Based in part on a comprehensive review of scientific literature by researchers at the University of Toronto1, this report examines the complex relationship between global warming and Canada’s Boreal Forest. It finds that the intact areas of the Boreal are not only actively helping to slow global warming, but are also helping the forest itself to resist and recover from global warming impacts. These unfragmented areas are also helping trees, plants, and animals to migrate and adapt in response to changing climate conditions.
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At the same time, however, it finds that logging is destabilizing the Boreal Forest in ways that may exacerbate both global warming and its impacts. The forest products industry and government regulators adamantly deny that logging in Canada’s Boreal affects the climate. But research shows that when the forest is degraded through logging and industrial development, massive amounts of greenhouse gasses are released into the atmosphere, and the forest becomes more vulnerable to global warming impacts like fires and insect outbreaks. In many cases, these impacts cause even more greenhouse gasses to be released, driving a vicious circle in which global warming degrades the Boreal Forest, and Boreal Forest degradation advances global warming. If left unchecked, this could culminate in a catastrophic release of greenhouse gasses known as “the carbon bomb”.
For these reasons, the report concludes that greenhouse gas emissions must be drastically reduced and that intact areas of Canada’s Boreal Forest must be protected-for the sake of the forest, and for the sake of the climate.
By the numbers
·At 545 million hectares, or 5.45 million square kilometres (1.3 billion acres), Canada’s Boreal Forest encompasses almost 53 per cent of the Canada’s total landmass, and includes 90 per cent of Canada’s remaining intact forest landscapes.
·Over the next 50-100 years, the Earth’s boreal regions could experience temperature increases of between 4 and 10 degrees Celsius43.
·Canada’s Boreal Forest stores 186 billion tonnes of carbon44, equal to 27 years’ worth of global carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels45.
·An average of 84 per cent of the carbon in the Boreal Forest is stored in its soils46.
·Mature areas of the Boreal can contain over 80 tonnes of carbon per hectare in their trees and aboveground vegetation47, 48.
·Research has shown that some Boreal trees continue to accumulate carbon at well over 200 years of age49.
·As much as 7,600,000 hectares (18,780,000 acres) of forest-an area larger than Ireland- burn in Canada each year 50.
·According to one study, the area of North American Boreal burned by forest fires doubled between 1970 and 199051.
·The area of forest lost to insects in the Boreal is up to eight times greater than the area burned by forest fires52.
·Nearly 900,000 hectares (2.2 million acres) of the Boreal Forest-an area almost seven and-a-half times larger than New York City- is logged every year 53.
·Roughly 36 million tonnes of aboveground carbon are removed from Canada’s Boreal Forest each year by logging alone-more carbon than is emitted each year by all the passenger vehicles in Canada combined54.
·In addition, an estimated 68,000 hectares, or 168,028 acres, per year-an area larger than the city of Toronto55, 56-is directly deforested for the construction of logging roads and landings.
·In many cases it takes over 100 years for the carbon stocks in logged forests to return to pre-logging levels59, 60.
·Increases in air temperature of only 1-2 degrees Celsius have the potential to thaw out large expanses of discontinuous permafrost61.
A recent report released by Greenpeace finds that logging in Canada’s Boreal Forest is making global warming worse by releasing greenhouse gases and reducing carbon storage. It also finds that logging makes the forest more susceptible to global warming impacts like wildfires and insect outbreaks, which in turn release more greenhouse gases. Here is a selection of some pictures that can be found in the report.
Canada’s Boreal Forest is dense with life. Richly populated with plants, birds, animals, and trees; home to hundreds of communities; and a wellspring of fresh water and oxygen, the Boreal has long been recognized as a critically important ecosystem. But as rising temperatures threaten to destabilize the planet, the potential of the Boreal’s carbon-rich expanses to mitigate global warming continues to be underestimated.
Turning up the heat
Greenpeace / Seinforma Canada
(Photo Green Peace /Seinforma)