Land-based greenhouse gas emissions and removals

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Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are the major drivers of climate change. Land use activities (such as timber harvesting and land conversion) as well as natural disturbances (such as forest fires and insect infestations) result in GHG emissions. Land use activities can also result in GHG removals. For example, as forests recover, carbon is removed from the atmosphere and converted into wood by trees. Land management decisions can help mitigate climate change by increasing carbon dioxide removals from the atmosphere or decreasing GHG emissions from the land. This indicator provides estimates of Canada's GHG emissions and removals from managed lands.Footnote 1

National

National land-based greenhouse gas emissions and removals

Key results

  • Between 1990 and 2019, estimates of land-based GHG emissions and removals ranged from net removals of 96 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (Mt CO2 eq)Footnote 2 in 1992 to net emissions of about 259 Mt CO2 eq in 2015
  • In 2019,
    • natural disturbances (such as wildfires and severe insect infestations) accounted for emissions of about 157 Mt CO2 eq
    • human activities (such as timber harvesting and agricultural activities) accounted for emissions of 9.9 Mt CO2 eq

National land-based greenhouse gas emissions and removals, Canada, 1990 to 2019

National land-based greenhouse gas emissions and removals, 1990 to 2019 (see data table below for the long description)
Data table for the long description
National land-based greenhouse gas emissions and removals, 1990 to 2019
Year Natural disturbances
(megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent)
Human activities
(megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent)
Net exchange
(megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent)
1990 -21.64 -56.82 -78.46
1991 6.39 -61.40 -55.01
1992 -45.10 -51.33 -96.44
1993 6.36 -44.80 -38.44
1994 14.23 -44.88 -30.65
1995 194.83 -29.72 165.10
1996 14.39 -36.74 -22.34
1997 -34.98 -38.26 -73.23
1998 177.19 -49.88 127.31
1999 31.33 -35.35 -4.01
2000 -35.32 -21.74 -57.06
2001 -5.96 -37.68 -43.65
2002 143.23 -20.27 122.96
2003 93.02 -24.44 68.58
2004 147.71 3.46 151.17
2005 60.06 8.19 68.25
2006 88.57 -3.86 84.71
2007 93.10 -7.88 85.21
2008 43.73 -12.89 30.84
2009 65.59 -24.31 41.28
2010 127.28 -7.30 119.98
2011 148.79 -6.54 142.26
2012 113.47 -9.44 104.04
2013 48.42 -4.19 44.22
2014 166.53 -3.49 163.03
2015 255.92 4.01 259.94
2016 103.30 0.10 103.39
2017 225.41 0.70 226.10
2018 250.79 8.41 259.21
2019 156.79 9.88 166.66

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How this indicator was calculated

Note: Natural disturbances refer to emissions and removals related to wildfires and large forest insect infestations. Human activities refer to emissions and removals from managed lands (such as settlements, forested lands, agricultural land and wetlands) as well as emissions from harvested wood products. For more information, see the section on emissions and removals from human activities. Data are accurate to 2 significant figures in accordance with Part III Annex 8 of the National Inventory Report. Net exchange is calculated by subtracting removals from emissions.  
Source: Environment and Climate Change Canada (2021) National Inventory Report 1990-2019: Greenhouse gas sources and sinks in Canada.

Natural disturbances such as forest fires and large insect infestations have occurred in Canada's forests for thousands of years. These disturbances are part of the natural life cycle of the forest and generally help the forest renew itself. However, there is evidence that climate change is driving an increase in natural disturbances. These disturbances can contribute to the release of large amounts of GHGs into the atmosphere through burning and decay of dead trees, as well as significant removals as the forest regenerates over time.Footnote 3 For the past 20 years, the total net GHG exchange (that is, the land-based GHG emissions minus removals) has been significantly impacted by these natural disturbances.

In managed forests, emissions and removals due to natural disturbances such as forest fires or insect infestations are associated with human activities under specific circumstances. These circumstances are described in the methods section.

Human activities

Land-based GHG emissions and removals from human activities

Land-based GHG emissions and removals from human activities are commonly referred to as land use, land-use change and forestry (LULUCF) according to international standards.

Key results

  • In 2019, lands under the influence of human activity emitted 9.9 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (Mt CO2 eq) from the atmosphere
    • Forestry, wetlands and settlements emitted 9.3, 2.6 and 2.2 Mt CO2 eq, respectively
    • Agricultural lands removed 4.2 Mt CO2 eq
  • The forestry sector displayed the greatest variations between years

Land-based greenhouse gas emissions and removals from human activities by activity sector, Canada, 1990 to 2019

