Research from SFU scientists informs climate change mitigation report

SFU professors Kirsten Zickfeld and Karen Kohfeld are part of an expert panel contributing to a new report released this week investigating the potential contribution of nature-based climate solutions (NBCS) to meeting Canada’s climate change mitigation commitments.

Zickfeld, Kohfeld and other contributing researchers comprise the Expert Panel on Canada’s Carbon Sink Potential from the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA). The CCA was tasked to produce the report for Environment and Climate Change Canada along with six other supporting federal departments and agencies.

The Nature-Based Climate Solutions report arrives ahead of the UN Biodiversity Conference (COP15) where world leaders will convene in Montreal to develop a framework guiding actions to end biodiversity loss.

What are Nature-Based Climate Solutions?

Oceans, soil and forests are natural carbon sinks - they absorb and store a certain amount of carbon preventing it from escaping into the atmosphere and contributing to rising greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations and climate change.

NBCS refers to the protection, management and restoration of ecosystems and how these actions can improve carbon sequestration or reduce GHG emissions.

Research highlights

Zickfeld is a distinguished professor of climate science at SFU geography and released a paper earlier this year finding that even temporary NBCS can have a tangible climate benefit. Her research involved using a global climate model to simulate temperature change through two scenarios ranging from weak to ambitious greenhouse gas emissions reductions.

The study results showed that temporary NBCS can lower global peak warming levels but only if implemented alongside a rapid transition to zero fossil-fuel emissions.

Kohfeld is a professor and director at SFU-s School of Environmental Science and professor in the School of Resource and Environmental Management. Her work has focused on quantifying blue carbon storage in salt marshes and eelgrass meadows along the Pacific coast of Canada.

In one recent study , Kohfeld and team estimated how much carbon the salt marsh at Boundary Bay in Delta, B.C. was able to absorb and capture by studying sediment core samples. The authors note that quantifying carbon stocks and carbon accumulation rates is a first step towards improved management, restoration and preservation of salt marshes in B.C.

Panel findings

The panel notes that NBCS can play a modest but important role in contributing to Canada’s greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation goals but needs to be part of a host of actions across all sectors of the economy. Although having only a modest potential to mitigate Canada’s GHG emissions, NBCSs can bring about other benefits, including biodiversity conservation, coastal flood control, improved air and water quality, reduced soil erosion, reduced urban heat-island effects.

The authors note that the permanence and feasibility of various NBCS need to be considered as well as co-benefits and trade-offs. They say attempts to enhance carbon sequestration in ecosystems across the country will require meaningful cooperation among multiple levels of government, as well as various industry and community stakeholders.

Meaningful cooperation includes the incorporation of Indigenous knowledge and leadership, including stewardship over land and water, especially as it relates to self-determination, self-governance, and local environmental control.