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Canada’s boreal forest important for carbon storage

NEWS HIGHLIGHT

Canada's boreal forest important
for carbon storage

A newly released report from the Canadian Boreal Initiative shows that the global significance of Canada’s boreal forest has been vastly underestimated.


November 17, 2009
By Canadian Biomass

Nov. 17, 2009, Ottawa – A newly released report from the Canadian Boreal
Initiative shows that the global significance of Canada’s boreal forest, which
stores nearly twice as much carbon per hectare as tropical forests, has been
vastly underestimated. The Carbon the World Forgot
identifies the boreal forests of North America as not only the cornerstone
habitat for key mammal species, but one of the most significant carbon stores
in the world: the equivalent of 26 years of global emissions from burning
fossil fuels, based on 2006 emissions levels. Globally, these forests store 22%
of all carbon on the Earth’s land surface.

“Past accounting greatly underestimated the amount and depth of carbon stored in and
under the boreal forest,” says Jeff Wells, one of the report’s three authors. In
addition to carbon storage in trees, organic matter accumulated over millennia
is stored in boreal peatlands and areas of permafrost. Some of this boreal
carbon has been in place for up to 8,000 years.

The boreal forest’s status as the most intact forest left on earth also offers opportunities
for plants and animals forced to adapt to shifting habitats. Most other
habitats today are highly fragmented by human activity, creating a variety of
additional obstacles for species survival.

In light of these findings, the report urges that international negotiations on
carbon and forest protection consider ways to account for and protect the
boreal.

“Any effective and affordable response to climate change should include preserving the world’s remaining carbon-rich
old-growth forests,” says Steve Kallick, director of the Pew Environment
Group’s International Boreal Conservation Campaign. “This report makes it clear
that nations must look not just at the tropics, but at all the world’s
old-growth forests for climate change solutions.”

“Keeping that carbon in place by protecting boreal forests is an important part of the
climate equation,” says Dr. Andrew Weaver. “If you cut down the boreal forest
and disturb its peatlands, you release more carbon, accelerating climate
change.” Dr. Weaver of the University of Victoria is a lead author for the
United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which was awarded the
Nobel Prize.

More than 1,500 international scientists led by authors for the United Nations’
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recommended in 2007 that at
least half of Canada's boreal forest be protected from further disturbance, in
large part to keep both the boreal forest carbon bank and internationally
significant wildlife habitats intact. Despite the current lack of international
protocol, several Canadian First Nation, provincial, and federal governments
have taken important steps to protect hundreds of millions of acres of Canada’s
carbon rich boreal forest. In all, scientists are recommending that at
least 300 million hectares be protected.


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