 Land-based greenhouse gas emissions and removals from human activities by activity sector, Canada, 1990 to 2019 (see data table below for the long description)
Data table for the long description
Land-based greenhouse gas emissions and removals from human activities by activity sector, Canada, 1990 to 2019
Year Forestry sector
(megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent)
Agricultural land
(megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent)
Wetlands
(megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent)
Settlements
(megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent)
Net exchange
(megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent)
1990 -71.56 7.59 5.34 1.82 -56.82
1991 -74.82 6.36 5.22 1.84 -61.40
1992 -63.13 5.02 5.07 1.71 -51.33
1993 -55.36 3.62 5.42 1.52 -44.80
1994 -51.85 2.40 3.23 1.34 -44.88
1995 -35.07 1.02 3.12 1.20 -29.72
1996 -40.93 -0.07 3.03 1.23 -36.74
1997 -41.25 -1.30 3.13 1.16 -38.26
1998 -51.76 -2.64 3.36 1.16 -49.88
1999 -36.37 -3.93 3.67 1.28 -35.35
2000 -20.99 -5.24 3.16 1.33 -21.74
2001 -36.70 -5.43 3.14 1.30 -37.68
2002 -18.30 -6.70 3.16 1.57 -20.27
2003 -21.04 -7.99 3.02 1.57 -24.44
2004 7.97 -9.30 3.16 1.63 3.46
2005 13.80 -10.43 3.07 1.75 8.19
2006 2.48 -11.50 3.19 1.97 -3.86
2007 -1.67 -11.51 3.20 2.10 -7.88
2008 -6.37 -11.74 3.24 1.98 -12.89
2009 -17.32 -11.77 3.08 1.69 -24.31
2010 -0.38 -11.70 3.09 1.69 -7.30
2011 0.08 -11.43 2.97 1.85 -6.54
2012 -3.89 -10.39 3.02 1.82 -9.44
2013 -0.11 -9.35 3.05 2.22 -4.19
2014 -0.78 -8.14 3.08 2.34 -3.49
2015 5.53 -7.00 2.90 2.59 4.01
2016 1.04 -6.30 2.94 2.42 0.10
2017 1.17 -5.66 2.96 2.23 0.70
2018 8.12 -4.76 2.69 2.36 8.41
2019 9.31 -4.22 2.61 2.17 9.88

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How this indicator was calculated

Note: Data are accurate to 2 significant figures in accordance with Part III Annex 8 of the National Inventory Report. Net exchange is calculated by subtracting removals from emissions.
Source: Environment and Climate Change Canada (2021) National Inventory Report 1990-2019: Greenhouse Gas Sources and Sinks in Canada.

More information 

Forestry sector

The forestry sector category refers to emissions and removals from forest management activities such as timber harvesting, thinning and replanting, and ecological processes such as tree growth and decomposition. It also includes emissions from harvested wood products, which are the wood materials removed from the harvested site and turned into consumer products, such as timber for construction, furniture or paper products. The carbon removed from the atmosphere by trees is stored in the harvested wood products and tracked over the lifespan of the consumer products. The carbon is emitted back into the atmosphere at the end of the products' useful life.

GHG contributions from the forestry sector have varied over the period from 1990-2019, resulting in removals of 72 Mt CO2 eq in 1990 and emissions of 9.3 Mt CO2 eq in 2019. This change is related to reduced carbon accumulation in forests due to natural disturbances (such as forest fires and insect infestations) and changes in harvest rates over time, in particular in the Mountain and Boreal regions. Harvesting causes a shift in forest age to younger forests that are either emitting carbon or removing less carbon compared to the mature forests that were harvested. Natural disturbances increase emissions from decomposition in some cases (for example, insect infestations) and reduce the areas of mature growing trees that are removing carbon.

Agricultural land

The agricultural land category reports emissions and removals from annual and perennial cropland, as well as from forest lands and grassland converted to cropland. Cropland includes lands in annual crops, summerfallow and perennial crops. Managed agricultural grassland refers to rangeland that is used only for grazing domestic livestock.

Agricultural land switched from net emissions of 7.6 Mt CO2 eq in 1990 to net removals since 1996. In 2019, agricultural land removed 4.2 Mt CO2 eq. The switch was due to reduced soil disturbance resulting from changing agricultural practices such as the adoption of conservation tillage (examples include no till or minimum till practices) and reduced use of summerfallow. Reducing soil disturbance prevents the release of the stable carbon that has built up in the soils from past plant growth. However, the removal rate from agricultural land has been decreasing since 2010, in part due to the decreased area of land used to grow perennial crops.

Wetlands

The wetlands category includes activities such as peat extraction for use in horticulture and flooding of lands for hydropower development. Trends in this category are mainly driven by the creation of large reservoirs before 1990, resulting in higher emissions over the 1990 to 1993 period. Total emissions from reservoirs have declined from 1990 to 2019, while emissions from drained and excavated wetlands for peat extraction have increased. Net emissions in the wetlands category fluctuated between 5.4 Mt CO2 eq (1993) and 2.6 Mt CO2 eq (2019).

