Site icon Conservation news

Carbon in Canada's boreal forest worth $3.7 trillion

Carbon in Canada’s boreal forest worth $3.7 trillion

Carbon in Canada’s boreal forest worth $3.7 trillion
Ecosystem services estimated at $93 billion per year
Rhett A. Butler,
November 25, 2005

Carbon stored in Canada’s boreal forests and peatlands is worth $3.7 trillion according to research by the Pembina Institute for the Canadian Boreal Initiative (CBI).

The two-year study puts the value of ecosystem services like water filtration, pest-control services, and carbon storage at $93 billion — roughly 2.5 times greater than the net market value of forestry, hydroelectric, mining, and oil and gas extraction in Canada’s Boreal region.

“We are only just beginning to understand the true value of these services, including flood control, water filtration, climate regulation, and even pest control,” said CBI Director Cathy Wilkinson in a statement. “We have the opportunity to get it right in Canada’s boreal, sustaining its natural capital and ecosystem services, while building other forms of wealth and maintaining community and cultural values.”

The authors of the report, titled “Counting Canada’s Natural Capital: Assessing the Real Value of Canada’s Boreal Ecosystem Services”, challenge traditional metrics for measuring economic growth and wealth, arguing that the failure to account for the value of “natural capital” in land use decisions results in the degradation of natural ecosystems.

“It is indeed time to broaden our understanding of the true “value” of globally important forests such as the boreal,” said Dr. David Schindler, Professor of Ecology at the University of Alberta. “Failure to do so not only ensures continued ecosystem degradation, but the accelerating impoverishment of human societies, ours included.”

The authors hope that the work will help researchers in other parts of the world calculate the value of “natural capital” of ecosystems.

“Our hope is that the Boreal Ecosystem Wealth Accounting System (BEWAS) becomes an international benchmark and an important tool for measuring the conditions and economic values of Canada’s ecosystems, in general, and the Boreal region in particular,” said Mark Winfield of the Pembina Institute for Appropriate Development.

By assessing the true value of Canada’s Boreal region, it will help policymakers understand how these ecosystems can continue to contribute to national well-being says Mark Anielski, an ecological economist and co-author of the report. Going forward, policymakers can use the findings to evaluate Boreal development projects.

“Perhaps now with this report, it will be easier for us to begin to understand and have discussions about why we have to be responsible and not think only in terms of resource extraction and development but in terms of what damage and cost we inflict on ourselves and on the land’s resources in our quest for progress and development”, adds Stephen Kakfwi, former Premier of the Northwest Territories.

Breaking down the numbers

The $3.7 trillion estimate is based on the value of the 67 billion tons of carbon stored in the trees and peatlands of Canada’s Boreal region. According to the report, the annual non-market values include $77-billion for flood control and water filtering by peatlands, $5.4-billion for pest-control services by birds; $4.5-billion for nature-related activities; $3.4-billion for flood control, water filtering, and biodiversity value by non-peatland wetlands, $1.85-billion for carbon sequestration; $575-million in subsistence value for aboriginal peoples; $79- million in non-timber forest products and $18-million for watershed services.

The report estimates the total non-market value of boreal ecosystem services at $93.2 billion, while the net market value of boreal natural capital extraction — from mining, hydroelectric generation, logging, and oil and gas extraction — is pegged at $37.8 billion after deducting for associated costs like federal subsidies for energy producers and the human health toll from air pollution. The result: the ratio of non-market to maret values is around 2.5.

All figures are in Canadian dollars.

Additional background information and a copy of the study are available at

This article uses information and quotes from a Canadian Boreal Initiative news release.

Exit mobile version