Carbon Profile of the Managed Forest Sector in Canada in the 20th Century: Sink or Source?

Canada contains 10% of global forests and has been one of the world’s largest harvested wood products (HWP) producers. Therefore, Canada’s managed forest sector, the managed forest area and HWP, has the potential to significantly increase or reduce atmospheric greenhouse gases. Using the most comprehensive carbon balance analysis to date, this study shows Canada’s managed forest area and resulting HWP were a sink of 7510 and 849 teragrams carbon (TgC), respectively, in the period 1901–2010, exceeding Canada’s fossil fuel-based emissions over this period (7333 TgC). If Canadian HWP were not produced and used for residential construction, and instead more energy intensive materials were used, there would have been an additional 790 TgC fossil fuel-based emissions. Because the forest carbon increases in the 20th century were mainly due to younger growing forests that resulted from disturbances in the 19th century, and future increases in forest carbon stocks appear uncertain, in coming decades most of the mitigation contribution from Canadian forests will likely accrue from wood substitution that reduces fossil fuel-based emissions and stores carbon, so long as those forests are managed sustainably.