New study reveals that nature can deliver immediate impact in Canada’s fight to tackle the climate crisis

Saturday, June 5, 2021

Waterloo researchers contribute to new science led by Nature United

By protecting, better managing, and restoring nature, Canada can reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, concludes Nature United’s ground-breaking Natural Climate Solutions for Canada. The new study published in Science Advances shows that Natural Climate Solutions can help Canada mitigate up to 78 Mt CO2e annually in 2030—an amount equal to the current greenhouse gas emissions from powering every single home in Canada for about three years.

boreal forest floor Building on global and American studies, Nature United collaborated with 16 institutions and 38 leading experts from academia, governments, and non-governmental organizations in Canada and the United States to analyze Canada-specific pathways to implement Natural Climate Solutions. [From Nature United media release, June 4th, 2021.]

“Natural Climate Solutions draw on the power of nature to help reduce emissions, remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and store it in natural systems” (The Nature Conservancy, 2017).

IC3 spoke with Waterloo experts, Professor Maria Strack and Postdoctoral Fellow Scott J. Davidson, about the study and how they contributed with their work on peatlands.

An integral part of this work is determining how resilient peatland ecosystems are to land-use and climatic changes. As part of the Natural Climate Solutions for Canada study, Strack and Davidson synthesized the current data available on peatland carbon cycling across Canada and used available datasets on anthropogenic disturbances to identify the role these ecosystems can play as a Natural Climate Solution. 

“There are many co-benefits to managing ecosystems as natural climate solutions” says Maria Strack, Professor in the department of Geography and Environmental Management. “Protecting an ecosystem to enhance carbon storage also results in the protection of biodiversity, provision of recreation opportunities, improved water quality and many other valuable ecosystem services.”

Strack and Davidson conduct research that look at both improving our understanding of how disturbances such as resource extraction can impact ecosystem functioning in peatlands and methods to mitigate that impact. This work highlights the scale of these disturbances and helps us better understand the need for effective restoration practices. By contributing to the Natural Climate Solutions for Canada study, Strack and Davidson had the opportunity to build on their existing peatland restoration work and translate those research results into policy-relevant information.

“Understanding the role peatlands can play as a natural climate solution is a hot topic at the moment” explains Scott J. Davidson, postdoc in the Department of Geography and Environmental Management. “Peatlands are incredible carbon stores and cover almost 13% of the land area in Canada. This makes them one our best players in the fight against climate change. However, disturbances from increasing land-use change such as resource extraction has the potential to switch them from a carbon sink to a significant source of carbon.”

The Natural Climate Solutions for Canada study brings together experts from across Canada and allows for the first time an estimate of the potential of Natural Climate Solutions nationally. The study’s findings highlight the ability for Natural Climate Solutions as actions to protect, better manage and restore nature to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Combined with cutting fossil-fuel use, boosting energy efficiency and accelerating clean-energy innovation, Natural Climate Solutions offer powerful and cost-effective ways to tackle the climate crisis.

Visit Nature United for more details on the study and to download the full manuscript.

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