Indicator: Forest carbon emissions and removals

In 2015, total net emissions of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) from Canada’s managed forest (see sidebar) were about 221 million tonnes (Mt).

Total net emissions are calculated by adding emissions/removals caused by human activities to emissions/removals caused by large-scale natural disturbances in Canada’s managed forest.

Human activities in Canada’s managed forest accounted for removals of about 26 Mt CO2e in 2015, while large scale natural disturbances accounted for emissions of about 247 Mt CO2e in 2015. In this way, the 247 Mt CO2e emissions minus the 26 Mt CO2e removals equals the 221 Mt CO2e net emissions.

In Canada’s managed forest:

  • Forest lands managed for timber production continue to be an ongoing sink (absorber) of carbon (26 Mt CO2e in 2015).
  • The area that burned in the managed forest in 2015 was over 2 million hectares (ha), nearly double the area burned in 2014. This resulted in higher emissions from natural disturbances than in previous years.
  • The impacts of the mountain pine beetle in British Columbia continued to decline.

Canada’s 2017 National Inventory Report, 1990–2015 (from which these results are derived) has implemented a new approach for estimating and reporting on emissions and removals resulting from human activities in the managed forest. For more information about these changes, see the textbox A new approach to reporting.

As a party to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Canada must report annually on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the managed forest.

The managed forest is made up of all forests under direct human influence. It’s a subset of Canada’s total forest area and includes forests managed for harvesting, forests subject to fire or insect management, and protected forests such as those found in national and provincial parks.

For greenhouse gas reporting, the managed forest area in Canada is about 226 million hectares, or 65% of Canada’s total forest area. All other forests in Canada are considered to be unmanaged.

The data in this indicator are consistent with UNFCCC reporting. More information about definitions and methods can be found in Canada’s 2017 National Inventory Report, 1990–2015.

A map showing the areas of managed forest and unmanaged forest in Canada and provincial and territorial boundaries.
Net carbon emissions in Canada's managed forest: Areas subject to human activities, 1990–2015
Graph displays (1) the greenhouse gas emissions or removals in Canada’s managed forests in million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year for each year between 1990 and 2015; (2) the area disturbed by forestry activities in hectares for each year between 1990 and 2015.
Graph data
Table displays the greenhouse gas emissions or removals in Canada’s managed forests due to forest management activities in million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year for each year between 1990 and 2015. A positive number indicates a net emission of carbon dioxide in Canada’s managed forests for that year, while a negative number indicates a net removal. The table also displays the area of forestry activities in Canada’s managed forest in hectares.
Year Area of forestry activities
(hectares)
GHG net emissions
(million tonnes)
1990 919,991 -112.9
1991 913,762 -108.4
1992 961,120 -102.1
1993 950,279 -97.1
1994 1,011,928 -93.9
1995 1,097,041 -79.8
1996 1,058,219 -83.4
1997 1,086,241 -83.3
1998 1,035,607 -87.7
1999 1,159,317 -78.0
2000 1,206,469 -61.0
2001 1,138,271 -74.6
2002 1,203,996 -57.0
2003 1,172,998 -64.6
2004 1,301,489 -34.2
2005 1,281,561 -30.2
2006 1,202,967 -27.3
2007 1,050,083 -29.8
2008 931,135 -24.8
2009 819,142 -38.1
2010 940,355 -19.7
2011 971,669 -17,9
2012 1,028,501 -22.7
2013 1,040,824 -21.6
2014 987,089 -25.1
2015 977,351 -26.2

In 2015, forest management activities in Canada’s managed forest, such as harvesting and regeneration, as well as the use and disposal of harvested wood products created a net sink of about 26 Mt CO2e.

