Boreal Forests and the Climate Crisis (Part 3)

by Isabel Siggers

In our final installment of this series that explores the role of the boreal forests in the climate crisis, the focus will be on the policies that can protect this important biome. There is a significant lack of policy regarding the boreal forests specifically, and as such current international agreements are insufficient to prevent the worst case scenario from occurring; that being the boreal forests switching from a carbon sink to a carbon source, exacerbating the current climate crisis. 

This article will outline the few policies that do exist, and what steps need to be taken to protect this essential biome. For more information about the boreal forests, the current threats to their survival and how this relates to the climate crisis, please read the two previous installments of this series.

Obstacles to Boreal Forest Protection

Historically, lots of forest conservation efforts have focused on the tropics, one of the largest being the Amazon Rainforest, due in part to the incredible biodiversity present in this biome. The boreal forests may have less apparent biodiversity and may therefore be less of an attractive conservation target, but 98% are controlled by only 6 nations, including the United States of America, Canada and Russia [1]. Given that the governments of these nations are large and wealthy, and given the centuries of forest management for the purposes of resource extraction, the lack of attention and inaction towards boreal forest preservation requires additional explanation.

Global climate change mitigation agreements, such as the Kyoto Protocol and its successor the Paris Agreement have failed to incentivise the preservation of forests for the purpose of carbon sequestration. Under the Kyoto Protocol, the eligibility to receive carbon credits was restricted in the forest management sector, meaning that the benefits from preserving these massive carbon sinks were largely ignored when accessing a country’s net carbon emissions [1]. To make matters worse, emissions from biofuel (timber) are considered carbon neutral by many of the 6 countries who have boreal forests, so there is little desire within these countries to regulate the existing forest harvesting industry [1]. 

Though there have been more negotiations since 2015 (notably the signing of the Paris Agreement), a recent report from the UN Environment Programme “Making good on the Glasgow Climate Pact: a call to action to achieve one gigaton of emissions reductions from forests by 2025” argues that “measured against a milestone of paying for one gigaton of high-integrity emissions reductions from forests by 2025, current public and private commitments are only at 24%” [4]. In this same 60 page report, the boreal forests are only mentioned once (compared to 17 mentions for the tropical forests) [5]. It is clear that the importance of preserving the boreal forests continues to be ignored at the international level, which prevents large scale policy from being formulated.

The Role of Indigenous Communities for Canadian Boreal Forests

While there is a lack of specific policy at the international level, sub-national or regional efforts to protect primary forests (forests that have never been cultivated or otherwise touched by industry) are occurring across Canada, largely by indigenous communities with a historical claim to the land. For example, the Cree First Nation of Waswanipi has been pushing the Quebec government to protect the primary forest in the Broadback River watershed [3]. The dominant strategy from advocates has been to halt clear-cutting of primary forests, and give the indigenous communities the power to manage the forests directly [3]. The focus has also been on protecting huge sections of intact forest, as the intact-ness of the forests is directly correlated with their resiliency, health and success. That is to say, the boreal forest ecosystem as a whole performs best, and is therefore a more effective carbon sink, when it is not fragmented by human activities.

The success of these efforts varies wildly across Canada, as the degree of authority that any given indigenous community has over how its traditional territory is used depends on the laws and historical treaties of the province or territory, as well as the pressure exerted by local industry [2]. Though there are many long term land tenures in place for huge sections of Canada’s forests, the entire biome is essentially “crown land”, and not privately owned. Potential therefore exists for national regulation, in addition to the action being taken by indigenous communities at the regional level.

In order to ensure that the boreal forests continue to act as an important carbon sink, the importance of the boreal forests need to be acknowledged at an international level. After proper acknowledgement of the threat and opportunity this biome poses, incentives must be put in place to encourage forest preservation for the purpose of carbon sequestration. Without action, these forests may switch to carbon sources and exacerbate the already dire climate crisis. 


[1] Jon Moen, Eye on the Taiga: Removing Global Policy Impediments to Safeguard the Boreal Forest, Conservation Letters,, accessed on 8th May 2023.
[2] Jeffrey V. Wells, The State of Conservation in North America’s Boreal Forest: Issues and Opportunities, Frontiers in Forest and Global Change,, accessed on 8th May 2023.
[3] Natural Resources Defense Council, Canada’s Boreal Forest: Why It’s So Important,, accessed on 8th May 2023.
[4] UN Environment Programme, Commitments for forests are nowhere near what is needed to reach Paris Agreement ambition – UN report,, accessed on 8th May 2023.
[5] UN Environment Programme, Making good on the Glasgow Climate Pact: a call to action to achieve one gigaton of emissions reductions from forests by 2025,, accessed on 8th May 2023.
Categories Biodiversity

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