Settlements

The settlements category refers to emissions and removals occurring on developed lands (such as urban environments, transport infrastructure, oil and gas infrastructure and mining) and from land conversion of forests and agricultural lands to settlements. Net emissions for settlements fluctuated between 1.2 Mt CO2 eq (1995) and 2.6 Mt CO2 eq (2015). The fluctuations were mainly driven by rates of forested land converted to settlements. Emissions from the conversion of land to settlements are offset by the storage of carbon in urban trees (annual removals of 4.3 Mt CO2 eq throughout the time series).

Regional

Regional land-based emissions and removals from human activities

Key results

From 1990 to 2019,

  • removals increased in the Prairie region from 0.2 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (Mt CO2 eq) to 10 Mt CO2 eq due to changes in agricultural land management practices. The highest removals of 16 Mt CO2 eq occurred in 2010
  • the Southeastern region decreased emissions from 8.2 Mt CO2 eq to 4.3 Mt CO2 eq. The lowest net exchange was removals of about 1.0 Mt CO2 eq in 2012
  • the Mountain region, which is important for forestry, went from removals of 48 Mt CO2 eq to emissions of about 18 Mt CO2 eq

Regional land-based greenhouse gas emissions and removals from human activities, Canada, 1990 to 2019

 Regional land-based emissions and removals from human activities, Canada, 1990 to 2019 (see data table below for the long description)
Data table for the long description
Regional land-based greenhouse gas emissions and removals from human activities, Canada, 1990 to 2019
Region Year Forestry sector
(megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent)
Agricultural land
(megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent)
Wetlands
(megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent)
Settlements
(megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent)
Net exchange
(megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent)
Mountain 1990 -49.61 0.63 0.21 1.21 -47.56
Mountain 1991 -46.49 0.59 0.19 1.27 -44.43
Mountain 1992 -37.73 0.56 0.18 1.13 -35.85
Mountain 1993 -32.14 0.56 0.17 1.04 -30.37
Mountain 1994 -32.90 0.53 0.11 0.98 -31.28
Mountain 1995 -30.58 0.46 0.11 0.95 -29.07
Mountain 1996 -30.30 0.44 0.10 0.89 -28.86
Mountain 1997 -30.79 0.43 0.10 0.87 -29.39
Mountain 1998 -32.84 0.42 0.09 0.84 -31.48
Mountain 1999 -27.30 0.39 0.09 0.84 -25.98
Mountain 2000 -23.47 0.38 0.08 0.81 -22.20
Mountain 2001 -25.98 0.40 0.08 0.77 -24.74
Mountain 2002 -19.36 0.35 0.07 0.72 -18.22
Mountain 2003 -17.59 0.32 0.07 0.67 -16.52
Mountain 2004 -4.15 0.32 0.07 0.66 -3.11
Mountain 2005 3.86 0.30 0.06 0.71 4.94
Mountain 2006 5.98 0.29 0.06 0.71 7.05
Mountain 2007 7.75 0.29 0.06 0.77 8.87
Mountain 2008 7.42 0.24 0.06 0.71 8.43
Mountain 2009 6.08 0.25 0.05 0.64 7.03
Mountain 2010 11.23 0.26 0.05 0.73 12.27
Mountain 2011 13.60 0.23 0.05 0.75 14.63
Mountain 2012 12.79 0.24 0.05 0.76 13.83
Mountain 2013 13.64 0.23 0.05 0.81 14.72
Mountain 2014 12.47 0.23 0.04 0.69 13.43
Mountain 2015 12.99 0.25 0.04 0.64 13.93
Mountain 2016 11.64 0.23 0.04 0.65 12.56
Mountain 2017 12.53 0.22 0.04 0.62 13.41
Mountain 2018 16.05 0.23 0.04 0.59 16.91
Mountain 2019 17.14 0.20 0.04 0.56 17.93
Boreal 1990 -100.45 5.30 4.48 2.61 -88.07
Boreal 1991 -98.95 4.55 4.37 2.63 -87.40
Boreal 1992 -92.87 4.15 4.22 2.69 -81.80
Boreal 1993 -87.45 3.70 4.58 2.64 -76.53
Boreal 1994 -79.37 3.41 2.41 2.59 -70.96
Boreal 1995 -65.86 2.93 2.31 2.51 -58.11
Boreal 1996 -67.33 2.61 2.21 2.62 -59.88
Boreal 1997 -63.63 2.36 2.23 2.65 -56.40
Boreal 1998 -65.79 1.95 2.43 2.63 -58.78
Boreal 1999 -56.26 1.69 2.68 2.75 -49.14
Boreal 2000 -43.38 1.29 2.17 2.83 -37.10
Boreal 2001 -48.58 1.19 2.12 2.88 -42.39
Boreal 2002 -36.97 1.10 2.13 3.24 -30.51
Boreal 2003 -36.38 0.90 2.07 3.28 -30.13
Boreal 2004 -26.87 0.64 2.11 3.37 -20.76
Boreal 2005 -26.01 0.51 2.02 3.47 -20.01
Boreal 2006 -33.57 0.38 2.18 3.68 -27.34
Boreal 2007 -36.89 0.41 2.20 3.76 -30.51
Boreal 2008 -39.77 0.32 2.25 3.72 -33.48
Boreal 2009 -45.02 0.34 2.12 3.53 -39.03
Boreal 2010 -35.27 0.38 2.04 3.47 -29.38
Boreal 2011 -36.70 0.58 2.07 3.62 -30.44
Boreal 2012 -37.37 0.83 2.17 3.52 -30.85
