WWF-Canada debuts new research that pinpoints location of critical carbon stores across Canada


Glasgow, Scotland, Nov. 10, 2021

A new study by WWF-Canada, led by researchers at McMaster University’s Remote Sensing Laboratory, reveals, for the first time, how much carbon is stored in Canada’s landscapes, and the locations of the most carbon-rich areas.

It found a total of 327 Pg — that’s 327 billion tonnes — of carbon stored in ecosystems across Canada, the equivalent to about 25 years of human-caused global greenhouse gas emissions, at 2019 emission levels. The findings have been mapped to show the density of carbon — in different geographic locations — in trees and other plants all the way to two metres below ground.

It’s the first-ever comprehensive analysis of its kind and has major implications for conservation actions – particularly as a tool for guiding nature-based climate solutions. The study will be presented at the WWF-International Pavilion at COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland, today, Nov. 10, at 11:00 AM Eastern Time. Watch the livestream here.

The findings show that 94 per cent of carbon in Canada (306 Pg) is found in the top one metre of soil, with 32 per cent of that found in peatlands. This indicates that a quarter of the world’s soil carbon stock is found in Canada — a disproportionate amount that brings with it a global responsibility. The rest of Canada’s carbon is found in plant biomass (trees, other plants, dead plant material and roots).

Areas of particularly high densities of carbon include the old growth forests of coastal British Columbia, large swaths of boreal forest, and the globally significant peatlands in the Hudson and James Bay Lowlands.

High-carbon landscapes play an important role in regulating the Earth’s climate by removing carbon from the atmosphere and storing it in natural ecosystems. If these ecosystems are disturbed, that stored carbon can be released back to the atmosphere, accelerating climate change.

“The findings of this study are monumental for conservation in Canada, and across the world. Knowing where carbon is stored in Canada allows us to strategically protect and manage the right places to prevent billions of tonnes of carbon from being released into the atmosphere. Protecting these areas will also benefit wildlife by safeguarding habitat for important species at risk,” says Megan Leslie, WWF-Canada President and CEO.

WWF-Canada has recommended several actions based on the study’s findings, including methods for avoiding the conversion or degradation of carbon-rich landscapes, as well as creating a Carbon Guardians program to support interested Indigenous communities in monitoring and measuring ecosystem carbon on their lands.

“The results of this new analysis come at a pivotal time for action. There is a great opportunity and responsibility for Canada to steward these important carbon storage areas for the global climate, and do so in a way that supports and empowers Indigenous Peoples’ rights, knowledge systems and cultures,” says James Snider, vice-president of Science, Knowledge and Innovation at WWF-Canada.

“The Hudson and James Bay Lowlands are covered by peatlands which are an incredibly dense and globally significant carbon storage area. These carbon-rich areas are known as the “breathing lands” to our Elders, and hold significant cultural value for the communities in the region,” says Vern Cheechoo, Director of Lands and Resources at the Mushkegowuk Council.


How did we map Canada’s carbon stores?

Over the span of two years, researchers fed data from existing soil samples collected from across the country, as well as long-term satellite data and topographic and climate variables, into a machine-learning algorithm. Researchers were able to estimate carbon at a 250-metre spatial resolution in different carbon pools (soils and plant biomass), as well as at multiple depths (1–2 metres).

“Tens of thousands of field measurements were fed into a machine-learning algorithm to train satellite observations, including space-based laser scanning data, to estimate carbon stocks in plant biomass and soils across Canada. The resulting national carbon map will have a huge impact on the way conservation activities and policies are approached to prioritize nature-based climate solutions,” says Alemu Gonsamo, assistant professor at McMaster University’s Remote Sensing Laboratory.

Key numbers:

  • Total amount of carbon stored in Canada: 405 Pg (405 billion tonnes)
  • Plant biomass: 21 Pg
  • Soil (top 1 metre): 384 Pg (peatlands account for 92 Pg of this)

B-roll and photos as well as map assets available upon request.

This research will play a key role in WWF-Canada’s 10-year plan, and its goals to restore one million hectares of lost complex ecosystems, protect and steward 100 million hectares of ecologically rich habitat and reduce carbon emissions by 30 million tonnes.

Mapping Canada’s Carbon Landscape was completed in partnership with McMaster University’s Remote Sensing Lab and is generously supported by Maple Leaf Foods Inc. and the Metcalf Foundation.

“As increased carbon emissions and other greenhouse gases are a major accelerator of climate change, Maple Leaf Foods is proud to support this groundbreaking research alongside WWF-Canada, the Metcalf Foundation and McMaster University,” said Tim Faveri, VP, Sustainability and Shared Value, Maple Leaf Foods. “As the first major carbon neutral food company in the world, we recognize the study’s significance in deepening understanding of how to prioritize future conservation and soil regeneration efforts. This baseline is vitally important to the future generations of all Canadians.”


About World Wildlife Fund Canada 
WWF-Canada is committed to equitable and effective conservation actions that restore nature, reverse wildlife loss and fight climate change. We draw on scientific analysis and Indigenous guidance to ensure all our efforts connect to a single goal: a future where wildlife, nature and people thrive. For more information visit wwf.ca.

About McMaster University

McMaster University is Canada’s most research-intensive university and is consistently ranked as one of the world’s Top 100 universities. Together, our researchers, students and staff advance human and societal health and well-being, creating a Brighter World.

About Maple Leaf Foods

Maple Leaf Foods Inc. (“Maple Leaf Foods”) is a carbon neutral company with a vision to be the most sustainable protein company on earth, responsibly producing food products under leading brands including Maple Leaf®, Maple Leaf Prime®, Maple Leaf Natural Selections®, Schneiders®, Schneiders® Country Naturals®, Mina®, Greenfield Natural Meat Co.®, Lightlife® and Field Roast™. Maple Leaf Foods employs approximately 13,500 people and does business in Canada, the U.S. and Asia. The company is headquartered in Mississauga, Ontario, and its shares trade on the Toronto Stock Exchange (MFI).

About Metcalf Foundation

The Metcalf Foundation enhances the effectiveness of people and organizations working together to help Canadians imagine and build a just, healthy, and creative society. We create change by working at the intersection of climate, biodiversity, and sustainable livelihoods; focusing on sustainable economic opportunities for low-income people and communities in Toronto; and supporting individual leadership and organizational innovation in the performing arts. https://metcalffoundation.com/