Boreal Forest is World's Carbon Vault

Boreal Forest is World's Carbon Vault

Breakthrough maps released today at the United Nations conference on climate change illustrate the vastly important role of Canada's Boreal Forest as the world's largest terrestrial carbon storehouse.

Three maps, presented during a larger overview of climate change and the Boreal Forest, detail the distribution of peatlands, permafrost, and organic carbon in soils across Canada's Boreal Forest.

“The Boreal Forest is to carbon what Fort Knox is to gold,” said Jeff Wells, the Senior Scientist at the International Boreal Conservation Campaign (IBCC), an initiative of the Pew Environment Group. “It's an internationally important repository for carbon, built up over thousands of years. The maps released today document where and how these vital carbon reserves are distributed across Canada. We should do everything we can to ensure that the carbon in this storehouse is conserved.”

With 50 percent of the world's remaining original forests stretching across Canada, Alaska, Russia and Scandinavia just below the Arctic, the Boreal is the largest land reservoir of carbon on Earth. Globally, the Boreal Forest houses 22 percent of the total carbon stored on the world's land surface. This is largely because in boreal climates, the colder temperatures reduce decomposition rates, resulting in deep organic soils that are thousands of years old.

Scott Goetz, a Senior Scientist at Woods Hole Research Center, noted, “The mapping analysis released today provides vital information to inform modeling of the role of boreal and arctic ecosystems and their feedbacks to the global climate system.” Canada's Boreal Forest stores an estimated 186 billion tons of carbon in its widespread forest and peatland ecosystems—the equivalent of 27 years' worth of global carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels. Global Forest Watch Canada compiled the detailed analysis for the International Boreal Conservation Campaign (IBCC) after reviewing extensive government and scientific data of the region.

This globally significant carbon storehouse is due to three key factors:

Canada's Boreal Forest Includes the World's Largest Peatlands
Peatlands are recognized worldwide as highly important for carbon storage, storing at least six times as much carbon per hectare as forested mineral soils. Canada has the largest area of peatlands in the world, encompassing 12 percent of the nation's land area. The map released today illustrates the vast Boreal peatlands that stretch from Quebec and Labrador westward to the Mackenzie Valley, with significant concentrations in northern Ontario and Manitoba.

Vast Permafrost Areas are Key to Carbon Storage
Permafrost, or permanently frozen ground, occupies about 25 percent of the world's and 50 percent of Canada's total land area. The permafrost map released today shows that the northern portions of Canada's Boreal Forest—particularly the western Boreal region—are occupied by vast areas of carbon-rich permafrost.

“The carbon frozen into Canada's permafrost, including roughly a third of the Boreal region, is one of North America's largest stores of carbon,” said Dr. David Schindler, a Professor of Biology at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. “It's similar to a bank vault containing one of the world's most valuable and most influential resources for impacting climate change.”

Boreal Soils Rich in Carbon
The third map of the analysis depicts the carbon stored in Canadian Boreal soils. The map shows several carbon hotspots distributed across Canada. Nearly 90 percent of the organic carbon found in Canadian soils occurs in Boreal and Tundra ecosystems.

Canada's Boreal Region is Life-Support for Planet
“Clearly, Canada's Boreal region is a life-support system for the planet because of its key role in carbon storage,” said Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, Director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's Canada Program. “The world recognizes that tackling global warming involves both reducing emissions and stopping deforestation and forest degradation. Obviously, the growing tar sands destruction and associated carbon emissions in Alberta will seriously hamper Canada's ability to meet its commitment under Kyoto. It is our hope that the Canadian government will reduce emissions from tar sands development, continue taking steps to protect the Boreal and recognize its tremendous value as a global carbon storehouse.”

The Canadian Government's Growing Conservation Momentum
Today's maps are released just weeks after two historic government announcements.  On November 21, Canada's federal government announced 25 million acres of new land protection for the Northwest Territories in Canada's Boreal, and in a key speech last week, the provincial government of Ontario pledged to “work with northern and native communities in Ontario's far north to implement a plan that protects the boreal forest—a key contributor in the fight against climate change.”

These announcements were welcomed by conservation groups in both Canada and the United States. Larry Innes, Executive Director of the Canadian Boreal Initiative, noted, “The Government of Canada's move to protect 25 million acres of Boreal land in Canada and the pledge from Ontario are examples of the type action required to protect this critical carbon storehouse.”

Boreal Forests at Bali
Although the forest agenda at the Bali Climate Change Conference focuses on tropical deforestation and degradation, the parties to the conference will also be deciding on a 2008 workplan to discuss forest rules in developed countries as well.  Chris Henschel, the National Manager of Conservation and Climate Change for the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society said “The developed world needs to change forest rules under the Kyoto Protocol to ensure that the carbon stored in ecosystems like the boreal are protected from degradation by industrial activity.”

Advisory of Key Events – Saturday, December 8
The new Boreal Mapping Analysis will be officially released at a press briefing at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, December 8, in the main Auditorium press conference room of the Bali International Convention Centre (BICC) as part of the UN Climate Convention COP in Nusa Dua, Bali, Indonesia. A more in depth discussion will follow at 4:00 p.m. as part of the IBCC Forest Day Side-Event in the Banda Room at the Ayodya Resort in Nusa Dua.

Web Resources
Additional information and full press materials are available at The International Boral Conservation Campaign's website.