11 Thriving Ecosystems

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Maintaining and improving the health of Canada’s ecosystems can provide multiple benefits that contribute to clean growth, including:

  • Sequestering and storing carbon. Preserving and restoring ecosystems can contribute to efforts to reduce Canada’s GHG emissions. 
  • Supporting resilience in a changing climate. Ecosystem services such as local climate regulation, flood moderation, air filtration, and soil erosion prevention can help reduce climate impacts and related costs.
  • Underpinning economic growth and human well-being more broadly. Healthy ecosystems provide clean water, clean air, food, natural resources, recreational space, and wildlife habitat and are integral to Indigenous cultures. 

Nature-based climate change policies—such as Indigenous-led ecosystem management, ecosystem-based carbon offsets or natural infrastructure investments—offer the potential to generate both climate and non-climate benefits. Yet a changing climate, coupled with human activities, is leading to loss and degradation of ecosystems and the services they provide, reducing the capacity of ecosystems to offset GHG emissions and support resilience. Measuring the state, functions, and trends of ecosystems can help track progress in protecting natural assets but also inform the design of nature-based climate policies that provide multiple climate and non-climate benefits. 

Headline Indicator #11: Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry 

Ideally, we would track metrics that account for climate and non-climate services provided by ecosystems. This would help identify the full implications of changes in ecosystems due to human activities and natural disturbances. The best national-level climate-related ecosystem indicator currently available measures anthropogenic carbon sequestration (sinks) and emissions (sources) associated with land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF) on managed lands for the purposes of Canada’s GHG emission reporting under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Figure 11.1 illustrates the change in GHG emissions from different LULUCF categories in Canada between 2005 and 2018. 

For the purposes of UNFCCC reporting and the setting of GHG reduction targets, the Government of Canada estimates LULUCF as a net carbon sink in 2018, sequestering around 130 Mt of net CO2 equivalent in total. Given the linkages between managed forest land and harvested wood products, they can be considered together as a net sink of around 10 Mt of CO2e in 2018. Croplands are the second-largest sink (ECCC, 2020). While this indicator does not capture natural disturbances, such as wildfires or insects, or all ecosystems and their services, trends over time give an approximate sense of the role ecosystems play in Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions. The goal is to see overall sinks grow over time.

  1. In 2015, clear cutting was the most common harvesting method and was used in 85 per cent of total harvested areas across Canada, though burning logging slash is more prevalent in B.C. due to differing regulatory and economic circumstances (Statistics Canada, 2018).