Canadian Forest Service Publications

Canadian boreal forests and climate change mitigation. 2013. Lemprière, T.C.; Kurz, W.A.; Hogg, E.H.; Schmoll, C.; Rampley, G.J.; Yemshanov, D.; McKenney, D.W.; Gilsenan, R.; Beatch, A.; Blain, D.; Bhatti, J.S.; Krcmar, E. Environmental Reviews 21(4):293-321.

Year: 2013

Issued by: National Capital Region

Catalog ID: 35627

Language: English

Availability: Not available through the CFS (click for more information).

Available from the Journal's Web site.
DOI: 10.1139/er-2013-0039

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Quantitative assessment of Canada’s boreal forest mitigation potential is not yet possible, though the range of mitigation activities is known, requirements for sound analyses of options are increasingly understood, and there is emerging recognition that biogeophysical effects need greater attention. Use of a systems perspective highlights trade-offs between activities aimed at increasing carbon storage in the ecosystem, increasing carbon storage in harvested wood products (HWPs), or increasing the substitution benefits of using wood in place of fossil fuels or more emissions-intensive products. A systems perspective also suggests that erroneous conclusions about mitigation potential could result if analyses assume that HWP carbon is emitted at harvest, or bioenergy is carbon neutral. The greatest short-run boreal mitigation benefit generally would be achieved by avoiding greenhouse gas emissions; but over the longer run, there could be significant potential in activities that increase carbon removals. Mitigation activities could maximize landscape carbon uptake or maximize landscape carbon density, but not both simultaneously. The difference between the two is the rate at which HWPs are produced to meet society’s demands, and mitigation activities could seek to delay or reduce HWP emissions and increase substitution benefits. Use of forest biomass for bioenergy could also contribute though the point in time at which this produces a net mitigation benefit relative to a fossil fuel alternative will be situation-specific. Key knowledge gaps exist in understanding boreal mitigation strategies that are robust to climate change and how mitigation could be integrated with adaptation to climate change.

Plain Language Summary

Achieving greenhouse gas emission reduction goals to reduce future climate change will require contributions from all sectors. Climate change mitigation can involve increasing carbon storage or reducing emissions. The objective of this paper is to synthesize the scientific literature to describe what is currently known about how activities in Canada’s boreal forests could contribute to mitigation. The activities examined are forest management, afforestation, reducing deforestation, use of harvested wood products, use of forest biomass for energy, and wetland management. The review indicates that these activities can contribute, but found that a full quantitative assessment is not yet possible. A key conclusion is that to be valid, such assessments should use a systems perspective. This means they must take into account the impact of activities on carbon storage in both forests and harvested wood products, and also account for the greenhouse gas impacts of using wood instead of fossil fuels or alternative products like concrete and metals. The paper encourages work on key knowledge gaps including an understanding of what boreal mitigation strategies will be least affected by climate change, and how mitigation could be integrated with adaptation to climate change.