Indicator: Carbon emissions and removals

In 2016, total net emissions of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) from Canada’s managed forests (forest lands managed for timber production) were about 78 million tonnes (Mt), meaning that they were a net source of emissions.

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

Human activities in Canada’s managed forests accounted for removals of about 20 Mt CO2e in 2016, while large-scale natural disturbances accounted for emissions of about 98 Mt CO2e, resulting in net emissions of 78 Mt CO2e (these figures include carbon monoxide emissions, which are reported in a separate category in the National Inventory Report; see section 6.9.4 of Canada’s 2018 National Inventory Report 1990–2016.)

  • Forest lands managed for timber production, and the wood products harvested from these lands, continue to be an ongoing sink of carbon (20 Mt CO2e in 2016) (a “carbon sink” removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.)
  • The area burned in managed forests in 2016 was 0.77 million hectares (ha), about half of the area burned in 2015. This decrease resulted in lower emissions than in 2015, mainly because of the smaller total area burned.
  • The impacts of the mountain pine beetle in British Columbia continued to decline, and insect damage in Canadian forests in 2016 was relatively minor, although spruce budworm impacts in eastern Canada are reflected in the current emissions estimates.

Canada’s 2018 National Inventory Report 1990–2016 (from which these results are derived) has implemented a new approach for estimating and reporting on emissions and removals resulting from human activities in managed forests. Please see the textbox titled A new approach to reporting for more information about these changes.

Under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Canada must report annually on greenhouse gas 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, like those found in national and provincial parks.

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 “unmanaged.”

The data in this indicator is consistent with UNFCCC reporting. More information about definitions and methods can be found in Canada’s 2018 National Inventory Report 1990–2016.

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, 1990–2016

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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 2016. 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 of C02 equivalent per year)
1990 933,628 -80.3
1991 896,372 -85.5
1992 991,588 -75.5
1993 991,406 -67.5
1994 1,041,093 -65.7
1995 1,093,170 -51.1
1996 1,087,802 -58.5
1997 1,148,962 -58.9
1998 1,094,943 -65.0
1999 1,198,215 -53.7
2000 1,253,435 -38.3
2001 1,182,699 -53.5
2002 1,237,086 -38.2
2003 1,228,826 -43.2
2004 1,348,826 -19.0
2005 1,334,949 -12.4
2006 1,219,889 -20.3
2007 1,077,706 -22.6
2008 949,373 -28.1
2009 836,498 -40.0
2010 975,556 -22.4
2011 1,010,823 -22.8
2012 1,024,805 -26.2
2013 1,049,653 -24.5
2014 1,048,488 -24.9
2015 1,056,225 -18.8
2016 1,036,808 -20.1

In Canada’s managed forests, forest management activities, such as harvesting, slash pile burning and regeneration, as well as the use and disposal of harvested wood products, were a net sink of about 20 Mt CO2e in 2016.


Net carbon emissions in Canada's managed forest: Areas subject to natural disturbances, 1990–2016

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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 2016. 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 2016 by each of two causes: (1) wildfire and (2) insects.
Year Area burned
(hectares)
Area disturbed by insects
(hectares)
GHG net emissions
(million tonnes of C02 equivalent per year)
1990 278,644 442,247 -23.2
1991 583,301 346,556 4.7
1992 107,860 98,699 -47.5
1993 686,300 27,718 1.6
1994 568,968 41,907 13.4
1995 2,273,569 59,997 188.4
1996 638,703 62,680 10.3
1997 173,486 81,698 -37.8
1998 1,607,547 433,362 171.4
1999 644,371 1,473,947 33.6
2000 93,145 2,544,546 -41.9
2001 202,897 3,234,629 -15.7
2002 1,445,685 3,861,216 135.8
2003 767,614 5,263,168 79.1
2004 947,406 1,959,207 134.7
2005 639,617 5,009,788 46.4
2006 662,462 7,384,966 75.2
2007 736,598 6,352,347 81.7
2008 390,212 4,574,926 30.4
2009 379,874 1,842,509 54.8
2010 982,154 1,348,995 121.0
2011 1,108,888 1,523,003 137.7
2012 928,260 2,024,464 114.8
2013 480,146 2,705,182 45.5
2014 1,281,563 3,648,846 170.8
2015 2,048,949 3,668,286 255.6
2016 766,144 3,458,692 98.0

Natural disturbances in Canada’s managed forests resulted in emissions of about 98 Mt CO2e in 2016. Forest GHG emissions were much lower than in 2015, in large part because of the smaller area burned than in 2015 and the continued decline of the mountain pine beetle outbreak in British Columbia, although spruce budworm is beginning to have an impact in eastern Canada.