Boreal 2013 -36.16 1.05 2.24 3.72 -29.14
Boreal 2014 -35.30 1.47 2.28 3.94 -27.61
Boreal 2015 -30.67 1.74 2.04 4.08 -22.81
Boreal 2016 -32.24 1.85 1.91 3.87 -24.61
Boreal 2017 -32.87 1.99 1.89 3.83 -25.17
Boreal 2018 -31.88 2.32 1.82 3.95 -23.80
Boreal 2019 -32.04 2.20 1.80 3.78 -24.26
West coast 1990 18.03 0.13 0.01 -0.69 17.48
West coast 1991 18.85 0.13 0.01 -0.75 18.25
West coast 1992 21.13 0.11 0.01 -0.78 20.47
West coast 1993 21.55 0.11 0.01 -0.80 20.87
West coast 1994 21.18 0.09 0.01 -0.83 20.45
West coast 1995 22.96 0.11 0.01 -0.86 22.22
West coast 1996 21.44 0.12 0.01 -0.88 20.70
West coast 1997 19.68 0.11 0.01 -0.94 18.87
West coast 1998 17.51 0.14 0.01 -0.95 16.71
West coast 1999 19.10 0.10 0.01 -0.96 18.26
West coast 2000 18.86 0.10 0.01 -0.95 18.02
West coast 2001 16.32 0.10 0.01 -1.00 15.43
West coast 2002 17.30 0.12 0.01 -1.02 16.42
West coast 2003 14.53 0.13 0.01 -1.00 13.67
West coast 2004 18.07 0.12 0.01 -1.02 17.19
West coast 2005 16.67 0.12 0.01 -1.04 15.77
West coast 2006 14.21 0.13 0.01 -1.02 13.33
West coast 2007 12.81 0.14 0.01 -1.03 11.93
West coast 2008 11.48 0.12 0.01 -1.04 10.58
West coast 2009 9.15 0.12 0.01 -1.07 8.21
West coast 2010 11.09 0.13 0.01 -1.06 10.17
West coast 2011 12.04 0.16 0.01 -1.06 11.15
West coast 2012 11.54 0.12 0.01 -1.00 10.67
West coast 2013 12.16 0.16 0.01 -0.90 11.44
West coast 2014 11.34 0.19 0.01 -0.98 10.56
West coast 2015 11.43 0.20 0.01 -0.95 10.70
West coast 2016 10.82 0.22 0.01 -0.95 10.09
West coast 2017 10.65 0.20 0.02 -0.95 9.92
West coast 2018 11.41 0.20 0.02 -0.91 10.72
West coast 2019 11.81 0.20 0.01 -0.88 11.15
Prairies 1990 0.41 -0.41 0.00 -0.18 -0.18
Prairies 1991 0.18 -0.75 0.00 -0.18 -0.74
Prairies 1992 0.14 -1.70 0.00 -0.18 -1.74
Prairies 1993 0.21 -2.70 0.00 -0.18 -2.67
Prairies 1994 0.30 -3.67 0.00 -0.19 -3.56
Prairies 1995 0.35 -4.57 0.00 -0.19 -4.41
Prairies 1996 0.41 -5.41 0.00 -0.19 -5.19
Prairies 1997 0.34 -6.57 0.00 -0.19 -6.42
Prairies 1998 0.11 -7.68 0.00 -0.20 -7.76
Prairies 1999 0.12 -8.79 0.00 -0.20 -8.88
Prairies 2000 0.17 -9.85 0.00 -0.20 -9.88
Prairies 2001 -0.01 -10.17 0.00 -0.20 -10.38
Prairies 2002 0.01 -11.24 0.00 -0.20 -11.43
Prairies 2003 -0.11 -12.23 0.00 -0.20 -12.55
Prairies 2004 0.03 -13.22 0.00 -0.21 -13.40
Prairies 2005 0.09 -14.14 0.00 -0.21 -14.27
Prairies 2006 0.11 -15.01 0.00 -0.21 -15.11
Prairies 2007 0.12 -15.20 0.00 -0.21 -15.29
Prairies 2008 0.15 -15.34 0.00 -0.21 -15.41
Prairies 2009 0.19 -15.46 0.00 -0.22 -15.49
Prairies 2010 0.18 -15.54 0.00 -0.22 -15.58
Prairies 2011 0.25 -15.56 0.00 -0.21 -15.52
Prairies 2012 0.24 -14.91 0.00 -0.20 -14.87
Prairies 2013 0.30 -14.27 0.00 -0.18 -14.15
Prairies 2014 0.35 -13.64 0.00 -0.15 -13.45
Prairies 2015 0.39 -13.00 0.00 -0.12 -12.73
Prairies 2016 0.61 -12.55 0.00 -0.12 -12.06
Prairies 2017 0.94 -12.14 0.00 -0.11 -11.31
Prairies 2018 1.03 -11.70 0.00 -0.10 -10.77
Prairies 2019 1.07 -11.14 0.00 -0.09 -10.17
Southeastern 1990 6.75 1.94 0.64 -1.13 8.19
Southeastern 1991 5.94 1.84 0.64 -1.14 7.27
Southeastern 1992 6.57 1.89 0.65 -1.14 7.97
Southeastern 1993 7.64 1.96 0.66 -1.18 9.07
Southeastern 1994 7.93 2.03 0.69 -1.20 9.45
Southeastern 1995 10.12 2.10 0.70 -1.21 11.70
Southeastern 1996 9.39 2.16 0.70 -1.20 11.04
Southeastern 1997 9.73 2.37 0.79 -1.22 11.67
Southeastern 1998 7.50 2.53 0.83 -1.17 9.68
Southeastern 1999 7.60 2.68 0.89 -1.14 10.03
Southeastern 2000 7.62 2.83 0.90 -1.15 10.20
Southeastern 2001 3.33 3.06 0.93 -1.15 6.17
Southeastern 2002 3.33 2.97 0.94 -1.17 6.07
Southeastern 2003 1.84 2.90 0.87 -1.18 4.43
Southeastern 2004 4.86 2.85 0.97 -1.17 7.50
Southeastern 2005 3.72 2.79 0.98 -1.18 6.30
Southeastern 2006 0.79 2.72 0.93 -1.19 3.25
Southeastern 2007 0.02 2.84 0.93 -1.19 2.60
Southeastern 2008 0.23 2.91 0.92 -1.19 2.88
Southeastern 2009 -1.45 2.99 0.90 -1.20 1.24
Southeastern 2010 -0.99 3.07 0.98 -1.23 1.83
Southeastern 2011 -2.17 3.17 0.84 -1.24 0.60
Southeastern 2012 -3.83 3.33 0.79 -1.26 -0.97
Southeastern 2013 -2.51 3.48 0.75 -1.23 0.48
Southeastern 2014 -1.84 3.63 0.75 -1.16 1.38
Southeastern 2015 -0.54 3.80 0.80 -1.05 3.01
Southeastern 2016 -1.44 3.94 0.98 -1.04 2.43
Southeastern 2017 -1.51 4.07 1.02 -1.16 2.41
Southeastern 2018 0.32 4.19 0.82 -1.17 4.16
Southeastern 2019 0.38 4.33 0.77 -1.19 4.28

