By David Bysouth, Julee J. Boan, Jay R. Malcolm, Anthony R. Taylor
Recent research has shown forest-related emissions reported in national greenhouse gas inventories are much lower than global estimates from models summarized in Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports. A substantial part of this discrepancy could be explained by conceptual differences in what is counted as part of the anthropogenic forest carbon sink and the way countries report on their forest harvesting sectors. With Canada as a case study, we used published National Inventory Report and Common Reporting Format tables to isolate emissions and removals directly associated with forestry from those associated with forests more broadly. Forestry-related factors that affect CO2 emissions and removals include tree harvesting, post-harvest forest regeneration and growth, and carbon storage in long-lived harvested wood products. We found that between 2005 and 2021, forestry in Canada represented a net source of carbon (annual mean = 90.8 Mt. CO2e), and that total area logged was a significant predictor of net forestry emissions. In contrast, Canada’s NIR reported a small net carbon sink during the same time period (annual mean = −4.7 Mt. CO2e). We show this discrepancy can be explained by Canada’s GHG reporting approach that claims GHG emissions from wildfires are natural, but GHG removals from forests at the age of commercial maturity, despite being primarily natural disturbance origin, are anthropogenic. This reporting approach may lead to climate mitigation policies that are ineffectual or detrimental to reducing net carbon in the global atmosphere.