Net carbon emissions in Canada's managed forest: Areas subject to natural disturbances, 1990–2015
Graph displays (1) the greenhouse gas emissions or removals in Canada’s managed forests in million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year for each year between 1990 and 2015; (2) the area disturbed by fire and by insects in hectares for each year between 1990 and 2015.
Graph data
Table displays the greenhouse gas emissions or removals in Canada’s managed forests due to natural disturbances in million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year for each year between 1990 and 2015. A positive number indicates a net emission of carbon dioxide in Canada’s managed forests for that year, while a negative number indicates a net removal. The table also displays the area of forest disturbed in hectares for each year between 1990 and 2015 by each of two causes: (1) wildfire and (2) insects.
Year Area burned
(hectares)
Area disturbed by insects
(hectares)
GHG net emissions
(million tonnes)
1990 278,644 2,657,419 14.2
1991 583,301 580,634 38.1
1992 107,860 71,510 -13.2
1993 686,300 195,933 35.2
1994 568,968 340,310 46.3
1995 2,273,569 440,255 232.5
1996 638,703 252,456 44.8
1997 173,479 243,037 -5.4
1998 1,607,547 531,532 209.8
1999 644,371 1,603,011 62.1
2000 93,145 2,721,881 -10.7
2001 202,897 3,865,085 15.0
2002 1,445,685 5,464,179 158.0
2003 767,614 8,711,667 110.6
2004 947,406 5,727,847 159.4
2005 639,617 9,090,354 74.8
2006 662,462 12,190,134 93.2
2007 736,598 9,820,058 99.9
2008 390,212 7,735,817 32.4
2009 379,874 4,454,152 60.6
2010 982,154 3,923,593 119.1
2011 1,108,888 3,141,887 138.5
2012 928,260 2,119,224 110.4
2013 480,146 2,434,185 41.3
2014 1,281,563 3,153,839 160.9
2015 2,048,949 1,777,318 247.1

Natural disturbances in Canada’s managed forest resulted in emissions of about 247 Mt CO2e in 2015. This was mainly due to forest fires burning nearly 2 million hectares, the largest area burned in Canada’s managed forest since 1995.

Net carbon emissions in Canada's managed forest: All areas, 1990–2015
Graph displays (1) the greenhouse gas emissions or removals in Canada’s managed forests in million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year for each year between 1990 and 2015; (2) the area disturbed (forest management, wildfire, insects) in hectares for each year between 1990 and 2015.
Graph data
Table displays the greenhouse gas emissions or removals in Canada’s managed forests in million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year for each year between 1990 and 2015. A positive number indicates a net emission of carbon dioxide in Canada’s managed forests for that year, while a negative number indicates a net removal. The table also displays the area of forest disturbed in hectares for each year between 1990 and 2015 by each of three causes: (1) forest management, (2) wildfire and (3) insects.
Year Area of forestry activities
(hectares)
Area burned
(hectares)
Area disturbed by insects
(hectares)
GHG net emissions
(million tonnes)
1990 919,991 278,644 2,657,419 -98.8
1991 913,762 583,301 580,634 -70.3
1992 961,120 107,120 71,510 -115.3
1993 950,279 686,300 195,933 -61.9
1994 1,011,928 568,968 340,310 -47.6
1995 1,097,041 2,273,569 440,255 152.5
1996 1,058,219 638,703 252,456 -38.6
1997 1,086,241 173,479 243,037 -88.7
1998 1,035,607 1,607,547 531,532 122.1
1999 1,159,317 644,371 1,603,011 -15.9
2000 1,206,469 93,145 2,721,881 -71.7
2001 1,138,271 202,897 3,865,085 -59.7
2002 1,203,996 1,445,685 5,464,179 101.0
2003 1,172,998 767,614 8,711,667 46.1
2004 1,301,489 947,406 5,727,847 125.2
2005 1,281,561 639,617 9,090,354 44.6
2006 1,202,967 662,462 12,190,134 65.9
2007 1,050,083 736,598 9,820,058 70.1
2008 931,135 390,212 7,735,817 7.6
2009 819,142 379,824 4,454,152 22.5
2010 940,355 982,154 3,923,593 99.4
2011 971,669 1,108,888 3,141,887 120.6
2012 1,028,501 928,260 2,119,224 87.7
2013 1,040,824 480,146 2,434,185 19.6
2014 987,089 1,281,563 3,153,839 135.8
2015 977,351 2,048,949 1,777,318 221

The total net emissions and removals from Canada’s managed forest sector, taking into account both human activities and natural disturbances, totalled about 221 Mt CO2e in 2015.