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How this indicator was calculated

Note: Regions are based on the location of the human activities across the country. Data are accurate to 2 significant figures in accordance with Part III Annex 8 of the National Inventory Report. Net exchange is calculated by subtracting removals from emissions.
Source: Environment and Climate Change Canada (2021) National Inventory Report 1990-2019: Greenhouse Gas Sources and Sinks in Canada.

The increase in removals of GHGs on the Prairies can be attributed to changes in agricultural land management practices, such as the adoption of conservation tillage and the reduced use of summerfallow. These changes in land management resulted in decreased soil disturbance and thereby lower releases of carbon from the soil. However, due to the decrease in the proportion of perennial crops in the crop mixture and the adoption rate of conservation tillage, there has been a decline in the rate of GHG removals since 2010.

In the West Coast and Southeastern regions, forestry management practices (changes in harvest rates and forest regeneration) contributed to the reduction in emissions. However, in recent years, net GHG emissions have been increasing in the Southeastern region. Similar to the Prairies, this increase is in part due to the decreased perennial crops in the crop mix.

The decrease in GHG removals in the Mountain and Boreal regions is related to increased forest harvesting (in part in an effort to salvage timber from trees killed by the Mountain Pine Beetle) as well as a reduction in carbon removals from forests. The latter is due to insect infestations and fire in managed forests, which reduced the area of mature growing trees, increased decomposition and increased salvage logging (the harvest of dead or dying standing trees).

Natural disturbances

Land-based emissions and removals from natural disturbances

Forests remove carbon from the atmosphere as they grow and release it along with other GHGs when they decay after dying or burn in forest fires.

