              5.30   23      Greece        -10.77
      24      Australia                 0.55      24      France             0.32   24      Finland            6.37   24      Japan         -9.64
      25      Mexico                    1.02      25      Japan              0.39   25      Mexico             6.57   25      Korea         -8.86
      26      New Zealand               1.08      26      Greece             0.63   26      Australia          8.76   26      Austria       -8.82
      27      Canada                    1.67      27      Austria            0.84   27      Norway             9.22   27      Italy         -4.93
      28      Spain                     7.51      28      Australia          5.09   28      Slovak Republic   14.32   28      Turkey        -4.68
      29      Norway                    7.74      29      Switzerland       11.27   29      Czech Republic    16.54   29      Spain           1.54
      30      Turkey                  10.61       30      New Zealand       25.22   30      Iceland           53.59   30      Portugal        4.97

      Source: IEA (2010); author’s calculations
                                                                                                                                                     Popul Environ (2012) 34:257–278
Popul Environ (2012) 34:257–278                                                      273

Canada’s energy intensity

Canada ranks 2nd only to Iceland in terms of energy use in driving its economy in
2007. Canada also has among the worst records in the world in terms of CO2 emissions
on a per capita basis. Iceland, on the other hand, is perhaps the most unusual country in
the OECD in terms of energy use—using more energy per unit of GDP than any other
country while simultaneously having among the lowest per capita CO2 emissions. In
other words, this small North Atlantic country that hovers near the Arctic Circle has
managed to achieve a comparable standard of living to Canada (i.e., the A in IPAT),
while simultaneously having a modest environmental impact in terms of CO2
emissions. This demonstrates in a very straight forward manner the fundamental
importance of the(T) component
                                     in IPAT, or even more specifically, the fossil fuel
dependency term FOSS TPES   in our decomposition. Iceland located along the mid Atlantic
ridge in a highly geologically and volcanically active location has managed to exploit
an abundance of geothermal energy, using technologies that tap into this primary
energy source with negligible environmental effect.
   Yet the reality of course is that Iceland’s circumstances are unique (with only
19% of its energy supply coming from fossil fuels), while Canada is much more
similar to the rest of the OECD in this regard. While 75.8% of Canada’s energy use
is derived from fossil fuels, the OECD average is even higher, at 82.3%. As the
earlier decomposition demonstrated, Canada does not differ dramatically from
elsewhere in the OECD, in terms of fossil fuel dependency (11th), conversion
technologies (11th) and the carbon intensity of fossil fuels consumed (10th). On the
other hand, Canada is an outlier in terms of the energy intensity of economic activity
(29th), more than twice that of OECD Europe. While Canada has managed to
improve on the energy intensity of economic activity over recent years, the question
remains as to why Canada has not achieved greater efficiencies, which could have at
least partially mitigated this environmental impact.
   There is little disputing the fact that North Americans use a great deal of energy,
as they tend to drive less-fuel-efficient vehicles and drive them further, live in larger
homes and heat them more, and work in buildings that use substantially more
energy than do Europeans (Environment Canada 2006). In terms of Canada’s
particularly heavy energy use, at least part of this situation relates to the simple fact
that its climate is among the coldest in the OECD, requiring far more heating days
than most other countries, a situation shared by only a few of the northern
Scandinavian countries. In addition, Canada has a particularly large landmass,
combined with low overall population density, which serves to increase the demand
for energy in the transportation of both people and goods. The distances travelled in
moving both freight and people tend to far surpass those observed in most much
smaller European countries (MKJA 2005). In turn, the transportation sector—both
personal and freight—is responsible for a large proportion of Canada’s energy use—
reported at roughly 29% of total secondary energy use in 2007 (NRC 2010).
   Other economic and political factors play into explaining Canada’s high energy
use, including the globalization of trade and the implementation of the North
American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Canada has become increasingly a part

