Indicator: Carbon emissions and removals

Why is this indicator important?

Globally, forests play an important role in the carbon cycle, every year removing about one-quarter of all fossil fuel emissions from the atmosphere. Carbon emissions and removals from managed forests are an important indicator of the contribution of Canada’s forests to the global carbon cycle. (See What role do forests play in the carbon cycle? for more information.)

What has changed and why?

In 2014, mostly as a result of significantly higher numbers of forest fires than in previous years, Canada’s managed forests and forest products sector were a net carbon source, releasing about 71 million tonnes (Mt) of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e), or 19 million tonnes of carbon (Mt C), to the atmosphere. This is a change from 2013, when 48 Mt CO2e were sequestered.

What is the outlook?

The annual carbon balance of Canada’s managed forests varies greatly from year to year, in response to the impacts of natural disturbances, such as fires and insect outbreaks, and changes in harvest rates. The rates of future natural disturbances are inherently difficult to predict, and the outlook for this indicator is therefore difficult to predict.

Although mountain pine beetle impacts in western Canada continue to decline, the impacts of other insects are increasing and the vulnerability of Canada’s managed forests to forest fires remains high. Localized drought and the trend to higher average temperatures throughout Canada certainly increase the risk of forest fires, although the area burned in 2015 was somewhat smaller than in 2014.

Carbon emissions and removals in Canada's managed forests, 2004-2014
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 2004 and 2014; (2) the area disturbed (forest management, wildfire, insects) in hectares for each year between 2004 and 2014.
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 2004 and 2014. 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 2004 and 2014 by each of three causes: (1) forest management, (2) wildfire and (3) insects.
Year Forest management
GHG emissions/removals
(million tonnes)
2004 1,317,746.9 947,406.1 4,762,635.2 78.3
2005 1,273,649.8 639,617.4 5,590,590.8 -3.6
2006 1,162,958.6 662,462.5 8,117,755.3 17.3
2007 1,054,816.8 736,598.2 7,125,060.8 5.9
2008 918,126.0 390,212.4 5,400,246.5 -41.6
2009 794,134.5 379,824.6 3,884,286.8 -41.2
2010 944,336.9 982,154.0 3,120,292.8 53.8
2011 925,244.9 1,108,888.0 2,963,816.1 68.4
2012 921,381.3 928,259.7 1,684,342.8 38.7
2013 940,844.8 480,146.1 1,701,656.4 -30.7
2014 935,667.5 1,281,563.6 708,095.9 70.7
  • This indicator is estimated annually using Natural Resources Canada–Canadian Forest Service’s National Forest Carbon Monitoring, Accounting and Report System. The system integrates information about forest inventories, forest growth, natural disturbances, forest management activities and land-use 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 emissions resulting from these products.
  • “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 the figure include only those areas affected with enough severity to have a substantial impact on national forest carbon emissions and removals.
  • 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 1961, regardless of its current location. Transfers of wood and paper products to landfills are assumed to instantly oxidize as CO2.
  • The results reported here differ from those of Canada’s Greenhouse Gas Inventory reporting, which, starting in 2015, includes emissions from domestic firewood use and attributes these to the forest sector. For the purposes of this report, harvest residues that might be used for domestic firewood are assumed to decompose in the forest.
  • International greenhouse gas (GHG) reporting rules have changed with respect to harvested wood products. Accordingly, starting in 2015, Canada reports the net GHG balance of forested ecosystems and the net GHG balance from harvested wood products separately. 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. This new reporting convention 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: