Trends in Greenhouse Gas Emissions in B.C. (1990-2020)
Greenhouse gas emissions warm the global atmosphere and cause our climate to change. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is a key component to limiting the increase in global average temperature and the resulting changes in climate.
Total greenhouse gas emissions in 2020 in B.C. were 64.6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (Mt CO2e). This is a 4.9% decrease in gross emissions since 2019, a 5.8% decrease in gross emissions since 2018, and a 1.4% decrease in gross emissions since 2007—B.C.’s baseline year for assessing reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
The decline in emissions observed in 2020 occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic, which reduced transportation and other activities that produce greenhouse gas emissions. B.C.’s outlook suggests that emissions are likely to rebound to a degree in 2021 as economic activity (including air travel and road transportation) returns to normal (see page 10 of B.C.'s 2022 Climate Change Accountability Report1).
B.C. applies forest management carbon offsets to emission totals each year to determine net greenhouse gas emissions and progress to its official legislated targets. In 2020, carbon offsets totaled 1.1 Mt CO2e, bringing net greenhouse gas emissions down to 63.5 Mt CO2e, 3% below 2007 levels. Figures and calculations presented in this indicator use gross totals from the B.C. Greenhouse Gas Emission Inventory (2020)2 and do not account for any emission reductions from offset projects.
B.C. has set targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions over the next 30 years. The targets are 40% less by 2030, 60% by 2040 and 80% by 2050, compared to 2007 levels. To keep B.C. on track, an interim target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 16% from 2007 levels by 2025 was also set1.
Greenhouse gas intensity of the economy continues to fall. Greenhouse gas emissions per million dollars of GDP have been in decline since 1990 with the trend accelerating after 2001. The trend in emissions per person is less consistent, but has been downward for most of the last 20 years.
The transportation and fossil fuel sectors produce the most greenhouse gas emissions in B.C. Major transportation-related sources of greenhouse gas emissions include cars, trucks, heavy-duty trucks, and rail. The major fossil fuel industry source is natural gas production and processing.
Greenhouse Gas Emissions in British Columbia
- In 2020, gross greenhouse gas emissions in B.C. were 1.4% lower than the 2007 baseline year.
- Overall, the greenhouse gases produced per person in B.C. were less in 2020 than the 2007 baseline year. Much of the decrease in 2020 is likely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
*To compare to per capita emissions from other jurisdictions, the afforestation and deforestation emissions included in the B.C. inventory were removed for this calculation, as these emission sources are not tracked everywhere. More details on these emissions are available below.
- Greenhouse gas emissions per million dollars of GDP varied year to year between 1990-2001 and have consistently declined since 2001.
- Population size and gross domestic product in B.C. have continually increased since 1990 (with the exception of GDP in 2009 and 2020), while greenhouse gas emissions have not shown a clear upward or downward trend; both GDP and emissions showed marked reductions in 2020.
Greenhouse Gas Emissions by Economic Sector
Greenhouse gas emissions are sorted into the following economic sectors: transportation, fossil fuels, buildings, heavy industry, waste, deforestation, agriculture, electricity generation, and other industry (includes light manufacturing, construction, and forest resources).
By looking at the greenhouse gas emissions across the different sectors, we can see where the majority of B.C.’s emissions are coming from, as well as the trends in emissions from those sectors.
The transportation sector produces the largest amount of greenhouse gas emissions in British Columbia. Passenger transport (cars, trucks, motorcycles) and freight transport (heavy duty trucks and rail) produce the most emissions within the transportation sector.
The fossil fuel sector produces the second largest amount of greenhouse gas emissions in British Columbia. This sector includes production, refining and distribution activities.
Note: The figure below is interactive. Click on an sector in the legend to add it or remove it from the graph or double-check to isolate one sector. Hover over a year/industry to see annual data. Use the slider at the bottom to look at a specific set of years.
How have greenhouse gas emissions changed within economic sectors?
The amount of carbon dioxide equivalent emitted annually by each economic sector was compared to 1990 levels. The transportation sector had the largest increase in annual emissions of any sector over the past decade. The fossil fuel sector also had consistent increases in annual emissions, with levels peaking from 2011 to 2014.
The transportation sector's emissions shrank by around 9% from 2019 to 2020, likely due to reduced travel during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Buildings, agriculture, other industry, electricity and waste sectors emitted similar levels of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2020 as 1990.
Heavy industry’s emissions have trended downward since 2000. Emissions from deforestation declined from 1990 to 2002 and emission rates have remained similar since that time.
Each economic sector was broken down into more specific categories where available. This information is provided below.
Note: The figure below is interactive. Click on an sector in the legend to add it or remove it from the graph or double-check to isolate one sector. Hover over a year/industry to see the difference compared to 1990 emissions levels. Use the slider at the bottom to look at a specific set of years.
Results by Economic Sector
Economic sectors were broken down into subsectors, where subsectors were available. Further information on the emissions categorized in each subsector are provided in the British Columbia Greenhouse Gas Provincial Inventory Methodology3.
Each subsector contributes varying amounts of emissions to the sector total. Examining these breakdowns further can give us a greater insight into the sources of emissions in B.C.
In each economic sector figure below, the grey background shows the total emissions from each sector over time and the color sections show the contribution of each subsector compared to the sector total.
Note: The figure below is interactive. Click on an economic sector tab at the top of the figure to view detailed information about subsectors.
Fossil Fuel Industry
The British Columbia Greenhouse Gas Provincial Inventory Methodology3 provides a description of the methodologies and data sources used in preparing B.C.’s greenhouse gas emissions inventory. Currently, most of the Provincial Inventory data and methods come from Canada’s National Inventory Report (NIR)4. Any deviations from the NIR methodology or categorization is described in detail in the B.C. Provincial Inventory Methodology3. Additional information is also available in the British Columbia Greenhouse Gas Emission Inventory (2020)2.
Greenhouse gas emissions include carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), sulphur hexafluoride (SF6), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) and nitrogen trifluoride (NF3) released by human activity—these emissions are reported collectively here as millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (Mt CO2e). British Columbia population estimates (Table: 17-10-0005-01) and gross domestic product (Table: 36-10-0222-01) data were sourced from Statistics Canada. Gross domestic product (GDP) is calculated using expenditure-based GDP and reported in millions of chained 2012 dollars.
The R code for repeating the analysis and data visualizations presented on this page is available on GitHub.
References and Other Useful Links
1B.C.'s 2022 Climate Change Accountability Report
2B.C. Greenhouse Gas Emission Inventory (2020)
3British Columbia Greenhouse Gas Provincial Inventory Methodology
4Canada’s National Greenhouse Gas Inventory
Canadian Environmental Sustainability Indicators: Air and Climate Indicators
*By accessing these datasets, you agree to the licence associated with each file, as indicated below.
Download a printable version of this indicator (PDF)
Updated January 2023
Environmental Reporting BC. 2023. Trends in Greenhouse Gas Emissions in B.C. (1990-2020). State of Environment Reporting, Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, British Columbia, Canada.