The 485-million-hectare boreal zone, stretching from Yukon to Newfoundland and Labrador, contains 25 per cent of the world’s remaining intact forest. It also holds 25 per cent of the world’s wetlands, mainly in the form of peatlands, a rich “living carpet” of mosses, bushes and saturated organic matter. Together, these biomes store more than 200 billion tonnes of carbon — equal to five or six years’ worth of global fossil fuel emissions.
Farther south, B.C.’s coastal temperate rainforest is Canada’s most productive carbon storehouse, per hect- are, followed by the temperate forests of the east. Though they are degraded by development, wetlands in these regions include additional peatlands, freshwater mineral wetlands (such as swamps, marshes and fens) and, along the East and West coasts, salt marshes and seagrass beds with still more carbon-absorbing potential.
Today, as concerns grow over global warming, scientists and policy-makers are looking to natural climate solutions to protect and enhance these ecosystems’ capacity to store and sequester carbon.
“Evidence suggests that Canada’s land and seascapes have the potential to mitigate hundreds of megatonnes of carbon dioxide annually,” says Amanda Reed, director of strategic partnerships at Nature United.
When it comes to forests and wetlands, their variety and scale present different potential pathways to achieve these goals. Successful strategies will rely on combining them.
For example, measures to increase carbon sequestration — through afforestation (planting trees in non-forested lands, including cities) or wetland restoration (replanting, rewetting and selective tree removal in peatlands) — require a longer-term horizon. Forests need decades of growth before they store meaningful amounts of carbon. Dry or damaged peatlands, which emit carbon and are susceptible to wildfires when drained or damaged by development, need 10 to 15 years to show carbon storage gains after they’ve been restored.