Key results

  • Wildfires had the largest influence on land-based emissions and removals from natural disturbances (emissions of 158 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent [Mt CO2 eq] in 2019)
  • Emissions caused by insect infestations reached a peak of 57 Mt CO2 eq in 2008 and were 21 Mt CO2 eq in 2019
  • Removals due to forest regrowth post wildfire reached a peak of 61 Mt CO2 eq in 1994 and were 22 Mt CO2 eq in 2019

Land-based greenhouse gas emissions and removals from natural disturbances in managed areas, Canada, 1990 to 2019

 Land-based greenhouse gas emissions and removals from natural disturbances in managed areas, Canada, 1990 to 2019 (see data table below for the long description)
Data table for the long description
Land-based greenhouse gas emissions and removals from natural disturbances in managed areas, Canada, 1990 to 2019
Year Wildfire – immediate
(megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent)
Post wildfire
(megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent)
Insects
(megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent)
Natural disturbances net exchange
(megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent)
1990 37.67 -59.62 0.31 -21.64
1991 61.97 -55.98 0.41 6.39
1992 14.68 -60.17 0.39 -45.10
1993 66.63 -60.67 0.40 6.36
1994 74.92 -61.12 0.43 14.23
1995 244.32 -49.99 0.50 194.83
1996 62.82 -48.96 0.53 14.39
1997 17.08 -52.58 0.52 -34.98
1998 224.66 -48.00 0.53 177.19
1999 78.82 -48.40 0.91 31.33
2000 11.81 -51.91 4.77 -35.32
2001 37.08 -53.67 10.62 -5.96
2002 175.11 -49.26 17.37 143.23
2003 114.11 -48.58 27.37 93.02
2004 159.04 -46.07 34.69 147.71
2005 65.78 -47.47 41.71 60.06
2006 86.63 -46.65 48.56 88.57
2007 84.63 -47.33 55.77 93.10
2008 36.48 -49.79 57.03 43.73
2009 64.07 -51.09 52.60 65.59
2010 127.43 -48.53 48.37 127.28
2011 152.93 -46.62 42.47 148.79
2012 119.18 -44.67 38.96 113.47
2013 58.66 -46.62 36.37 48.42
2014 176.36 -42.94 33.10 166.53
2015 258.76 -33.67 30.83 255.92
2016 109.20 -33.29 27.37 103.30
2017 229.42 -27.83 23.81 225.41
2018 250.50 -21.94 22.23 250.79
2019 157.65 -21.73 20.86 156.79

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How this indicator was calculated

Note: Wildfire emissions and removals are divided in 2 categories, (1) wildfire – immediate and (2) post wildfire. Wildfire – immediate includes emissions from trees and soils from the burning of wildfires. Post wildfire includes emissions released by the decay of dead trees and soil organic matter and removals related to forest regeneration. Insect disturbances include emissions from the decay of organic matter and removals from natural regeneration. Data are accurate to 2 significant figures in accordance with Part III Annex 8 of the National Inventory Report. Net exchange is calculated by subtracting removals from emissions.
Source: Environment and Climate Change Canada (2021) National Inventory Report 1990-2019: Greenhouse Gas Sources and Sinks in Canada.

Natural disturbances are an important factor in determining whether forests remove or release GHGs each year. These disturbances result in immediate emissions such as from the burning of trees, as well as post-disturbance emissions and removals. Post-disturbance emissions are from the gradual decay of dead organic matter. Post-disturbance removals are related to the natural regeneration and regrowth of forests.

The variability in emissions and releases from natural disturbances can vary greatly from year to year. For example, emissions from managed lands were lower in 2016 than in adjacent years because of the smaller area burned.Footnote 4 However, since the mid-2000s, emissions from wildfires and insect disturbances have generally been increasing.

About the indicator

About the indicator

What the indicator measures

The Land-based greenhouse gas emissions and removals indicator tracks exchanges of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and removals between the atmosphere and Canada's managed lands. Reported GHG emissions and removals from human-related activities result from land use and land-use change activities from the forestry sector (managed forested land and harvested wood products), agricultural land (cropland and agricultural grassland), wetlands (peat extraction and reservoirs for hydropower) and settlements. The indicator also tracks GHG emissions and removals from natural disturbances (insect infestations and wildfires) on Canada's managed lands.

Why this indicator is important

GHG emissions and their increasing concentrations in the atmosphere are having significant impacts on the environment, human health and the economy. Tracking the trends in Canada’s land-based GHG emissions and removals provides a useful context for understanding how different management activities could reduce emissions and increase removals over time. This indicator could also help identify opportunities for mitigating the impacts of climate change and the potential for enhancing carbon sequestration.

The distinction between emissions and removals from human activities versus natural disturbances allows for a better understanding of emissions that could be directly managed in the near to medium term. The National Inventory Report has made this distinction since 2017 in the 2015 National Inventory Report.

Related indicators

The Greenhouse gas emissions indicators report trends in total anthropogenic (human-made) GHG emissions at the national level, per person and per unit gross domestic product, by province and territory and by economic sector.

The Global greenhouse gas emissions indicator provides a global perspective on Canada's share of global GHG emissions.

The Carbon dioxide emissions from a consumption perspective indicator shows the impact of Canada's consumption of goods and services, regardless of where they are produced, on the levels of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere.

