Our forests have reached a tipping point
by August 21st 2023
This year’s coast-to-coast wildfires in Canada have already emitted an estimated one-and-a-half billion tonnes of CO2. That’s triple the annual climate pollution from burning fossil fuels in Canada. It’s more than the combined emissions from 100 nations. And there are still months of fire season looming ahead.
As extreme as this year’s wildfire emissions have been, they are just the latest escalation in a multi-decade flood of CO2 pouring out of Canada’s “managed” forests and forestry. (Note: Canada only reports emissions from the parts of the forest it “manages.” This is around two-thirds. Some managed forest areas are managed for logging, while others are managed for non-timber uses like recreation, water, wildlife and fire protection. See the endnotes for a map and more details.)
To illustrate the scale and pace of our metastasizing forest carbon crisis, I turned to data in Canada’s official national greenhouse gas inventory, plus recent wildfire data from the European Union’s Earth Observation Program. The resulting chart below shows the cumulative amount of CO2 that’s been added to the atmosphere from Canada’s managed forest since 1990.
The falling green line at the start of the chart shows that in the early 1990s, the forest was a valuable carbon sink, helping to slow global warming. Back then, new forest growth absorbed more CO2 from the air than was emitted by logging, wildfire and decay.
That all changed after 2001, the tipping point year for Canada’s managed forest.”
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