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Canada's environmental reputation trashed by garbage, report says

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TORONTO - Canada's consumer-based society and laggardly approach to reducing energy consumption has cast a long shadow over the country's green reputation, a prominent think tank said Thursday.

The Conference Board of Canada released its biannual report card of environmental performance, which ranks 17 developed countries across 14 indicators ranging from air quality to biodiversity.

Canada scored below average on nine of the categories and earned an overall grade of C, placing it 15th in the report's rankings, the conference board said. Only the U.S. and Australia turned in a worse environmental performance, the board added.

France took top honours in the ranking, followed by Norway and Sweden.

Len Coad, Director of Energy, Environment and Technology Policy at the Conference Board, said Canada's poor showing is due largely to the country's comparatively low-key response to environmental challenges.

Policy-makers have made strides towards improving Canada's record, but haven't reacted as efficiently as many other international players, he said.

"Most of the challenges are being addressed, but given that we're slipping in the ranking, we're not addressing them strongly enough or quickly enough," Coad said in a telephone interview from Calgary.

Canada's performance on municipal waste was particularly alarming, Coad said.

Canadians threw out more trash per capita than any of their counterparts in the report, he said, adding waste disposal rates were sometimes more than double the numbers posted by much more densely populated countries such as Japan.

The vast majority of the country's garbage found its way into landfills or incinerators, the report said, adding such activity does no favours for the water supply or air pollution levels.

Energy intensity emerged as another area of environmental concern, Coad said, citing Canada's high consumption rates and prominent role as an oil and gas exporter.

Canada earned bottom marks for greenhouse gas emissions, registering an average emission rate of 20.3 tonnes per capita in 2010. That placed the country well above the 17-country average of 12.5 tonnes per capita and cemented Canada's place as one of the world's highest greenhouse gas emitters, the Conference Board said.

Coad said Canada's per capita emissions have decreased five per cent between 1990 and 2010, but said the country has not kept pace with countries that have taken a more proactive approach to the issue.

"Every year we reduce the energy intensity of our economic output, but we are reducing it at a lower rate than other nations, and that's what causes our overall ranking to fall," he said.

Canada also turned in low scores on more specific air emissions, such as nitrogen, sulphur and volatile organic compounds, the report said.

Canada's environmental woes also extended to the country's water supply, the Conference Board said. While overall water quality earned a fourth place ranking, water consumption was much more problematic. Canada uses twice as much water as the average for countries taking part in the report and earned the second lowest score in that category, the Conference Board said.

Canada did manage to post some strong scores in areas related to use of forest resources and threatened species protection, but Coad said the results emphasize the need for Canadians to weigh the consequences of their environmental practices.

Economic growth must be balanced with environmental sustainability, he said, adding every facet of Canadian society has a role to play in establishing that balance.

"Each Canadian citizen, corporation, organization or government could place a high priority on the environmental effects of their activities than we do now," he said.

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