The Progress towards Canada's greenhouse gas emissions reduction target indicator provides an overview of Canada's projected GHG emissions up to 2030.

The Greenhouse gas emissions from large facilities indicator reports GHG emissions from the largest GHG emitters in Canada (industrial and other types of facilities).

 

Data sources and methods

Data sources and methods

Data sources

This indicator is developed using data from Canada's National Inventory Report and includes emissions and removals associated with natural disturbances and with land use, land-use change and forestry (LULUCF) activity on managed lands. Managed lands are defined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as "land where human interventions and practices have been applied to perform production, ecological or social functions."Footnote 5 Information on the land category definition and representation of managed lands is available in Chapter 6 of the National Inventory Report.

Land-based greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and removals include emissions and removals of carbon dioxide (CO2). It also includes emissions of methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), and indirect CO2 from the atmospheric oxidation of carbon monoxide (CO) due to controlled biomass burning; CH4 and N2O emissions from wetland drainage and rewetting due to peat extraction; and N2O released following land conversion to cropland.

More information

Data used to develop the land-based emission and removal estimates presented in the National Inventory Report are drawn from published and unpublished sources from various government departments, industry sources and scientific papers.

Land-based GHG emission estimates are provided at the national level, by sector and by region. Annual GHG emission estimates are updated each year; the most recent edition of the inventory reported estimates for the period from 1990 to 2019. Complete details of the temporal coverage for each data source used for the indicators can be found in chapter 6 of the National Inventory Report.

Preparation of the GHG inventory, including the land-based emission and removal estimates, takes almost 16 months from the end of the reporting year because of the time needed to collect, validate, calculate and interpret the data. In keeping with good practice guidance for managing national inventories, methods and data are improved on an on-going basis to reflect new knowledge and improved data or methods. Inventory estimates are prepared by Environment and Climate Change Canada's Pollutant Inventories and Reporting Division with input from numerous experts and scientists across Canada. Preliminary estimates and draft text are reviewed extensively by experts and officials, before they are finalized. The final report is submitted electronically to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) no later than mid-April, as required.

Methods

Land-based GHG emissions and removals are quantified using methods that are consistent with an internationally agreed methodological framework set out in the 2006 IPCC Guidelines for National Greenhouse Gas Inventories. The methodologies used to estimate emissions and removals are reviewed, updated and improved on a periodic basis. Collaborative work with sector experts from within and outside Environment and Climate Change Canada is undertaken to incorporate available expertise and the latest advancements in scientific knowledge. Further information on these methods is available through Environment and Climate Change Canada's National Inventory Report.

More information

Land-based GHG emissions and removals are reported in carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2 eq), determined by multiplying the amount of emissions of a particular GHG by the global warming potential of that gas. GHGs differ in their ability to absorb heat in the atmosphere due to their differing chemical properties and atmospheric lifetimes. For example, over a period of 100 years, the potential of methane to trap heat in the atmosphere is 25 times greater than that of carbon dioxide. Therefore, methane is considered to have a global warming potential of 25. The UNFCCC Reporting Guidelines (PDF; 258 KB) publish the global warming potentials and atmospheric lifetimes to be used for each GHG reported in national GHG inventories; these can be found in Table 1-1 of the National Inventory Report.

Areas within managed forests are subject to both forest management and natural disturbances. Emissions and removals from these areas are associated with human activities under specific circumstances. All stands harvested or that have been affected by stand-replacing natural disturbances in the past but have reached commercial maturity, or a minimum operable age (for a given region) are recognized to be under human influence. Commercially mature stands subject to natural disturbances causing less than or equal to 20% biomass mortality (for example some insects that cause defoliation but low mortality) remain associated with human activities. Large, uncontrollable natural disturbances (for example wildfires or insect outbreaks causing more than 20% biomass mortality) are recognized to result from natural occurrences and the associated emissions and removals are reflected in the natural disturbance category. See Part II Annex 3 of the National Inventory Report for more information on the tracking and reporting of natural disturbances.Footnote 6

Spatial aggregation

Estimates for the land use, land-use change and forestry (LULUCF) sector in the National Inventory Report are provided for 18 reporting zones (Chapter 6, Figure 6-1 Canada's National Inventory Report). These reporting zones are similar to the ecozones of the National Ecological Framework, a hierarchical, spatially consistent national ecosystem classification.

In this indicator, the reporting zones were grouped into regional categories that better reflect trends in management practices. Table 1 shows the indicator regional categories and the corresponding National Inventory Report reporting zones.

