Biological Diversity Ecosystem Condition and Productivity Soil and Water Role in Global Ecological Cycles Economic and Social Benefits Society's Responsibility
Carbon Cycle
Indicator 4.1.1 - Net change in forest ecosystem carbon Indicator 4.1.2 - Forest ecosystem carbon storage by forest type and age class Indicator 4.1.3 - Net change in forest products carbon Indicator 4.1.4 - Forest sector carbon emissions
Indicator 4.1.4 - Forest sector carbon emissions
core indicator


Concentrations of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere are increasing as a result of human activity, primarily due to emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) from burned fossil fuels. In its 2001 assessment, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded there is increasing evidence that most of the global warming observed over the past 50 years is attributable to human activity (IPCC 2001).

To address this issue, over 185 nations, including Canada, have ratified the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) that aims to stabilize atmospheric GHG concentrations at a level that would prevent dangerous human interference with the climate system. The 1997 Kyoto Protocol to the UNFCCC established specific emission limitation targets for industrialized countries that should be met by 2008-12. The Protocol, which Canada ratified in 2002, came into effect in February 2005 and international negotiations began at the end of 2005 on further actions to be taken after 2012. All industrial sectors can help Canada contribute toward the goal of the UNFCCC by reducing their GHG emissions through increased energy efficiency and clean energy use.

This indicator reports forest sector GHG emission estimates from 1980 to 2002, compiled by Natural Resources Canada using Environment Canada GHG emission factors (emissions per unit of energy) and energy use data from Statistics Canada. All activities that use fossil fuels emit CO2 along with small quantities of methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O), and the three gases are included in the emission estimates. To allow data aggregation, the more potent CH4 and N2O emissions are converted to CO2 equivalents using standard IPCC conversion factors.

The forest sector includes forestry and logging, pulp and paper manufacturing, and wood products manufacturing.1 Collectively, these industries use large quantities of energy in harvesting, transporting, and processing timber to produce pulp, paper, lumber, and other wood products. As a result, the forest sector is the largest single industrial energy user in Canada and has significant GHG emissions. Some fossil fuels are cleaner than others. For example, natural gas emits fewer GHGs per unit of energy than refined petroleum. Some energy sources, such as hydro or nuclear power, have no emissions. Bioenergy, such as that derived from wood chips or black liquor in pulp mills, is also assumed to have no CO2 emissions, as these emissions have already been included in the estimates of carbon stock changes in the forest ecosystem (Indicator 4.1.1).

In this report, direct and indirect GHG emissions are combined. Direct emissions result from fossil fuel use by the forest sector, while indirect emissions stem from the fossil fuels used in producing the sector's purchased electricity. Electricity is a major energy source for the sector, especially for pulp and paper production, so indirect emissions are included in the estimates since they provide a more complete picture of the total emissions associated with the sector. Electricity is provided through a grid, making it difficult to determine exactly what fuel was used in producing the electricity purchased by the sector. Because of this, indirect emissions are estimated using average GHG emission factors for electricity produced by utilities in Canada.

The estimates reported here cover only forestry and logging, and pulp and paper manufacturing because the lack of consistent data prevents the development of a full set of energy and emissions data for wood products manufacturing from 1980 to 2002. However, from 1995 to 2002, wood products accounted for only about 8% of the energy use and 14% of the emissions (direct and indirect) of the forest sector. The emissions stemming from the transportation services used by the sector are also missing from the estimates.

The sector's use of fossil fuels, which include coal, refined petroleum products, and natural gas, fell slightly from 1980 to 2002 while emission-free energy sources rose substantially (Figure 4.1f). As a result, bioenergy's share of the total energy used by the sector increased from 47% in 1980 to over 55% in 2002, while hydropower and nuclear energy rose from 13% to 18%. Over 70% of the sector's electricity needs are now met through emission-free hydro and nuclear power generation. The remainder is met through the use of electricity produced using fossil fuels or, less significantly, bioenergy.

Although there was significant variability over the study period, the forest sector's GHG emissions in 2002 were unchanged from 1980, despite a 23% increase in energy use (Figure 4.1g). Significant improvements in energy efficiency producing more output per unit of energy used and greater reliance on cleaner fuels (Figure 4.1f) helped to limit growth in both energy use and emissions while production of pulp and paper increased by over 30%.

Direct emissions declined by almost 40% over the study period mainly because of large reductions in the use of refined petroleum products (Figure 4.1h). At the same time, the sector's indirect emissions from fossil fuel electricity almost doubled mainly because electricity was the fastest growing energy source for the sector. Increased fossil fuel use by electricity generators was another contributing factor.

The data shown here represent trends in the forest sector. However, the inclusion of complete energy and emissions data since 1980 for wood products manufacturing, and for the transportation services used by the sector, would certainly improve this indicator.

Figure 4.1f

Figure 4.1f Forest sector energy sources.
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Figure 4.1g

Figure 4.1g GHG energy emissions and total energy use.
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Figure 4.1h

Figure 4.1h GHG emissions by fuel type.
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1 For this indicator, the forest sector is defined to include the following industries and their North American Industry Classification (NAICS) codes: Forestry and Logging (NAICS 113); Support Activities for Forestry (NAICS 1153); Paper Manufacturing (NAICS 322), which includes pulp, paper, and paperboard mills; and Wood Products Manufacturing (NAICS 321).