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Indicator: Forest sector carbon emissions

Total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from fossil fuel use in the Canadian forest sector have decreased over the last 10 years. Energy use has also decreased, but remained relatively flat in recent years. GHG emissions are expressed as carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2e).

  • Significant energy efficiency and emissions reduction technology have contributed to a 40% reduction in GHG emissions from fossil fuels in the sector between 2007 and 2017.
  • Increased use of wood residues and by-products has resulted in bioenergy reaching 53% of the total energy use in the sector in 2017.

The forest sector’s ability to generate its own electricity, largely from bioenergy, has reduced its reliance on fossil fuels. Between 2007 and 2017, the forest sector reduced energy use by 24% and total fossil GHG emissions (direct emissions plus indirect emissions from purchased electricity) by 40%.

Fossil fuel greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and total energy use in Canada's forest sector, 2007 to 2017

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Graph summary

Total energy use in the forest sector steadily decreased from 850 petajoules (PJ) in 2007, to 621 PJ in 2012; increasing until 2015 when it reached 684 PJ. In 2016 and 2017, the forest sector used 637 and 650 PJ of energy, respectively.

The forest sector's greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions decreased from 22.3 million tonnes of carbon-dioxide equivalent (Mt CO2e) in 2007 to 13.5 Mt CO2e in 2012. After a rise to 14.2 Mt CO2e in 2013, the sector’s emissions have remained steady at between 13.0 and 13.6 Mt CO2e per year, including in 2017 when 13.1 Mt CO2e were emitted.

Graph data
Table showing: (1) the annual total energy use, in petajoules, of the forest industry; and (2) the forest industry's greenhouse gas emissions, in millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, from fossil fuels for each year from 2007 to 2017.
Year Total energy use GHG emissions
2007 850 22.0
2008 752 18.8
2009 695 16.2
2010 676 15.6
2011 637 14.3
2012 621 13.5
2013 656 14.2
2014 674 13.5
2015 684 13.6
2016 637 13.0
2017 650 13.1

Why is this indicator important?

  • Unlike most other renewable energy sources, bioenergy results in direct GHG emissions. The difference when compared with fossil fuels, however, is that these emissions are part of the natural carbon cycle, where carbon removals occur in parallel with emissions.
  • Bioenergy is part of a suite of solutions provided by the forest sector, which also include the increased use of wood in construction and improved forest management. Climate change mitigation benefits come from using local, sustainably sourced wood for bioenergy, with priority given to harvest residues and industrial residues, which have lower emissions on a life-cycle basis compared to the use of fossil fuels.
  • The Canadian forest bioenergy subsector has demonstrated strong growth over the last two decades. In 2017, the number of community bioheat installations reached 351, compared to 66 in 2011 and only 5 in 2000. Wood pellet production in Canada also grew from 0.4 million tonnes in 2005 to 3.0 million tonnes in 2017, providing a valuable outlet for large amounts of residues produced by sawmills across the country.
  • The forest sector is transitioning to greater use of biomass for its own energy needs while continuing to advance as a supplier of forest biomass for energy generation in other sectors. As this happens, the need to track energy use and emissions for the sector grows more important.

What is the outlook?

  • Meeting Canada’s long-term GHG emission reduction targets will require a broad set of solutions, including nature-based climate solutions involving the natural carbon cycle, including using sustainably produced wood products. In turn, this requires forest sector value-chains that are predicated on climate-friendly, cascading wood-use policies, including increasing the appropriate use of bioenergy produced from sustainably managed forests.
  • The Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change in combination with the Forest Bioeconomy Framework for Canada set the stage for the forest sector to play a key role in climate change mitigation and regional economic development. Canada’s Mid-Century Long-Term Low-Greenhouse Gas Development Strategy indicates that substantial reductions in emissions and increases in removals by 2050 are possible. The improvements can occur through changes in how we manage forests, through greater domestic use of long-lived wood products and greater use of bioenergy from wood residues, and through afforestation.
 

What reporting frameworks does this indicator support?

Man pouring wood pellets into a pellet stove.
Wood pellets, used for heating, provide a valuable outlet for large amounts of residues produced by sawmills across the country.
 
Sources and information
Photo credit
  • Wood pellets stock photo by Urbazon/iStock by Getty Images.
 

Table of contents — The State of Canada's Forests Report

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