Table 1. Indicator regional categories and National Inventory Report reporting zones
Indicator regional categories National Inventory Report reporting zones
Mountain Taiga Cordillera
Mountain Boreal Cordillera
Mountain Montane Cordillera
Boreal Taiga Plains
Boreal Taiga Shield West
Boreal Boreal Plains
Boreal Boreal Shield West
Boreal Hudson Plains
Boreal Boreal Shield East (excluding Newfoundland)
Boreal Taiga Shield East
West Coast Pacific Maritime
Prairies Subhumid Prairies
Prairies Semiarid Prairies
Southeastern Boreal Shield East (Newfoundland)
Southeastern Atlantic Maritime
Southeastern Mixedwood Plains
Not reported Arctic Cordillera
Not reported Northern Arctic
Not reported Southern Arctic

Land-based greenhouse gas emissions and removals by land use categories

In this indicator, calculated emissions and removals data from the National Inventory Report are grouped into 4 broad classes. Table 2 shows the categories of Land-based GHG emissions and removals reported in the indicator compared with those reported in the National Inventory Report.

Table 2. Land-based emissions and removals categories
Land-based emissions and removals categories reported in the sector Land-based emissions and removals categories reported in the National Inventory Report
Forestry sector Forest land
Forestry sector Harvest wood products (HWP)
Agricultural land Cropland
Agricultural land Agricultural Grassland
Wetlands Peat extraction and flooded lands
Settlements Settlements

Note: Definitions for land-use change and forestry sector as reported in the National Inventory Report are consistent with the International Panel on Climate Change land categories.

Caveats and limitations

The methodologies for compiling land-based GHG emissions and removals improve over time. As a result, the land-based emissions and removals data reported in the indicator may be different from previously published estimates.

Canada is a vast country with heterogeneous landscapes and climates. Factors such as geographic location, climatic conditions, plant species and age, and management activities all play a role in influencing the net amount of GHG that is removed or released back to the atmosphere from each location in Canada. The land-based emissions and removals data provide a simplified representation of the complex reality and may not account for all relevant ecological processes.

Current reporting of land-based emissions and removals does not account for climate feedback other than what is captured through natural disturbances such as wildfires and insect infestations. Climate feedback mechanisms can either amplify (positive feedback) or diminish (negative feedback) the effects of a changing climate. For example, as rising concentrations of GHGs warm Earth's climate, permafrost begins to melt. This melting releases the organic carbon stored, contributing to GHG releases that cause more warming, which causes more melting, and so on, in a self reinforcing cycle.

For a complete discussion of the caveats and limitations with respect to land-based GHG emissions and removals data, refer to the methodological issues sections in Chapter 6 of Canada's National Inventory Report 1990-2019.

Resources

Resources

References

Environment and Climate Change Canada (2021) Canada's official greenhouse gas inventory. Retrieved on April 14, 2021.

Environment and Climate Change Canada (2021) National Inventory Report 1990-2019: Greenhouse gas sources and sinks in Canada. Retrieved on April 14, 2021.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2003) Good Practice Guidance for Land Use, Land-use Change and Forestry. Retrieved on April 14, 2021.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2006) 2006 IPCC Guidelines for National Greenhouse Gas Inventories, Vol. 4: Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use. Retrieved on April 14, 2021.

Kurz WA, Hayne S, Fellows M, MacDonald JD, Metsaranta JM, Hafer M and Blain D (2018) Quantifying the impacts of human activities on reported greenhouse gas emissions and removals in Canada’s managed forest: conceptual framework and implementation. Canadian Journal of Forest Research 48: 1-14. Retrieved on April 14, 2021.

Warren FJ and Lemmen DS, editors (2014) Canada in a Changing Climate: Sector Perspectives on Impacts and Adaptation. Government of Canada. Retrieved April 14, 2021.

Related information

Canada's Action on Climate Change

Climate Change

Greenhouse gas emissions: drivers and impacts

Infographic 
Infographic on landbased greenhouse gas emissions and removals (see below for long description)
Long description 

The infographic presents information on the Land-based greenhouse gas emissions and removals indicator. A graphic is shown to represent the carbon cycle where carbon is absorbed from the atmosphere by trees and plants through photosynthesis and released back into the atmosphere through burning and decomposition of soil and dead organic matter.

Greenhouse gases on Canada's managed lands in 2019:

  • Human activities accounted for net emissions of 9.9 Mt CO2 eq
  • Natural disturbances accounted for net emissions of 157 Mt CO2 eq

Emissions and removals from human activities in 2019:

  • Forestry activities and tree growth contributed emissions of 9.3 Mt CO2 eq
  • Croplands and land converted to cropland contributed removals of 4.2 Mt CO2 eq
  • Peat extraction and flooding of lands for hydropower contributed emissions of 2.6 Mt CO2 eq
  • Urban lands and lands converted to settlements contributed emissions of 2.2 Mt CO2 eq

Emissions and removals from natural disturbances in 2019:

  • Wildfires contributed emissions of 158 Mt CO2 eq
  • Tree regrowth after wildfires contributed removals of 22 Mt CO2 eq
  • Insect infestrations contibuted emissions of 21 Mt CO2 eq

In 2019, managed lands accounted for net emisions of about 167 Mt CO2 eq.

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