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 forestry, agriculture and the conversion of lands to settlements, as well as natural disturbances such as forest fires and insect infestations result in GHG emissions to the atmosphere and removals from the atmosphere (for example carbon being 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 emissions and removals of GHGs from managed lands.Footnote 1

National

National land-based greenhouse gas emissions and removals

Key results

  • Between 1990 and 2018, land-based GHG emissions and removals ranged from removals of about 100 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (Mt CO2 eq)Footnote 2 in 1992 to emissions of about 240 Mt CO2 eq in 2018
  • In 2018,
    • natural disturbances (such as wildfires and severe insect infestations) accounted for emissions of about 250 Mt CO2 eq
    • human activities accounted for removals of 13 Mt CO2 eq

National land-based greenhouse gas emissions and removals, 1990 to 2018

National land-based greenhouse gas emissions and removals, 1990 to 2018 (see data table below for the long description)
Data table for the long description
National land-based greenhouse gas emissions and removals, 1990 to 2018
Year Natural disturbances
(megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent)
Human activities
(megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent)
Net exchange
(megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent)
1990 -22.19 -59.63 -81.82
1991 5.58 -65.28 -59.69
1992 -46.29 -57.76 -104.05
1993 2.63 -51.14 -48.51
1994 13.43 -52.99 -39.56
1995 188.83 -39.97 148.86
1996 11.72 -47.95 -36.23
1997 -37.40 -49.14 -86.55
1998 173.20 -56.00 117.20
1999 33.62 -45.28 -11.66
2000 -41.43 -31.79 -73.22
2001 -15.66 -47.76 -63.41
2002 134.41 -34.00 100.41
2003 77.78 -39.99 37.79
2004 133.51 -17.34 116.17
2005 46.29 -12.71 33.58
2006 72.13 -21.65 50.48
2007 81.56 -24.51 57.05
2008 27.94 -29.70 -1.76
2009 48.27 -41.63 6.64
2010 115.10 -25.24 89.86
2011 135.98 -25.39 110.60
2012 113.66 -28.06 85.59
2013 42.56 -25.25 17.31
2014 160.99 -24.72 136.27
2015 236.07 -18.15 217.92
2016 120.58 -18.53 102.05
2017 219.10 -16.41 202.69
2018 251.08 -12.86 238.22

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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 and includes settlements, the forestry sector, agricultural land and wetlands. Net exchange is calculated by subtracting removals from emissions.
Source: Environment and Climate Change Canada (2020) National Inventory Report 1990-2018: 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 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 2018, lands dominated by human activities removed 13 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (Mt CO2 eq) from the atmosphere
    • forestry and agricultural land contributed removals of 11 and 6.2 Mt CO2 eq, respectively
    • wetlands and settlements contributed emissions of 2.6 and 1.8 Mt CO2 eq, respectively
  • The forestry sector had the largest influence on the totals for all years in the time series and displayed the greatest variations between years

Land-based greenhouse gas emissions and removals from human activities by activity sector, Canada, 1990 to 2018

