Canada’s Forests and climate change

Do forests contribute to Canada’s GHG emissions?

In Canada, the responsibility for forests is shared among federal, provincial and territorial governments. The forest sector needs to further transform, and the impacts of a changing climate have to be considered in every aspect of the management of Canada’s forests. Reports from the IPCC and the Canadian research community have clearly documented the potential effects of a warming climate on Canada’s forests: large-scale fires in western and northern forests are likely to increase, earlier snowmelt in western areas may also affect late-season stream flows, and forest insect populations that were limited in their distribution by cold winter temperatures now seem more likely to spread.

Forest ecosystems store large quantities of carbon in living trees (approximately 50% of wood weight is carbon), surface litter and soils, and because carbon is released when forests burn and when organic matter decomposes, forest ecosystems are an important factor when considering greenhouse gas emissions. Depending on the stage of development of its different stands of trees, a forest is either a net sink of carbon (it removes carbon from the atmosphere) or a net source of carbon. One of the key points W. Kurz made during his lecture was that Canada has now a mature forest, becoming more of a source of carbon than a carbon sink. So “conservation” as it is generally understood might even make things worse; logging, far from being the one thing to avoid, is the answer to both providing the timber and other products the market is in need for and also to allow afforestation in the logged areas in order to maintain the balance between carbon capturing and release.

So are Canada’s forests an advantage when it comes to climate change or an impediment in the mitigating actions? The answer relies heavily on what we intend to do with such a natural resource, and this is why forest management plays such a key role.

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