WASHINGTON, DC - April 10 - Logging in Canada’s Boreal forest is exacerbating global warming by releasing greenhouse gases and reducing carbon storage, according to a Greenpeace investigation released today. Increased logging also makes the Boreal forest, which stores 205 billion tons of carbon (equivalent to 27 times the world’s annual fossil fuel emissions), more susceptible to global warming impacts such as forest fires, which in turn release more greenhouse gases. If this vicious circle is left unchecked, it could culminate in a massive and sudden release of greenhouse gases referred to as a “carbon bomb,” the report warns. A widespread outbreak of forest or peat fires could release much of this carbon, causing a disastrous spike in global emissions.
The Greenpeace report, “Turning Up the Heat: Global Warming and the Degradation of Canada’s Boreal Forest,” brings together the best science on the Boreal Forest and global warming. It recommends that intact areas of the Boreal Forest should be made off-limits to logging and other industrial activity?particularly in its biologically rich southern regions?to curb this dangerous cycle.
“Governments, industry, and the public need to act to protect what is left of the Boreal forest,” said Rolf Skar, senior forest campaigner with Greenpeace. “If unsustainable logging and mining continue to fragment one of our last remaining ancient forests, resulting carbon emissions could put the world’s climate at greater risk.”
Elizabeth Nelson, a researcher at the University of Toronto and co-author of the report, cautions that logging continues to cause greenhouse gas emissions long after the trees are gone. “Over two-thirds of the carbon stored in the Boreal forest is found in its soils. When the forest cover is removed, the soil decays, releasing additional carbon dioxide into the atmosphere over the following months, years and even decades,” she said.
The report also concludes that logging removes roughly 36 million tons of above-ground carbon from Canada’s Boreal Forest each year- more carbon than is emitted each year by all the passenger vehicles in Canada combined. The area of North American Boreal burned by forest fires doubled between 1970 and 1990. As forest fires become larger, more frequent, and more intense, increasing amounts of carbon dioxide are released into the atmosphere.
Another climate impact hastened by Boreal logging and highlighted in the investigation is the accelerated melting of permafrost. When permafrost melts, carbon dioxide and methane—a greenhouse gas 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide—are released into the atmosphere. Intact forest cover may delay this melt for decades or even centuries. Intact areas of the Boreal forest resist and recover from fires, insect outbreaks, and other impacts better than areas that are fragmented due to logging. These areas also give trees, plants, and wildlife the best chances of migrating, adapting, and surviving in a changing climate.