 Land-based greenhouse gas emissions and removals from human activities by activity sector, Canada, 1990 to 2018 (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 2018
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 -75.18 8.13 5.34 2.08 -59.63
1991 -79.55 7.03 5.22 2.03 -65.28
1992 -70.27 5.56 5.04 1.91 -57.76
1993 -62.63 4.32 5.42 1.75 -51.14
1994 -60.69 2.84 3.23 1.63 -52.99
1995 -46.05 1.42 3.12 1.54 -39.97
1996 -53.00 0.54 3.03 1.49 -47.95
1997 -52.82 -0.94 3.12 1.49 -49.14
1998 -58.72 -2.20 3.42 1.50 -56.00
1999 -47.19 -3.37 3.68 1.60 -45.28
2000 -31.79 -4.76 3.16 1.60 -31.79
2001 -46.55 -5.90 3.15 1.55 -47.76
2002 -31.60 -7.35 3.16 1.80 -34.00
2003 -36.28 -8.56 3.01 1.84 -39.99
2004 -12.74 -9.79 3.18 2.01 -17.34
2005 -6.83 -11.02 3.07 2.07 -12.71
2006 -15.03 -12.11 3.19 2.30 -21.65
2007 -17.88 -12.16 3.21 2.32 -24.51
2008 -23.11 -12.13 3.26 2.28 -29.70
2009 -34.46 -12.30 3.08 2.06 -41.63
2010 -17.99 -12.31 3.10 1.96 -25.24
2011 -18.25 -12.20 2.97 2.10 -25.39
2012 -21.78 -11.34 3.02 2.03 -28.06
2013 -20.24 -10.37 3.05 2.31 -25.25
2014 -20.65 -9.46 3.09 2.30 -24.72
2015 -14.69 -8.61 2.90 2.25 -18.15
2016 -15.91 -7.69 2.95 2.12 -18.53
2017 -14.43 -6.81 2.97 1.86 -16.41
2018 -11.15 -6.17 2.63 1.82 -12.86

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How this indicator was calculated

Note: Net exchange is calculated by subtracting removals from emissions.
Source: Environment and Climate Change Canada (2020) National Inventory Report 1990-2018: 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.

Net removals from the forestry sector have decreased from 75 Mt CO2 eq in 1990 to 11 Mt CO2 eq in 2018. This decrease 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 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 cropland, as well as from forest lands and grassland converted to cropland, and managed agricultural grassland. Cropland includes lands in annual crops, summerfallow and perennial crops. Managed agricultural grassland refers to "unimproved" natural pasture or rangeland that is used only for grazing domestic livestock.

Agricultural land switched from net emissions of 8.1 Mt CO2 eq in 1990 to net removals of 12 Mt CO2 eq in 2010 and 6.2 Mt CO2 eq in 2018. The switch was due to reduced soil disturbance resulting from changing agricultural practices such as the adoption of conservation tillage and reduced use of summerfallow.

Wetlands

The wetlands category includes activities such as peat extraction for use in horticulture and flooding of lands for hydropower development. GHG emission rates from drained and excavated wetlands are fairly constant. Net emissions in the wetlands category fluctuated between 5.4 Mt CO2 eq (1993) and 2.6 Mt CO2 eq (2018).

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 1.5 Mt CO2 eq (1996) and 2.3 Mt CO2 eq (2007). The fluctuations were mainly driven by rates of conversion from forested lands. Emissions from the conversion of land to settlements are offset by the storage of carbon in urban trees (annual removals of 4.0 Mt CO2 eq throughout 1990 to 2018).

Regional

Regional land-based emissions and removals from human activities

Key results

From 1990 to 2018,

  • the agriculturally important Prairie region increased removals from 0.65 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (Mt CO2 eq) to 12 Mt CO2 eq
  • the Southeastern region went from emissions of 3.0 Mt CO2 eq to removals of about 4.1 Mt CO2 eq
  • the Mountain region, which is important for forestry, went from removals of 51 Mt CO2 eq to emissions of about 7.3 Mt CO2 eq

Regional land-based greenhouse gas emissions and removals from human activities, Canada, 1990 to 2018

 Regional land-based emissions and removals from human activities, Canada, 1990 to 2018 (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 2018
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 -52.61 0.60 0.20 1.20 -50.61
Mountain 1991 -49.92 0.60 0.19 1.20 -47.92
Mountain 1992 -41.70 0.57 0.18 1.11 -39.84
Mountain 1993 -37.32 0.56 0.17 1.02 -35.56
Mountain 1994 -37.66 0.48 0.11 0.93 -36.14
Mountain 1995 -35.62 0.44 0.11 0.92 -34.16
Mountain 1996 -36.12 0.44 0.10 0.84 -34.74
Mountain 1997 -36.76 0.41 0.10 0.83 -35.42
Mountain 1998 -39.00 0.41 0.09 0.81 -37.68
Mountain 1999 -35.36 0.41 0.09 0.81 -34.05
Mountain 2000 -31.32 0.39 0.08 0.80 -30.06
Mountain 2001 -34.51 0.38 0.08 0.75 -33.30
Mountain 2002 -29.76 0.36 0.07 0.70 -28.63
Mountain 2003 -28.19 0.35 0.07 0.66 -27.11
Mountain 2004 -15.46 0.32 0.07 0.68 -14.40
Mountain 2005 -8.11 0.33 0.06 0.67 -7.04
Mountain 2006 -5.03 0.30 0.06 0.70 -3.97
Mountain 2007 -1.60 0.24 0.06 0.75 -0.55
Mountain 2008 -1.12 0.26 0.06 0.71 -0.09
Mountain 2009 -1.89 0.24 0.05 0.64 -0.95
Mountain 2010 2.61 0.22 0.05 0.68 3.56
Mountain 2011 5.48 0.24 0.05 0.79 6.55
Mountain 2012 4.82 0.22 0.05 0.75 5.84
Mountain 2013 6.33 0.23 0.05 0.79 7.40
Mountain 2014 4.94 0.23 0.04 0.67 5.89
Mountain 2015 5.45 0.23 0.04 0.63 6.37
Mountain 2016 4.50 0.24 0.04 0.63 5.41
Mountain 2017 4.99 0.24 0.04 0.59 5.86
Mountain 2018 6.47 0.22 0.04 0.57 7.30
Boreal 1990 -93.04 5.50 4.48 2.65 -80.41
Boreal 1991 -91.88 4.88 4.38 2.62 -80.01
Boreal 1992 -86.63 4.35 4.19 2.68 -75.41
Boreal 1993 -80.25 3.97 4.58 2.65 -69.05
Boreal 1994 -73.38 3.52 2.41 2.67 -64.78
Boreal 1995 -61.01 2.93 2.31 2.64 -53.14
Boreal 1996 -62.44 2.83 2.21 2.68 -54.72
Boreal 1997 -59.07 2.35 2.22 2.72 -51.77
Boreal 1998 -59.94 2.11 2.48 2.72 -52.62
Boreal 1999 -52.23 1.89 2.69 2.80 -44.85
Boreal 2000 -40.30 1.47 2.17 2.89 -33.77
Boreal 2001 -45.38 1.24 2.12 2.87 -39.15
Boreal 2002 -34.69 1.02 2.13 3.20 -28.34
Boreal 2003 -36.89 0.90 2.06 3.29 -30.64
Boreal 2004 -30.17 0.74 2.13 3.45 -23.85
Boreal 2005 -27.88 0.48 2.02 3.56 -21.82
Boreal 2006 -33.47 0.37 2.18 3.76 -27.16
Boreal 2007 -35.67 0.43 2.21 3.73 -29.30
Boreal 2008 -39.86 0.48 2.27 3.77 -33.34
Boreal 2009 -45.34 0.40 2.11 3.64 -39.19
Boreal 2010 -35.37 0.44 2.06 3.56 -29.31
Boreal 2011 -37.04 0.51 2.07 3.62 -30.84
Boreal 2012 -37.82 0.67 2.17 3.57 -31.40
Boreal 2013 -38.31 0.92 2.24 3.75 -31.40
Boreal 2014 -36.58 1.16 2.29 3.86 -29.27
Boreal 2015 -32.01 1.34 2.04 3.76 -24.87
Boreal 2016 -31.90 1.58 1.92 3.66 -24.75
Boreal 2017 -30.64 1.86 1.89 3.56 -23.33
Boreal 2018 -29.94 1.91 1.79 3.58 -22.66
West coast 1990 16.21 0.11 0.01 -0.63 15.71
West coast 1991 16.83 0.13 0.01 -0.65 16.33
West coast 1992 19.12 0.12 0.01 -0.70 18.55
West coast 1993 19.40 0.11 0.01 -0.73 18.80
West coast 1994 19.18 0.11 0.01 -0.76 18.54
West coast 1995 20.66 0.13 0.01 -0.79 20.01
West coast 1996 18.98 0.11 0.01 -0.81 18.29
West coast 1997 17.47 0.11 0.01 -0.83 16.77
West coast 1998 15.39 0.13 0.01 -0.85 14.68
West coast 1999 16.33 0.12 0.01 -0.87 15.60
West coast 2000 16.45 0.11 0.01 -0.91 15.66
West coast 2001 13.93 0.13 0.01 -0.89 13.17
West coast 2002 14.65 0.12 0.01 -0.91 13.88
West coast 2003 12.38 0.12 0.01 -0.91 11.60
West coast 2004 15.65 0.12 0.01 -0.93 14.85
West coast 2005 14.14 0.12 0.01 -0.95 13.32
West coast 2006 12.00 0.13 0.01 -0.95 11.20
West coast 2007 11.02 0.12 0.01 -0.95 10.20
West coast 2008 9.86 0.13 0.01 -0.97 9.04
West coast 2009 7.66 0.13 0.01 -0.99 6.82
West coast 2010 9.06 0.11 0.01 -1.01 8.18
West coast 2011 9.86 0.12 0.01 -1.01 8.99
West coast 2012 9.59 0.13 0.01 -0.95 8.78
West coast 2013 10.25 0.13 0.01 -0.91 9.49
West coast 2014 9.28 0.11 0.01 -0.98 8.42
West coast 2015 9.31 0.12 0.01 -1.00 8.44
West coast 2016 9.04 0.15 0.01 -1.00 8.20
West coast 2017 8.67 0.14 0.02 -1.01 7.81
West coast 2018 8.73 0.13 0.02 -1.03 7.85
Prairies 1990 -0.42 -0.07 0.00 -0.16 -0.65
Prairies 1991 -0.65 -0.48 0.00 -0.16 -1.29
Prairies 1992 -0.70 -1.42 0.00 -0.17 -2.29
Prairies 1993 -0.62 -2.35 0.00 -0.17 -3.14
Prairies 1994 -0.57 -3.36 0.00 -0.17 -4.11
Prairies 1995 -0.57 -4.23 0.00 -0.17 -4.97
Prairies 1996 -0.60 -5.06 0.00 -0.17 -5.83
Prairies 1997 -0.55 -6.26 0.00 -0.18 -6.98
Prairies 1998 -0.68 -7.44 0.00 -0.18 -8.30
Prairies 1999 -0.58 -8.53 0.00 -0.18 -9.29
Prairies 2000 -0.53 -9.63 0.00 -0.18 -10.34
Prairies 2001 -0.57 -10.72 0.00 -0.18 -11.48
Prairies 2002 -0.50 -11.81 0.00 -0.19 -12.50
Prairies 2003 -0.54 -12.82 0.00 -0.19 -13.55
Prairies 2004 -0.44 -13.82 0.00 -0.19 -14.45
Prairies 2005 -0.37 -14.74 0.00 -0.19 -15.30
Prairies 2006 -0.38 -15.62 0.00 -0.19 -16.19
Prairies 2007 -0.42 -15.78 0.00 -0.19 -16.40
Prairies 2008 -0.36 -15.92 0.00 -0.19 -16.48
Prairies 2009 -0.33 -16.07 0.00 -0.20 -16.60
Prairies 2010 -0.29 -16.16 0.00 -0.20 -16.65
Prairies 2011 -0.21 -16.22 0.00 -0.20 -16.64
Prairies 2012 -0.23 -15.63 0.00 -0.20 -16.06
Prairies 2013 -0.23 -15.04 0.00 -0.20 -15.47
Prairies 2014 -0.17 -14.45 0.00 -0.19 -14.82
Prairies 2015 -0.06 -13.90 0.00 -0.19 -14.15
Prairies 2016 -0.07 -13.36 0.00 -0.19 -13.62
Prairies 2017 0.04 -12.84 0.00 -0.20 -12.99
Prairies 2018 0.08 -12.33 0.00 -0.20 -12.45
Southeastern 1990 1.38 1.99 0.64 -0.98 3.03
Southeastern 1991 0.42 1.90 0.64 -0.99 1.97
Southeastern 1992 0.02 1.95 0.65 -1.00 1.62
Southeastern 1993 1.33 2.02 0.66 -1.03 2.98
Southeastern 1994 0.74 2.10 0.69 -1.04 2.49
Southeastern 1995 2.55 2.16 0.70 -1.06 4.35
Southeastern 1996 1.72 2.22 0.70 -1.05 3.59
Southeastern 1997 2.66 2.45 0.79 -1.06 4.83
Southeastern 1998 3.75 2.59 0.83 -1.00 6.16
Southeastern 1999 4.28 2.75 0.89 -0.97 6.94
Southeastern 2000 4.70 2.90 0.90 -0.99 7.51
Southeastern 2001 1.76 3.07 0.93 -0.98 4.78
Southeastern 2002 1.31 2.97 0.94 -1.00 4.21
Southeastern 2003 0.29 2.91 0.87 -1.02 3.04
Southeastern 2004 1.66 2.85 0.97 -0.99 4.48
Southeastern 2005 -0.08 2.79 0.98 -1.02 2.67
Southeastern 2006 -3.12 2.72 0.93 -1.02 -0.50
Southeastern 2007 -5.72 2.84 0.93 -1.03 -2.98
Southeastern 2008 -5.75 2.92 0.92 -1.03 -2.94
Southeastern 2009 -8.29 3.00 0.90 -1.04 -5.44
Southeastern 2010 -7.39 3.07 0.98 -1.07 -4.41
Southeastern 2011 -9.40 3.15 0.84 -1.10 -6.51
Southeastern 2012 -10.90 3.27 0.79 -1.13 -7.96
Southeastern 2013 -10.75 3.39 0.75 -1.11 -7.72
Southeastern 2014 -10.30 3.49 0.75 -1.06 -7.12
Southeastern 2015 -9.30 3.60 0.80 -0.96 -5.85
Southeastern 2016 -9.15 3.70 0.98 -0.97 -5.44
Southeastern 2017 -8.92 3.80 1.02 -1.09 -5.19
Southeastern 2018 -7.67 3.90 0.79 -1.10 -4.08

Download data file (Excel/CSV; 7.0 kB)

How this indicator was calculated

Note: Regions are based on the location of the human activities across the country. Net exchange is calculated by subtracting removals from emissions.
Source: Environment and Climate Change Canada (2020) National Inventory Report 1990-2018: Greenhouse Gas Sources and Sinks in Canada.

The increased removals of GHGs in 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 soil organic matter.

In the West Coast and Southeastern regions, forestry management practices (changes in harvest rates and forest regeneration) contributed to the reduction in emissions.

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 after Mountain Pine beetle kill) and to 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 in these forests, increased decomposition and increased harvesting of dead or dying standing trees (salvage logging).

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 260 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent [Mt CO2 eq] in 2018)
  • Emissions caused by insect infestations reached a peak of 44 Mt CO2 eq in 2008 and in 2018 were 22 Mt CO2 eq
  • Removals due to forest regrowth post wildfire reached a peak of 64 Mt CO2 eq in 1994 and in 2018 were 27 Mt CO2 eq

Land-based greenhouse gas emissions and removals from natural disturbances in managed areas, Canada, 1990 to 2018

 Land-based greenhouse gas emissions and removals from natural disturbances in managed areas, Canada, 1990 to 2018 (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 2018
Year Wildfires – immediate
(megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent)
Post wildfires
(megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent)
Insects
(megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent)
Natural disturbances net exchange
(megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent)
1990 38.11 -60.96 0.66 -22.19
1991 62.44 -57.52 0.67 5.58
1992 15.19 -61.99 0.51 -46.29
1993 65.57 -63.35 0.41 2.63
1994 76.96 -63.90 0.37 13.43
1995 241.53 -53.08 0.37 188.83
1996 63.61 -52.29 0.40 11.72
1997 18.35 -56.17 0.42 -37.40
1998 224.59 -51.86 0.47 173.20
1999 85.16 -52.02 0.48 33.62
2000 11.88 -56.34 3.04 -41.43
2001 35.46 -57.49 6.37 -15.66
2002 176.66 -52.71 10.47 134.41
2003 112.20 -52.30 17.76 77.67
2004 161.09 -51.15 23.55 133.49
2005 66.75 -52.10 31.62 46.27
2006 85.42 -51.68 38.38 72.12
2007 90.85 -51.93 42.64 81.56
2008 38.10 -54.07 43.91 27.94
2009 63.49 -56.09 40.87 48.27
2010 129.24 -52.75 38.61 115.10
2011 151.19 -50.77 35.56 135.98
2012 128.57 -48.57 33.65 113.66
2013 59.30 -50.48 33.75 42.56
2014 177.41 -47.11 30.70 160.99
2015 246.58 -39.64 29.13 236.07
2016 132.14 -38.15 26.59 120.58
2017 227.89 -32.44 23.65 219.11
2018 255.93 -26.71 21.87 251.08

Download data file (Excel/CSV; 2.1 kB)

How this indicator was calculated

Note: Wildfire emissions and removals are divided in 2 categories, (1) wildfires - immediate and (2) post wildfires. Wildfires - immediate include emissions from trees and soils from the burning of wildfires. Post wildfires include 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. Net exchange is calculated by subtracting removals from emissions.
Source: Environment and Climate Change Canada (2020) National Inventory Report 1990-2018: 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 be very large 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 higher than in previous years.

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 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.

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

Emissions and removals data from Canada's National Inventory Report are used to produce the Land-based greenhouse gas emissions and removals indicator for natural disturbances and 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.

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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 2018. 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 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.

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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 of the managed forest 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 (IPCC 2006) 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 affecting 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 that expressed through changes in disturbance regimes. 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 2020 National Inventory Report.

Resources

Resources

References

Environment and Climate Change Canada (2020) National Inventory Report 1990-2018: Greenhouse gas sources and sinks in Canada. Retrieved on May 6, 2020.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2003) Good Practice Guidance for Land Use, Land-use Change and Forestry. Retrieved on May 6, 2020.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2006) 2006 IPCC Guidelines for National Greenhouse Gas Inventories, Vol. 4: Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use. Retrieved on May 6, 2020.

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 August 5, 2020.

Warren FJ and Lemmen DS, editors (2014) Canada in a Changing Climate: Sector Perspectives on Impacts and Adaptation. Government of Canada. Retrieved May 6, 2020.

Related information

Infographic 
Infographic on landbased greenhouse gas emissiona 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 2018:

  • Human activities accounted for net removals of 13 Mt CO2 eq
  • Natural disturbances accounted for net emissions of 250 Mt CO2 eq

Emissions and removals from human activities in 2018:

  • Forestry activities and tree growth contributed removals of 11 Mt CO2 eq
  • Croplands and land converted to cropland contributed removals of 6.2 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 1.8 Mt CO2 eq

Emissions and removals from natural disturbances in 2018:

  • Wildfires contributed emissions of 260 Mt CO2 eq
  • Tree reqgrowth after wildfires contributed removals of 27 Mt CO2 eq
  • Insect infestrations contibuted emissions of 22 Mt CO2 eq

In 2018, managed lands accounted for net emisions of about 240 Mt CO2 eq.

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