Natural carbon sinks could play a small but significant role in climate strategy

National report highlights opportunities and challenges involved in protecting Canada’s forests, wetlands, grasslands and croplands.

EDMONTON — Canada’s carbon-capturing natural areas can play a small — but effective — part in the country’s overall strategy to lower greenhouse gas emissions, according to a report that includes two University of Alberta experts.

The report shows that nature-based climate solutions (NBCSs), which includes fully protecting, restoring or expanding Canada’s forests, wetlands, grasslands and croplands, result in a modest drop in annual greenhouse gas emissions and could also have other environmental benefits.

The findings suggest there is a place for NBCSs in Canada’s overall strategy to mitigate climate change, says Vic Adamowicz, an environmental economist in the Faculty of Agricultural, Life & Environmental Sciences who served on the panel along with colleague David Olefeldt.

Among the key conclusions was that some NBCSs come with additional benefits, including better flood control, better air and water quality, higher biodiversity and property values, and lower soil erosion and urban heat island effects. 

That finding shows the importance of considering the value of NBCSs beyond their costs and the ability to capture carbon, suggests Olefeldt, a wetlands scientist.

“When looking at conservation and restoration, the policy frameworks should not be just focused on the climate benefits; the consideration needs to be more holistic.” 

The report also noted that fully implementing NBCSs would mitigate about six per cent of Canada’s current annual greenhouse gas emissions, but would also involve a variety of complex factors that need to be weighed carefully.

For example, costs, policies, technical impediments and other challenges made some NBCSs more feasible than others, including income loss to resource and agricultural industries when land is set aside for preservation.

“We have to do a lot of things to get to net zero, and using natural systems is one of the options; it can play a role and generate some co-benefits, so let's look at it and start choosing the ones that would work well,” Adamowicz adds.

The full story can be found here. To speak with Vic Adamowicz or David Olefeldt about the report, please contact:

Debra Clark
U of A communications associate