Net carbon emissions in Canada's managed forest: All areas, 1990–2016

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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 2016. 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 2016 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 of C02 equivalent per year)
1990 933,628 278,644 3,567,171 -103.5
1991 896,372 583,301 1,068,104 -80.8
1992 991,588 107,860 118,534 -123.0
1993 991,406 686,300 196,467 -65.9
1994 1,041,093 568,968 343,233 -52.2
1995 1,093,170 2,273,569 444,862 137.3
1996 1,087,802 638,703 257,592 -48.1
1997 1,148,962 173,486 248,173 -96.7
1998 1,094,943 1,607,547 542,304 106.4
1999 1,198,215 644,371 1,625,948 -20.1
2000 1,253,435 93,145 2,744,263 -80.2
2001 1,182,699 202,897 3,895,452 -69.2
2002 1,237,086 1,445,685 5,448,568 97.6
2003 1,228,826 767,614 8,692,480 35.9
2004 1,348,826 947,406 5,775,158 115.7
2005 1,334,949 639,617 9,138,869 34.0
2006 1,219,889 662,462 12,234,676 54.9
2007 1,077,706 736,598 9,954,448 59.1
2008 949,373 390,212 7,833,815 2.4
2009 836,498 379,874 4,752,245 14.7
2010 975,556 982,154 4,586,512 98.6
2011 1,010,823 1,108,888 4,610,864 114.9
2012 1,024,805 928,260 4,171,583 88.5
2013 1,049,653 480,146 5,308,834 21.0
2014 1,048,488 1,281,563 6,972,380 145.9
2015 1,056,225 2,048,949 7,563,633 236.8
2016 1,036,808 766,144 7,245,791 77.6

The total net emissions and removals from Canada’s managed forests, taking into account both human activities and natural disturbances, were about 78 Mt CO2e (–20 + 98 = 78) in 2016. This includes emissions from wood harvested in Canada and used in Canada and abroad.

Why is this indicator important?

  • Changes in forest management and the use of harvested wood products can help mitigate the impacts of climate change.
  • Natural disturbances, mostly outside the control of humans, significantly affect the ability of Canada’s managed forest to consistently absorb more CO2 than it emits.
  • 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; however, in 2016, Canada’s managed forests were a net source of CO2.

What is the outlook?

  • The impacts of climate change on Canada’s future forest GHG balance are difficult to predict. Regionally, impacts can be both positive (enhanced forest growth and therefore greater carbon sinks) and negative (higher mortality, more forest fires, more insect outbreaks). Given the larger-than-usual extent of area burned in 2017, especially in British Columbia, we expect emissions of GHGs to be similar to those reported in 2015.
  • Increased use of long-lived wood products to store carbon in the built environment and use of wood products instead of emissions-intensive building materials provide opportunities for climate change mitigation.

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 annually in Canada’s National Inventory Report to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

In previous years, estimates of carbon emissions and removals from Canada’s managed forests displayed large year-over-year variability because natural disturbances, especially forest fires, masked the subtler impacts of human forest management activities. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recognized this challenge for countries like Canada, which are interested in better understanding emissions due to human activities but where these impacts are difficult to see when combined with natural disturbances. Therefore, the IPCC recommended that countries develop new approaches to separate emissions and removals caused by human activities (anthropogenic partition) from emissions and removals caused by natural disturbances (natural partition).

This separation of human-caused emissions and removals from natural disturbance-caused emissions and removals makes it possible to detect trends in emissions attributable to forest management. This enhances Canada’s ability to monitor and report on the consequences of climate change mitigation efforts by the forest sector. Details of the new approach, which has been in use since 2017, including definitions and methods, are provided in sections A3.5.2.3 Part 2 of Canada’s 2018 National Inventory Report 1990–2016.

What reporting frameworks does this indicator support?

Sources and information
  • Environment and Climate Change Canada. 2018. National Inventory Report 1990–2016: Greenhouse gas sources and sinks in Canada (accessed April 13, 2018).
    • 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 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 since 1900, including carbon storage and emissions resulting from these products regardless of where in the world these emissions occur.
    • “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 in the second figure includes only those areas assigned to the natural partition where tree mortality due to insects exceeded 20% of biomass, while in the third figure all areas affected by insects are shown (anthropogenic and natural partitions).
    • When stands are affected by stand-replacing wildfires, the emissions and subsequent removals during post-fire regrowth are reported in the category of “natural disturbances.” When regrowing stands reach commercial maturity, the emissions and removals are reported in the “management activity” category. Stands affected by partial disturbances that cause more than 20% mortality are reported in the “natural disturbance” category until the biomass reaches pre-disturbance levels.
    • 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 1900, regardless of its current location. Transfers of wood and paper products to landfills are assumed to instantly oxidize as CO2.
    • For forest lands affected by land-use change, the deforestation and afforestation figures reflect annual rates. Figures for CO2 equivalent (CO2e) emissions and removals reflect the current year plus the emissions in the reporting year from lands that were converted from forest in the previous 20 years. Thus, the figures for CO2e emissions include residual emissions from areas deforested over the past 20 years, and the figures for CO2e removals in the reporting year include removals by all areas afforested over the past 20 years.
      • Emissions bear a positive sign. Removals bear a negative sign.
    • 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. 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: