Carbone boréal is both a greenhouse gas (GHG) offset program, which plants trees, and a research infrastructure at UQAC.
Carbone boréal allows organizations and individuals to offset greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from their businesses, organizations, activities, family life, etc. The plantations also serve as university research facilities, available to the scientific community.
Carbone boréal was set up in 2008 and officially became a research infrastructure at UQAC in the spring of 2018, ensuring the long-term sustainability of the project. The research infrastructure is under the supervision of a full professor and an executive committee. A scientific committee is also mandated to discuss scientific issues.
Carbone boréal’s plantations are made available to any researcher, inside and outside UQAC, who wish to use the facilities and associated resources to carry out research. In addition to being able to offset GHG emissions, governments, businesses and the general public all benefit from the work carried out on the plantation network since they advance knowledge on climate change (see the FAQ “What is Carbone boréal’s research about?).
The plantations are mainly located in the boreal forest north of Lac-St-Jean but also on unsuitable agricultural lands.
The plantations of the forestry network of Carbone boréal are established on lands of the public domain considered as non-forests by the forest inventories of the Ministry of Forests Wildlife and Parks of Quebec called dry open woodlands (OW). These OW are mainly located in the spruce-moss domain of the boreal forest, approximately between the 49th and 52nd parallels. The black spruce (Picea mariana) is the dominant tree species, representing more than 75% of the forest cover in the spruce-moss forest domain.
Open woodlands result from regeneration accidents (successive fires or insect epidemics), during which closed stands of the spruce-moss forest are converted to open stands (percentage of recovery is less than 25 %). Over the past 50 years, a gradual increase in the surface of the boreal forest covered by OWs has been observed. Approximately 7% of the spruce-moss domain, about 1.7 M ha, is made up of OWs, of which almost 10% is located less than 5 km from the existing road network.
For the agricultural component, the plantations are located on uncultivated lands or areas inappropriate for agriculture. This includes slides, rocky grounds and notches, steep slopes, gravel pits, etc. The land is selected in collaboration with the Quebec’s Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. The plantations are currently established in the Lac-St-Jean region, but may eventually be established in other regions if necessary.
The amount of CO2 compensated is based on the sequestration of a black spruce in the boreal forest. The study by Gaboury et al (2009) has shown that a black spruce from Carbone boréal’s plantations will capture 140 kg (0.14 t) of CO2 eq. over a period of 70 years. This value is used to determine the number of trees to be planted to offset the GHG emissions calculated by Carbone boréal’s calculator, which uses the best scientific data (emission factors) available.
Carbon offsets aim to completely remove from the atmosphere the equivalent of GHG that have been emitted by a given activity (See the FAQ “What is a carbon footprint?”). This therefore requires a rigorous accounting of emissions in order to precisely determine the level of compensation necessary to reach a zero-emission balance sheet.
The Carbone boréal compensation level is based on a study conducted by UQAC’s researchers (Gaboury et al., 2009). This study calculated the net carbon sequestration balance between an unmanaged natural OW and a landscaped and afforested OW with black spruce. The results demonstrated a carbon sequestration potential of 77 t C ha-1 70 years after afforestation, i.e. a net sequestration rate of 1.1 t C ha-1 year-1 (resulting from the absorption of 4 t CO2 eq. ha-1 year-1). For a single black spruce, this represents a sequestration of 140 kg of CO2 eq over a period of 70 years.
A life cycle analysis (LCA) was also carried out in this study in order to assess the GHG emissions related to afforestation of OW. This LCA has demonstrated that all operations related to OW afforestation (nearly 40 processes, from the production of seeds and plants to road construction to the monitoring of plantations) represent less than 0.5% of the net C balance after 70 years.
Examples: since it is estimated that a black spruce in the boreal forest sequesters an average of 140 kg of CO2 over the first 70 years of its life, it follows that a single black spruce can offset the emissions of a compact car travelling 736 km (0.19 kg CO2 emitted per km), corresponding to a Saguenay-Drummondville return trip; one hectare of a mature black spruce plantation (2,000 trees) can sequester the annual consumption (20,000 km) of more than 70 compact cars.
Yes, by offsetting emissions via the website you make a donation that contributes to the funding of research carried out by the Carbone boréal team. As a consequence, a receipt will be issued to you at the end of the year.
All the money collected on Carbone boréal’s website is in the form of a donation and transits through the UQAC Development Fund. People and organizations that offset their GHG emissions with Carbone boréal will therefore receive a charitable donation receipt, tax deductible, for any cumulative compensation of more than 20 CAD per year. Receipts are sent automatically by mail in February of the following year.
In the agricultural component, compensation for one ton of CO2 eq. costs 35 CAD (5 CAD / tree) instead of 28 CAD (4 CAD / tree) in the forestry component. The difference is paid in royalties to farmers / land owners where the plantations are located. The fraction collected by Carbone boréal (excluding the amount serving as royalty) can give access to a charitable donation receipt.
A register is kept, updated and published monthly on the Carbone boréal website. Each contribution is assigned a unique number in the register.
In order to ensure the follow-up and to avoid double counting, each new compensation is recorded in the Carbone boréal register. This register is updated every month and publicly available on the website, under the “Register and cards” tab. Each contribution is assigned a unique number in the register. The names of donator / organizations, etc. as well as the georeferenced system / plantation in which the allocated trees for CO2 sequestration is located are listed. Trees are allocated only once and when all trees of a plantation have been allocated, we move on to the next plantation.
Thereafter, an offset certificate is sent electronically to the person or organization who compensated. This certificate is an official proof that the compensation has been recorded and that the trees have been allocated. The name of the contributor, the number of tons of CO2 compensated, the number of planted trees and a description of the activity which motivates the compensation are indicated. The certificate also includes a unique number linked to the Carbone boréal register.
Yes, Carbone boréal’s plantations and sequestration claims are validated by an independent third party (the Bureau de normalization du Québec (BNQ)) according to ISO 14064-2 and 3 standards. The trees allocated for your compensation exist and sequester the amount of CO2 guaranteed by Carbone boréal.
Any credible compensation organization must be verified by an independent third party. The compensation offered by Carbone boréal therefore includes a rigorous and transparent verification protocol. The net carbon sequestration quantification and monitoring protocol conforms to the international standard ISO 14064-2 and has been validated by the Canadian Standards Association (CSA). The plantations are then verified according to ISO 14064-3 by the Bureau de normalization du Québec (BNQ), an independent and accredited third party. Carbone boréal was audited twice, in 2012 and 2018. Reports of past verifications can be viewed at any time on the Carbone boréal website. Verification is part of normal management procedures and must be carried out at regular intervals to cover the new installations.
Based on the verification procedures, the BNQ has stated that Carbone boréal’s GHG sequestration declaration is fair and that the principles of accuracy, relevance, completeness, consistency, transparency and prudence have been respected in agreement with the ISO 14064 norm. This means that people who contribute to Carbone boréal are assured that the best guidelines, standards and practices for carbon sequestration have been followed and that the precautions taken to ensuring the additionality and permanence of GHGs offsets are satisfactory.
Carbone boréal’s plantations meet the criteria of additionality because the biological sequestration of the CO2 in the plantations is greater than what would have happened in the normal course of business (that is, with no plantation). In addition, there is no legislative requirement that reforestation be carried out in the areas where our plantations are established.
Carbone boréal is a research infrastructure of the University of Quebec at Chicoutimi. As such, each of Carbone boréal’s plantations is an opportunity to study carbon sequestration and additionality.
In order to meet the additionality criterion, one must ensure that the biological sequestration of CO2 resulting from the plantation (through the growth of trees) is additional to the business-as-usual scenario, which is commonly referred to as the “baseline scenario”. For the additionality principle to be met, two conditions are necessary: 1) the “afforestation scenario”, that is to say with interventions aimed at increasing the capacity of carbon sinks, should not be mandatory following the current law; and 2) the carbon sequestration in the “afforestation scenario” must be greater than what would naturally occur without intervention.
For each Carbone boréal’s project included in forestry network, the baseline scenario is an open woodland of the boreal zone (see FAQ # 2). It has been scientifically demonstrated that there is not enough natural regeneration in these open woodlands to ensure a return to a closed stand. For the agricultural component of Carbone boréal, the reference scenario are areas unsuitable for agriculture (on steep slopes, slides, rock outcrops, etc.). These areas are also eligible for reforestation in an agricultural area according to the Quebec’s Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. No plan, directive, regulation or program requires sites from the forestry network and from the agricultural component to be afforested.
Carbone boréal is the first GHG offset project dedicated to supporting scientific research. The afforestation of open woodlands allows the biological sequestration of carbon to go beyond the normal course of business (see FAQ # 3). Regular monitoring is carried out to verify the exact amount of carbon sequestered in the plantations. In addition, the funds collected from the C offsets make the project sustainable and ensure additional financial support.
The additionality of Carbone boréal’s projects was also assessed using a test adapted from the CDM guidelines of the Kyoto Protocol (UNFCCC 2004) to which ISO 14064-2 refers (figure 4 of the project document, see publication section).
In addition to having buffer plantations (in the event of loss by fire for example), the plantations of the forestry network hold the Experimental Forest status (renewable every 30 years) and a contract (also renewable every 30 years and transferable in the event of a sale) binds the owners of agricultural lands where plantations are located.
Several measures are taken to limit the risk of losses of carbon sequestered by plantations and thus ensure permanence.
The permanence of Carbone boréal’s plantations is guaranteed in four different ways:
First, all Carbone boréal’s plantations benefit from the Experimental Forest status granted by the Forest Research Department (DRF) of the MFFP. This status is granted to a portion of public territory for research and experimentation purposes exclusively. It is a privileged site for research activities since the experimental set-ups enjoy legal protection. The only forest management activities authorized therein are related to research activities approved by Carbone boréal. The status is granted for a period of 30 years, renewable upon expiration.
Dynamic permanence concerns the permanence of plantation’s carbon stocks, through the establishment of buffer zones. A number of trees corresponding to 30% of all the trees planted in the Carbone boréal plantations is allocated to a reserve, which is not used for compensation. This reserve is used only in the event that the guaranteed compensation rate (140 kg of CO2 per tree after 70 years) is not reached due to mortality or any other cause (wildfires, insects, diseases, windfall, grazing, etc.). This rigorous, transparent, validated and verified methodology therefore guaranties each contributor to Carbone boréal that “real” trees actually sequester the equivalent of the GHG emissions they want to offset. For agricultural plantation, the buffer is 20%, due to the reduced risk of reversion.
In addition, the susceptibility of the plantations to natural disturbances (wildfires, insects, diseases, etc.) is reduced by a spatial distribution of the plantations and the use of various tree species. The plantations are distributed among various separate experimental sites far from each other, reducing the risk of losses through natural disturbances.
As highlighted in FAQ # 1, Carbone boréal is an infrastructure of the University of Quebec at Chicoutimi (UQAC), founded in 1969 and enjoying the sustainability provided by this kind of institution. The existence of Carbone boréal is therefore not subject to the vagaries of the economic situation and to personal decisions as this infrastructure is managed collegially and over the long term by the university.
Carbone boréal’s financial permanence stems from the fact that part of the funds (20%) is capitalized in the UQAC Development Funds. This money earns annual interests which are either allocated or capitalized according to the annual decision of the management committee.
These four types of permanence, which few organizations or individuals can assume in such a complete and lasting manner, attests to the quality of the service offered by Carbone boréal and aims to reassure contributors regarding the efficiency and the permanence of their compensation.
The trees in the plantations capture the CO2 equivalent to your offset from the day of plantation to their maturity. From this day onwards, there is a balance between carbon losses due to the decomposition of old trees and carbon gains due to natural regeneration (growth of new trees), ensuring the maintenance of the sequestered carbon.
The Carbone boréal’s plantations are established on open woodlands (OW), considered as non-forested areas. The afforestation of these territories therefore makes it possible to establish a new forest and create a new carbon sink. A black spruce in Quebec reaches its maturity at 45 to 70 years-old depending on site quality. The mature spruce can then usually live 175 to 200 years, up to a maximum of 250 years. Planting in OW therefore guarantees that the carbon will be sequestered for a long period of time. Thereafter, a part of the carbon accumulated in the tree biomass returns to the atmosphere due to the decomposition of dead trees. Another part of the carbon is transferred to the forest soil during decomposition. In addition, the regeneration that takes place in the understory, i.e. layering in black spruce, results in the development of new trees that will grow and sequester carbon when dead trees give them room to grow. In fact, there is generally a balance between carbon loss and sequestration in a mature forest. It has even been shown that some old growth forests continue to have a positive carbon sequestration balance.
In addition, it is possible to secure the sequestration carried out by the plantations in different ways. Using wood as a substitute for other carbon intensive materials like concrete or steel for structure in buildings is a great way to decrease their carbon footprint as wood stores the carbon that has been sequestered by trees in the long term. The use of biomass, as a fuel for combustion boilers for example, is another way to value the plantations. These issues related to the efficiency and the permanence of carbon sequestration are in the scope of Carbone boréal’s research questions. In any case, trees allocated to carbon offsets cannot be removed without replacement of the equivalent carbon stock from the buffer.
Your compensation is entirely intended to Carbone boréal’s activities funding: research carried out by researchers and students, spending related to verification, monitoring of plantations and others. If you compensate with the agricultural component, a rebate of 7 CAD / ton of CO2 offset (1 CAD / tree) is given to the landowner.
Any offset made through the Carbone boréal program becomes at the same time a contribution to research activities dealing with carbon sequestration in forests by the UQAC team. The money collected on the website, in the form of a donation, transits through the UQAC Development Fund and is therefore made available to researchers associated with Carbone boréal as follows: 20% is capitalized in the Fonds de recherche de Carbone boréal at the UQAC Development Fund. This money earns annual interests, which can be allocated or capitalized according to the annual decision of the management committee. About 5% is used for the administration of the Carbone boréal program including verifications and website costs, and the rest (75%) supports the needs of research projects conducted by the team. This money is used to pay scholarships for graduate students, specialized equipment, research professionals and costs directly related to research and the dissemination of research results.
“Climate preventive™” makes it possible to double-offset your emissions in an intergenerational perspective where you help to reduce past and present emissions in order to guarantee a better future for the next generations.
Another beneficial aspect of climate change mitigation by planting trees is that it goes beyond simply offsetting the emissions from our activities. In other words, a plantation can also be set up with the aim of capturing past emissions. With this in mind, the Carbone boréal offset program invites each contributor to be ” Climate preventive™”, that is to say to offset twice the greenhouse gas emissions of the targeted activity. The ” Climate preventive™”, developed by the UQAC Eco-Advising Chair at the 11th Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 2005, aims to meet one of the main founding principles of sustainable development, i.e. intra- and inter-generational equity. Analysis of the latest IPCC reports shows that even with very significant efforts to reduce GHG emissions on a global scale, non-offset emissions risk doubling the pre-industrial concentration by the middle of the present century. Being “Climate preventive™” thus can delay reaching this level and give the most vulnerable people of today and future generations the flexibility to adapt to climate change, in terms of knowledge, infrastructure and technology. It is also an application of both the principle of responsibility and the principle of precaution, two principles advocated by the Quebec Sustainable Development Act and by the Declaration of the Rio Summit in 1992.
The plantations can be used as experimental devices to answer various types of research questions, mainly related to climate change mitigation, via forest carbon sequestration.
The Carbone boréal’s plantations are all part of a network of experimental devices available to UQAC researchers and students as well as to government researchers and collaborators from other universities. The research, funded by the various contributors to Carbone boréal, mainly focuses on themes related to carbon sequestration by plantations and adaptation of the boreal forest to climate change. Here is an example of a Carbone boréal device and research questions:
Other projects are related to:
The results obtained by the Carbone boréal research team, which are published in peer-reviewed scientific journals, are presented on the Carbone boréal website.
If you have offset your GHG emissions with us, you’re welcome to share the news. For companies or organizations wishing to use our logo (registered trademark) for promotional material, you must contact us beforehand and an agreement, free of charge, will be established.
As an individual, we encourage you to talk about your offsets in your entourage and via social media. In addition, the offset certificate sent to you is the proof of your contribution, and you are free to use it as you wish, provided you don’t modify it.
As a business, if you want to promote your engagement with Carbone boréal on any platform, your website for example, or organize a media event, it is then necessary to sign a visibility exchange agreement with UQAC beforehand. This agreement is free of charge and is simply intended to regulate the use of the Carbone boréal name and logo, which are registered trademarks at the Canadian Intellectual Property Office. Among other things, this will allow you to use our logo. Contact us if you would like to have more information.
Carbone boréal was designed by the team of the Chair in Eco-Consulting, a UQAC research unit specializing in sustainable development. Carbone boréal meets the following SDG targets: 4.4,4.5, 4.7,6.6, 9.5, 13.1,13.2,13.3, 15.1 and 15.2 to which we can add targets 2.3 and 2.4 for the agricultural component.
In September 2015, the United Nations General Assembly adopted an ambitious 2030 Agenda to implement sustainable development in all countries. This program has 17 Goals with 169 targets and more than 240 indicators (https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/sustainable-development-goals/). Although Carbone boréal was created well before this initiative, it meets 12 of the targets from 7 SDGs as can be seen in the table below. This is not surprising because Carbone boréal was designed by the team of the Chair in Eco-Consulting, a UQAC research unit specializing in the implementation of sustainable development which has also produced tools for systemic sustainability analysis approved by the United Nations (http://ecoconseil.uqac.ca).
Link with Carbone boréal
2.3- By 2030, end all forms of malnutrition, including achieving, by 2025, the internationally agreed targets on stunting and wasting in children under 5 years of age, and address the nutritional needs of adolescent girls, pregnant and lactating women and older persons.
A royalty of $ 1 per tree planted by Carbone boréal is given to farmers, which gives them income for land that would not otherwise produce it.
2.4- By 2030, ensure sustainable food production systems and implement resilient agricultural practices that increase productivity and production, that help maintain ecosystems, that strengthen capacity for adaptation to climate change, extreme weather, drought, flooding and other disasters and that progressively improve land and soil quality.
By promoting the reforestation of land unsuitable for agriculture and windbreaks, Carbone boréal promotes biodiversity, helps stabilize slopes to prevent erosion and increases farmers’ resilience to climate change.
4.4- By 2030, substantially increase the number of youth and adults who have relevant skills, including technical and vocational skills, for employment, decent jobs and entrepreneurship
Carbone boréal offers scholarships for university students and hires several students every year who acquire technical laboratory and field skills
4.5- By 2030, eliminate gender disparities in education and ensure equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and children in vulnerable situations
Carbone boréal is a research infrastructure at the Université du Québec à Chicoutimi that has guidelines for inclusion and equal access for all to higher education and jobs.
4.7- By 2030, ensure that all learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including, among others, through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development
Sustainable development is an integral part of graduate programs in which Carbone boréal is involved. The professors and professionals associated with Carbone boréal teach and give lectures in other programs at UQAC and elsewhere on these themes.
Clean water and sanitation
6.6- By 2020, protect and restore water-related ecosystems, including mountains, forests, wetlands, rivers, aquifers and lakes
Carbone boréal helps restore water-related ecological functions of forests degraded by regeneration accidents or by agriculture.
Industry, innovation and infrastructure
9.5- Enhance scientific research, upgrade the technological capabilities of industrial sectors in all countries, in particular developing countries, including, by 2030, encouraging innovation and substantially increasing the number of research and development workers per 1 million people and public and private research and development spending
Carbone boréal is a research infrastructure that devotes all of its funds to the advancement and dissemination of knowledge and to the training of highly qualified personnel.
