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COP26 is the key to slowing climate warming, but Canada must address carbon accounting and industry issues.

COP26 is the key to slowing climate warming, but Canada must address carbon accounting and industry issues.

Canada has joined more than 100 countries in committing at the UN climate conference (COP26) in Glasgow (COP26). to halt deforestation by 2030As a way to preserve forests that are essential for absorbing carbon dioxide, and slowing down global warming.

Forests are the most important. lungs of the planetThey are. They absorb large amounts of carbon dioxide and store it in soil and trees. These processes have helped to make the planet habitable and, in recent years, reduced the negative effects of our reliance upon fossil fuels.

We, ecosystem scientists, believe this pledge to end deforestation has great potential. This is not a new idea. Many of the same countries participated in the UN climate summit held in 2014. agreed to halt deforestationBy 2030. It was a lofty goal and it has been achieved. unsuccessful to date. Since the agreement, forest losses have increased by more than 40%.

stacks of logs are piled up on a barren landscape
Oilsands mining operations have caused damage to the boreal forest near Fort McMurray (Alba).
(Julia Kilpatrick/Pembina Institute)? CC BY-SA

The current COP26 commitment is less ambitious — countries aim only to end “net deforestation,” meaning harvesting and land clearing can continue so long as reforestation (replanting of trees) keeps pace. This assumes that new forests have the same function as older forests. Despite that, the COP26 commitment has made a significant advancement in sustainability by focusing on trades that have historically led deforestation.

Still Canada has some work ahead if it is to make meaningful progress on this new pledge, and not find itself in an ongoing situation of continued forest — and carbon — loss. It must also find ways to protect its primary forest, those not affected by mining, logging, or other human activity. These intact forests are the best for providing ecosystem services including carbon storage.

Forests slow climate change

Forests absorb carbon dioxide (photosynthesis), and then release it (respiration). The balance between this uptake and release determines the strength of the forest’s “carbon sink,” or how much carbon is stored within it. Forests lose water through transpiration, which is the process by which they take up carbon dioxide. These processes are affected by deforestation and can have strong feedbacks on the climate system.




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More frequent fires could dramatically alter boreal forests and emit more carbon


Deforestation impacts the global carbon cycle — the exchange of carbon between the atmosphere and the Earth and back — by removing large quantities of carbon stored in the trees and increasing losses of stored carbon from the soil. Deforested areas do not recover? future uptake of carbon dioxide is also reduced.

Large areas of intact forest may have significant impacts on water quality at both the local and regional levels. Deforestation can help reduce cloud formation and rainfallIt could lead to an increase in the duration or risk of drought in areas already affected by climate warming.

Interpreting Canada’s commitment

Canada has some the most carbon-rich forests anywhere in the world. Boreal forests hold on average more carbon than their tropical counterparts. Yet the scale of forestry and other extractive activities in Canada’s boreal forests is vast. Remote sensing shows that forestry activities have been negatively impacted 650,000 hectares (1.6 million acres) of forests annually between 1985-2010.

This means that changes in land management decisions and the associated reforestation of disturbed landscapes in Canada’s boreal region can play an important role in the country’s climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts. Three main challenges must be addressed in planning, implementation, and accounting if Canada is to achieve or exceed its COP26 commitment to eliminate net deforestation.

A black beetle on a piece of wood.
A dead pinebeetle found inside a piece of bark from a tree which was attacked by pine beetles.
(AP Photo/Dan Elliott).

1. Canada’s forest loss is a complicated issue

Climate warming caused by humans is affecting the frequency and severity of natural disturbances like fire and insects in Canada. Particularly, boreal forest losses due to wildfires, permafrost freeze, drought, and pest outbreaks are increasing. These forest losses are occurring in addition to forest harvesting and land clearingAs climate warming progresses, this will only continue to intensify.

According to a recent report by Nature Canada, an organization that advocates for habitat and species protection, these natural disturbances are largely ignored in Canada’s forestry carbon accounting, potentially underestimating Canada’s forest carbon emissions by an order of magnitude.

These disturbed forest lands could recover naturally in some cases, but it is not certain. There is growing evidence that the boreal forests are becoming less resilient to changes in the environment. climate warmingAnd associated disturbances.

It is possible that we may not be able rely on the complete recovery of forests and their functions in the same way as we did in the past. These climate-related changes, human-caused and climate-related, must be accounted for in an honest and transparent manner.


COP26: the world's biggest climate talks

This story is part of The Conversation’s coverage on COP26, the Glasgow climate conference, by experts from around the world.

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2. Underground storage can be slow

Boreal forests contain 80-90 percent of carbon. stored below groundThe trees store carbon differently to other forest ecosystems. Boreal forests are not as fast as other forest ecosystems and it is not as simple as replanting trees after deforestation or land degradation.

This requires a slow recovery of the processes that support peat formation and large below-ground carbon stocks, which are essential for boreal landscapes. These remediation tools are under active developmentThere have been some success stories.




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Peatlands protect against wildfire and flooding, but they’re still under attack in Canada


It is vital and urgent to protect areas with deep peat deposits. Some of the most carbon rich places in Canada include the Mackenzie River Basin and the Hudson Bay LowlandsThese are also regions rich in natural resources.

3. Extractive industries are linked to deforestation

Mining, forestry, hydroelectricity and oil and gas are central to Canada’s economy. The COP26 commitment by the Trudeau government will not stop these activities, nor will it protect Canada’s old-growth forests.

A forested hillside missing a large section of trees.
A clearcut in an old-growth forest, near Port Renfrew, B.C.
(TJ Watt/flickr? CC BY-SA

This commitment only requires that netForest cover remains constant and replanting harvested forests is a common practice in Canada. However, there is ample evidence to support the positive impact of these extractive activities on the benefits and services provided by forests in Canada. Roads and seismic lines are linked to forestry and oil & gas, for instance. carbon lossLandscape fragmentation can lead to declines of species such as boreal caribou.

Canada must continue to reforest and protect its primary forests in order for this commitment to make a significant impact. We can expect the Trudeau government to use this commitment to accelerate the transition away from extractive activities toward more sustainable economic activities and integrate these efforts with the goals conservation and reconciliation.


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