274                                                     Popul Environ (2012) 34:257–278

of the continental energy market, with high levels of foreign ownership and
constrained governmental policy flexibility. On a deeper level, in both Canada and
the United States, energy use remains very high in an energy policy context of
relatively low taxes (in contrast to OECD Europe) and low energy prices. For
example, the IEA (2010) produces summary statistics on the cost of energy,
allowing for systematic comparisons across the OECD. In drawing international
comparisons, the price of gasoline has been lower in Canada than in any other
OECD country (with the exception of the United States and Mexico) for well over a
decade. Similarly, Canadian electricity prices have consistently been second lowest
only to Norway, while the price of natural gas demanded of Canadian households
and industry has consistently been second lowest only to Finland. In the North
American context, lower taxes on energy (relative to elsewhere in the OECD) are
responsible for relatively low prices for both consumers and industry, which have
arguably undercut some of the potential for conservation, with fewer incentives to
increase efficiencies. In reviewing IEA data, countries with higher prices tend to
consume less, an observation often raised by environmentalists in advocating carbon
taxes in order to reduce environmental impact.
    In this context, governments and industry have actively encouraged growth in the
Canadian energy sector, with investments producing an expanding supply of fossil
fuels, for both domestic consumption and export. For example, of particular
importance in Canada has been ongoing efforts to expand access to major reserves
of bitumen in western Canada (oil sands), with total production already reaching a
height of 47% of Canadian petroleum production in 2007 (Government of Alberta
2008). Oil sands extraction is more environmentally damaging than conventional
crude oil, with much higher energy demands and significant water requirements in
moving from the well-to-pump. Fossil fuels are used in extracting and upgrading
bitumen reserves into synthetic crude, with roughly one barrel of oil equivalent of
energy required to produce roughly 5–6 barrels of oil for the market (National
Energy Board 2006). Canada’s willingness to satisfy burgeoning North American
energy demands (as now the largest exporter of crude oil to the United States) has
only added to the energy intensity of Canadian industry and compromised the
country’s ability to meet its climate change commitments. As summarized by
Harper and Fletcher (2011), there are few regulatory limits on fossil fuel
consumption and emissions in those sectors most responsible for GHG emissions,
including transportation (25%), fossil fuel development (19%), electricity gener-
ation (17%) and industrial activities (15%).
    Under NAFTA, Canada applies open market principles and is obliged to trade its
major energy resources without excessive regulation. Canada is also noted for
having a particularly energy-intensive industrial structure relative to most OECD
countries. For many energy-intensive commodities, Canada produces far more than
its population would suggest, with a large proportion of this oriented toward export.
Canada currently produces over 10% of the world supply of aluminum, 5% of its
copper, 9% of gypsum, 12% of nickel, 15% of wood pulp, 23% of newsprint and
almost about 30% of the world’s supply of potash fertilizers—all for a country that
has less than 0.5% of global population (Environment Canada 2006). As all of these
industries are particularly energy intensive, production of these commodities

Popul Environ (2012) 34:257–278                                                     275

contributes significantly to Canada’s overall record in terms of energy intensity.
With a substantial proportion of these commodities produced for export, Canada
differs in a major way from most OECD countries as a net exporter of energy and
natural resources rather than a net importer. The heavy energy demands and
resultant CO2 emissions associated with producing these commodities for export
continue to be associated with Canada, regardless of the eventual market for these
commodities. This is a large part of why Canada’s record is so poor in meeting its
international commitments relative to many other OECD countries that are in
contrast, major importers of energy, not to mention other primary resources.