Why is this indicator important?

  • Carbon as carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere is an important contributor to global warming.
  • Canada’s forest sector contributes to both emissions and removals of CO2 from the atmosphere.
  • Natural disturbances, mostly outside the control of humans, significantly impact the ability of Canada’s managed forests to consistently absorb more CO2 than they emit.
  • Changes in forest management and the use of harvested wood products can help mitigate the impacts of climate change.

What is the outlook?

  • The impacts of climate change on Canada’s forest GHG balance are challenging to predict with certainty. Regionally, some could be positive (for example, enhanced forest growth and therefore greater carbon sinks) and some negative (for example, higher tree mortality or more forest fires or insect outbreaks).
  • Increased use of long-lived wood products to store carbon in the built environment, and use of wood products instead of materials that are emissions-intensive to make – such as concrete, steel and fossil fuels – provide climate change mitigation opportunities.

A new approach to reporting

Canada’s National Forest Carbon Monitoring, Accounting and Reporting System provides annual estimates of the greenhouse gas balance for Canada’s managed forests. These estimates of emissions and removals are reported every year in Canada’s National Inventory Report to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

In previous years, estimates of carbon emissions and removals from Canada’s managed forest displayed large year-over-year variability because natural disturbances, especially forest fires, masked the subtler impacts of human forest management activities.

To this end, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recommended that countries develop new approaches to separate emissions and removals caused by human activities from emissions and removals caused by natural disturbances. This makes it possible to detect trends in emissions attributable to forest management.

This new methodology enhances Canada’s ability to monitor and report on the consequences of forest sector climate change mitigation efforts. Details of the new approach, including definitions and methods, are provided in sections 2.3.4.1 and 6.3.1.2 of Canada’s 2017 National Inventory Report, 1990–2015.

Source
Notes
  • This indicator is estimated annually using Natural Resources Canada–Canadian Forest Service’s National Forest Carbon Monitoring, Accounting and Reporting System. The system integrates information about forest inventories, forest growth, natural disturbances, forest management activities and landuse change to evaluate carbon stocks, stock changes and emissions of non-CO2 greenhouse gases in Canada’s managed forests. The system also estimates transfers to the forest product sector and the fate of harvested wood products manufactured from wood harvested in Canada, including carbon storage and emissions resulting from these products.
  • For the purpose of greenhouse gas reporting, “Managed land” includes all lands managed for production of wood fibre or wood-based bioenergy, for protection from natural disturbances, or for the conservation of ecological values. Within those managed lands, “forest” includes all areas of 1 hectare or more having the potential to develop forest cover, with a minimum crown closure of 25% and a minimum tree height of 5 metres at maturity in situ.
  • Insect-affected areas shown in Figures 2 and 3 include only those areas affected by insects that cause more than 20% tree mortality and thus have a substantial impact on national forest carbon emissions and removals.
  • The data presented in this indicator do not yet estimate or report on emissions resulting from the impacts of the spruce budworm outbreak in Quebec.
  • When stands are affected by wildfires, the emissions and the removals during post-fire regrowth are excluded for a period of 60 years. Stands affected by partial disturbances that cause more than 20% mortality are excluded from the reporting until the biomass reaches pre-disturbance levels.
  • Starting in 2015, international greenhouse gas (GHG) reporting guidelines changed with respect to harvested wood products. Accordingly, Canada reports the net GHG balance of forested ecosystems and the net GHG balance from harvested wood products. Harvested wood product emissions are estimated using the “Production Approach” of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and include annual emissions from all wood harvested in Canada since 1941, regardless of its current location. Transfers of wood and paper products to landfills are assumed to oxidize instantly as CO2.
  • In previous years, all wood removed from the forest was assumed to instantly release all carbon to the atmosphere, despite the long-term storage of carbon in houses and other long-lived wood products. Reporting the fate of carbon in harvested wood products encourages both the sustainable management of forests and the management of harvested wood products aimed at extending carbon storage.
  • Additional information can be found at: