According to Canada’s 2022 National Inventory Report, the country’s land use, land-use change and forestry (LULUCF) sector was a net sink of CO₂ emissions with -7.6 MtCO₂ removals in 2020. This number corresponds to about 1% of Canada’s total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in 2020. This net sink is relatively small; however, this is due to a balance of sources and sinks as shown in the figure provided.
Canada was home to about 9% of global forests in 2015. Forests have been a significant carbon sink in the country; however, the amount of carbon that they absorb has reduced from about -200 MtCO₂e/year in 1990 to -130 MtCO₂e/year in 2020.
At the same time, Canada’s largest source of LULUCF emissions, forest harvest to produce harvested wood products, has remained fairly constant at about 140 MtCO₂e/year. Other key sources of emissions are forest conversion to other uses, peat extraction and emissions from flooded lands, generally for the development of hydroelectric reservoirs.
The 1.5°C compatible pathway analysed here indicates that Canada will need to reduce emissions from deforestation and enhance carbon sinks through afforestation/reforestation.
Making a direct comparison between the government’s inventory data and this pathway is not straightforward. While Canada currently reports a small net sink in the LULUCF sector, the 1.5°C compatible pathway analysed here shows net positive emissions from now until the early 2040s. This is because the removals modelled in the 1.5°C pathway are limited to those from afforestation/reforestation on managed land. They do not include removals reported historically in Canada’s greenhouse gas inventory that occur on managed land but are not classified as human-induced by the model used to generate our pathway. If these removals were included in the modelled pathway, the sink would likely be larger.
In the 1.5°C modelled pathway, carbon removals from afforestation/reforestation increase to -9 MtCO₂/year by 2030, and over -40 MtCO₂/year by mid-century.
The Government of Canada uses accounting rules for counting LULUCF emissions reductions and removals towards its targets. For all activities except forest management, Canada uses “net-net” accounting, which means it compares net emissions in 2030 with net emissions in the year 2005. For forest management, Canada uses a reference level to assess whether emissions reductions and removals are additional to what would have happened under recent policies. Based on these accounting approaches, the government projects that accounted removals from “LULUCF, nature-based climate solutions and agriculture measures” will reach -30 MtCO₂e/year by 2030, which is 20 MtCO₂e larger than accounted removals in 2020 (-10 MtCO₂e/year). While the government projection implies more growth in removals than seen in the 1.5°C pathway, this is likely because the national projection includes a wider set of options for enhancing the LULUCF sink and reducing agricultural emissions. It is worth noting that this national projection was made before methodological changes in Canada’s 2022 inventory that resulted in an upward (i.e. more negative) revision of recent net removals.
The persistence of land-use emissions over the century in the analysed 1.5°C compatible pathway is related to natural disturbances such as drought and outbreaks of insect infestations. Climate change impacts are likely to increasingly affect Canada’s land sink; however, this pathway models climate variability based on the historical trend, and has not yet taken future climate change impacts into consideration.