One of the most commonly cited definitions of sustainable development can be
attributed to early work by the World Commission on Environment and
Development (1987:43), which highlighted the importance of ‘‘development that
meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future
generations to meet their own needs’’. While this reference is somewhat vague, it
essentially refers to maintaining or improving upon the economic and social welfare
of societies without doing irreparable damage to the environment. The 1994
International Conference on Population and Development devoted a chapter of its
final report to developmental questions and proposed a Program of Action that
would result in slower population growth on a global level while encouraging
sustainable development, population health and ecosystem vitality. In terms of
‘‘sustainable development’’, Canada’s record has been superior in terms of
‘‘promoting the social welfare of its population’’ while being somewhat problematic
in terms of ‘‘avoiding irreparable damage to the environment’’ and jeopardizing
future generations. In other words, while Canada is among world leaders in terms of
living standards and its current state of population health, its environmental record
has not been nearly as strong. Suggestive of this fact is Canada’s rank of 151st out
of 163 countries on GHG emissions per capita.
   We have applied the IPAT model to the Canadian context, in an effort to better
understand this record on CO2 emissions. For Canada overall, the rapid increase in
emissions over the 1990–2007 period can be explained by several factors, including
major population growth, increased affluence (although to a lesser extent than
elsewhere in the OECD), and a continued dependence on fossil fuels, while
continuing to increase its overall demand for energy. While the energy intensity of
Canada’s economy declined somewhat, it actually lagged behind most OECD
countries on this front and remains one of the most energy intense economies in the
world. While there are many factors responsible for this, Canada’s particularly
energy-intensive industrial structure is certainly relevant, as is the importance of its
primary sector relative to most developed countries. Canada has become the most
important exporter of crude oil to the United States and is now one of the few
OECD countries that is a net exporter of energy. While Canadian households
consume considerably more energy than is true in most OECD countries, they do so
in a context of relatively low energy prices and in a political culture that is

276                                                       Popul Environ (2012) 34:257–278

committed to further integrating Canada into the larger North American economy.
In a more general sense, Canadian society is committed to continued economic and
demographic growth, with wide popular support for current immigration and
multicultural policy. In this context, the IEA forecasts continued economic growth
throughout the OECD, with a continued increase in the demand for energy (albeit
the exact mix of future energy supplies remains particularly difficult to forecast).
The likelihood of national government intervention remains low in a context of
continental trade deals and climbing foreign ownership, as well as a national
Conservative government intent on proving its worth to the US as a military and
resource ally.
   The OECD (2002) has used the term ‘‘decoupling’’ to refer to the breaking of the
link between ‘‘environmental bads’’ and ‘‘economic goods’’. Typically, while
population, economic growth and environmental impact tend to increase together, a
few OECD countries have managed to very gradually ‘‘decouple’’ economic growth
from CO2 emissions. Underlying this has been an energy transition away from fossil
fuels toward less CO2-intensive alternatives, including hydroelectricity, nuclear and
to a lesser extent, geothermal, wind and solar. On the other hand, Canada’s economy
remains particularly carbon intensive, with both per capita and total emissions up
sharply over recent years. In terms of environmental sustainability, Canada is
continuing to lag behind most of the OECD in terms of ‘‘decoupling economic
growth from CO2 emissions’’. While the requisite technical and infrastructural
imperatives are enormous in shifting the North American economy away from fossil
fuels, not to mention political priorities, it is highly uncertain as to when (or even
whether) Canada will transition away from fossil fuels. In terms of political
impediments to making progress on this front, jurisdiction in the Canadian context
over the environment and natural resource management continues to be divided,
with unclear division of responsibility and authority (Simpson et al. 2007). As the
Canadian geographer, Smil (2010:149) has recently highlighted in reviewing the
many myths and realities of energy use, both in Canada and internationally: ‘‘A
world without fossil fuel combustion is highly desirable, and, to be optimistic, our
collective determination, commitment and persistence could accelerate its arrival.
But getting there will be expensive and will require considerable patience. Coming
energy transitions will unfold, as past ones have done, across decades, and not
   As argued here, the IPAT model is simple, robust and useful as a framework for
research, as an elegantly simple way of illustrating different but related dimensions
of environmental impact: as functions of the number of people, the technologies
they employ to produce goods, and the amount of goods they consume. Yet there are
certainly limits to the IPAT equation, as for example, this model constrains a priori
the effects of each component to be proportional. With this in mind, there have been
important revisions of IPAT, as for example, Dietz and Rosa (1994) have
reformulated this environmental accounting equation into stochastic form, meant to
alternatively estimate the net effect of specific drivers, while also holding the
potential for inclusion of theoretically relevant variables including political, social
and cultural factors. While IPAT is particularly useful on a descriptive level, there
are analytically complex models that hold considerable promise in terms of

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