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Canada Sectors

What is Canadaʼs pathway to limit global warming to 1.5°C?

LULUCF emissions profile trajectories

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 2020.1 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 2015.2 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 2020.1

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.3 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).4 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.4

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.

1 Environment and Climate Change Canada. National Inventory Report 1990-2020: Greenhouse gas sources and sinks in Canada. 2022.

2 Natural Resources Canada. The State of Canada’s Forests Annual Report. 2021.

3 Environment and Climate Change Canada. National Inventory Report 1990-2019: Greenhouse Gas Sources and Sinks in Canada. 2021.

4 Government of Canada. 2030 Emissions Reduction Plan: Clean Air, Strong Economy. 2022.

5 Canada’s National Forest Inventory. Standard Reports. 2021.

6 Government of Canada. 2 Billion Trees Program. 2022.

7 Government of Canada. Planting 2 billion trees: A natural climate solution. 2022.

8 Bailey Moreton. B.C.’s tree planting should dodge problems others have faced with albedo effect. Vancouver Island Free Daily. 2021.

Canadaʼs LULUCF emissions


  • Historical removals on managed land
  • Historical land-use emissions
  • Net historical land-use emissions
  • Modelled removals from afforestation / reforestation
  • Modelled land-use emissions
  • Net modelled land-use emissions

Forest area change

Canada’s forest land has remained relatively stable since 1990, accounting for 56% of inventoried land.2,5 About 65% of the country’s forests are classified as managed forests.3 While deforestation has slightly decreased since the 1990s, it still outweighs afforestation/reforestation, resulting in a net loss of forest land.2 Agricultural expansion, mining, and oil and gas production have been the main drivers of deforestation. Additionally, land flooding during the development of hydroelectric reservoirs caused significant spikes in deforestation in 1993 and 2006.

Forest land in Canada is also increasingly exposed to natural disturbances, exacerbated by climate change. In 2019, 14.5 Mha of forest land was impacted by insect infestations.2 Climate change is expected to impact the distribution, frequency and intensity of these outbreaks, for example as milder winters increase the survival of mountain pine beetles. Climate change has also increased the frequency and intensity of wildfires. While 2020 saw much lower burned area compared to the ten-year average, Canada frequently saw over 3 Mha/year of land burned between 2010–2020.2

In 2020, Canada announced a plan to accelerate afforestation/reforestation by planting two billion trees over ten years.6 This plan is to create additional 1.1 Mha of forests by 2030, meaning that Canada would need to increase new forest areas by at least 0.1 Mha every year.7

Under the 1.5°C compatible pathway analysed here, Canada would need to reverse the trend in net forest loss almost immediately and maintain a net positive change in forest area until after mid-century. The scale of afforestation/reforestation is small compared to Canada’s size mostly because there is a limited amount of available land, and because conversion of land to forests in some areas of Canada may not work due to its effect on the Earth’s albedo. The “albedo effect” refers to the ability of land to reflect sun rays and reduce surface warming.8 Nevertheless, the rate of forest addition under the 1.5°C compatible pathway is still higher than currently planned, with an average annual increase in forest area of 0.4 Mha over the next three decades, peaking by 2040 and tailing off towards mid-century. By 2030, the increase in forested area from 2020 levels is 3 Mha in this pathway, more than twice Canada’s current plan.

As the largest source of LULUCF emissions in Canada is harvested wood products, reducing the harvest rate and practicing sustainable forest management that moves away from clear-cutting can decrease deforestation, protect the forest’s carbon storage, and reduce emissions.3 While Canada’s harvest rate has declined from the early 2000s, so has the estimated supply of sustainable wood due to forest fires and pest outbreaks. The future harvest rate is expected to stay below a sustainable supply; however, the gap is expected to narrow as Canada’s economy recovers from the pandemic and higher demand for wood products increases harvesting.

Canadaʼs Forest area change

Million ha / yr

  • Modelled forest loss
  • Modelled afforestation and reforestation
  • Modelled net forest area changes

Evolution of land-use pattern

Forests make up the largest share of Canada’s land cover, followed by other natural areas that include areas unsuitable for agriculture. In Canada, a significant share of this is wetlands which account for 14% of Canada’s land cover.1

As shown in the figures of Canada’s land cover areas and cover change (shown on the right), there is not a drastic shift in Canada’s land-use patterns under the analysed pathway. The pathway does show a slight increase in forest land, increasing from 550 Mha in 2020 to 553 Mha by 2030 and 562 Mha by 2050. This would become possible through a shift in land-use types, mainly by reducing pastures as well as cropland. In this pathway, meat demand declines in wealthier countries as part of a shift towards more sustainable and healthy lifestyles. Shifting diets, alongside more sustainable agriculture, can reduce demand for agricultural land. More urgently needed measures include transitioning from clear-cutting to more sustainable forest management, restoring damaged forests, and accelerating afforestation/reforestation where appropriate, taking the albedo effect into account.

Canadaʼs Land cover areas

million ha

  • Other Natural Area
  • Pasture
  • Forest
  • Cropland
  • Builtup

Canadaʼs land cover change relative to 2020

million ha

  • Other Natural Area
  • Pasture
  • Forest
  • Cropland
  • Builtup