December 6, 2022

Nature-Based Climate Solutions

The Expert Panel on Canada’s Carbon Sink Potential


As a signatory to the Paris Agreement, the Government of Canada has committed to reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to at least 40% below 2005 levels by 2030. The Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act also commits Canada to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. Nature-based climate solutions (NBCSs) may help the federal government achieve climate change mitigation commitments by intentionally increasing carbon sequestration or reducing emissions from natural systems.

A globally significant stock of carbon is stored in Canada’s vast and ecologically diverse landscapes, from wetlands to forests, grasslands to croplands, and across marine coastal zones. Development and land-use changes can degrade natural carbon stocks, leading to the release of more GHGs. Keeping those stocks intact and actively managing related systems to reduce GHG emissions could help in efforts to combat climate change.

Nature-Based Climate Solutions provides an overview of the mitigation potential of natural carbon sinks, including the global significance of Canadian carbon sinks; options for enhancing carbon sequestration or reducing emissions in various ecosystems; and the potential co-benefits and barriers to implementing NBCSs in Canada. The report also explores how Indigenous Peoples are key partners in carbon sequestration initiatives in Canada.

The sponsor:

Environment and Climate Change Canada

The question:

What is the potential for nature-based solutions to help meet Canada’s GHG emission reduction goals by enhancing carbon sequestration and storage, and reducing emissions, in managed and unmanaged areas (e.g., wetlands, agricultural and forest systems, harvested wood, and as blue (marine) carbon), and taking into account the major non-CO2 climate impacts that can be reliably estimated (e.g., non-CO2 GHG emissions, albedo, and aerosols)?

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In Canada, and elsewhere, NBCSs are being investigated for their potential to reduce atmospheric GHGs by enhancing carbon sequestration and/or reducing emissions. But to achieve this, a better understanding of how the protection, restoration, and management of ecosystems may enhance GHG sequestration is needed.

Report findings

  • NBCSs are affected by ecosystem responses to a changing climate, can produce additional climate effects, and have mitigation potentials that operate on different timescales.
  • National estimates of NBCS mitigation potential in Canada are based on limited evidence and remain highly uncertain.
  • Successful implementation of NBCSs can play a supporting role in achieving Canada’s GHG reduction targets but would need to supplement stringent GHG reduction policies across sectors.
  • Forest, agricultural land, grassland, and peatland NBCSs have the highest national GHG mitigation potential over the next three decades.
  • The vulnerability of Canada’s carbon stocks represents a significant climate change liability that could easily counteract any identified mitigation potential.
  • Indigenous self-determination is a precondition and catalyst for the implementation, adoption, and long-term deployment of NBCSs.
  • A comprehensive assessment of carbon sink potential must consider political and socioeconomic aspects related to feasibility and cost of implementation.
  • Increased monitoring of NBCSs is needed to realize their full potential.
  • Wider implementation of many NBCSs in Canada may be desirable due to their co-benefits, even without additional carbon sequestration.
  • A better understanding of the value of co-benefits, supported by policy, can help to reduce perceived market-related trade-offs.
  • Behavioural barriers are significant yet uncertain elements when determining the feasibility of NBCSs.
  • Applying NBCSs can help lessen the risks of rising GHG emissions from Canadian ecosystems, which are of global significance and represent a liability to successful global climate change mitigation.

Expert Panel

The Expert Panel on Canada’s Carbon Sink Potential