“This research confirms that nature has a really big potential to help Canada reduce its greenhouse gas emissions in a very meaningful way,” says Amanda Reed, director of strategic partnerships at Nature United, a lead partner on the project.
Researchers from 16 organizations looked at 24 pathways — such as tree-planting, enhanced use of cover crops in agriculture and freshwater mineral wetland restoration. Somewhat surprisingly, given how much attention Canada’s forests get in emissions discussions, they found that agricultural pathways and others, such as avoiding conversion of grasslands, represent nearly half of the mitigation achievable by 2030 — and those strategies are also some of the most cost-effective.
The 2030 target is important to keep in mind while acting on the results, Reed notes, because the potential of different pathways varies over time. Those based in improved management provide the fastest return, for example, followed by protection and then restoration. But since Canada’s climate goals don’t stop at 2030 — the national target is to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 — policy makers can’t focus solely on the short term.
“We don’t want to be [sending a message] that you can pick and choose pathways,” says Reed. “Instead, the message we’re hoping to convey is that Canada needs to invest in all of them — to protect and manage and restore.”
Forest restoration is perhaps the best example. Planting trees today won’t save a lot of emissions by 2030, but its mitigation potential in 2050 is huge — provided we plant them now.
Another key point, Reed says, is that researchers took into account the economic importance of forestry and agriculture. As a result, none of the mitigation hinges on closing forestry operations or taking good farmland out of production. Coupled with the co-benefits associated with natural climate solutions, this means the findings should readily translate into realistic, actionable policies.
“Restoration and management have direct benefits for forests, farmers and ranchers. The protect strategies tend to have a lot of benefits for Indigenous communities as they are linked to their own sustainable development plans,” she says. Together, they “contribute near-term and long-term to the green recovery.”
More stories in this series:
• Harnessing the power of nature to fight climate change
• Carbon crusaders
• Field fixes