13.1- Strengthen resilience and adaptive capacity to climate-related hazards and natural disasters in all countries
By carrying out research on species and provenances in some of its experimental devices, Carbone boréal is developing knowledge that will be useful for adapting silvicultural practices in the boreal forest to climate change.
13.2- Integrate climate change measures into national policies, strategies and planning
Carbone boréal develops knowledge and intervenes with governments for the implementation of methodologies to take into account the role of forests in the fight against climate change.
13.3- Improve education, awareness-raising and human and institutional capacity on climate change mitigation, adaptation, impact reduction and early warning
Carbone boréal, through its website, the chronicles and interviews that are regularly broadcast in the national media and the conferences that its members give at different levels contributes to the education and awareness of the population.
Life on land
15.1- By 2020, ensure the conservation, restoration and sustainable use of terrestrial and inland freshwater ecosystems and their services, in particular forests, wetlands, mountains and drylands, in line with obligations under international agreements
Carbone boréal’s experimental forests are protected from all forms of exploitation or anthropogenic degradation. They increase the service of carbon capture, maintenance of biodiversity, soil protection and regulation of the water cycle.
15.2- By 2020, promote the implementation of sustainable management of all types of forests, halt deforestation, restore degraded forests and substantially increase afforestation and reforestation globally
With nearly one and a half million trees planted since 2009, Carbone boréal actively contributes to the restoration of degraded forests and afforestation.
Carbon dioxide (CO2) and other GHGs emitted by human activities mix into the atmosphere and trap heat radiated by the Earth (infrared rays), which causes the warming of the Earth’s surface. More GHG means more heat around the Earth: this is the greenhouse effect. The increase in thermal energy in the atmosphere is causing climate change across the planet.
The atmosphere is transparent to solar radiation but a fraction of the light that reaches the ground is reflected back to space: this is the albedo. This fraction depends, among other things, on the type of ecosystems and the latitude. For instance, snow-covered surfaces have a high albedo (low absorption of the incoming radiation) whereas water bodies or humid soils have a low albedo (high absorption of the incoming radiation). The fraction of the light that is absorbed by water or by colored surfaces produces heat that is emitted to the atmosphere in the form of infrared radiation. Different gases in the atmosphere help retain these infrared rays and produce a greenhouse effect. Without these GHGs, the average Earth temperature would be -18 ° C, whereas it was 14 °C in the pre-industrial era, i.e., before humans began to significantly change their natural concentration. GHGs are therefore essential to life on Earth as we know it. The problem is that the relatively recent and rapid addition of GHGs into the atmosphere by human activities increases the amount of heat retained in the system and therefore creates global warming, which generates climate change. Since the beginning of the industrial era, the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2), the main anthropogenic GHG (e.g. which is the result of direct or indirect action by humans), has increased from 280 ppm (parts per million) to about 410 ppm.
The changes in atmospheric CO2 concentrations at the Mauna Loa observatory (Hawaï) can be seen there:
GHGs can be of natural origin, like water vapor, or strictly anthropogenic, like CFCs, PFCs and other pollutants. Not all GHGs have the same warming power, for example, methane warming power is 28 times higher than that of CO2. CO2 is used as a reference value and the quantities of other GHGs are converted into tons of equivalent CO2 to make comparison and understanding easier.
Although GHGs are a minor component of the atmosphere, whether from natural or anthropogenic (caused by human actions) sources, their effects on climate by increasing the greenhouse effect are significant. The main GHGs (and their atmospheric concentrations) are:
Natural or anthropogenic sources:
Strictly industrial sources:
Since water vapor (H2O) has an average duration of 9 days in the atmosphere, it is not involved in climate change. Only long-lived gases are responsible for the increase in atmospheric GHG concentration, the reference unit of which is CO2. Each GHG is thus reported in terms of CO2 equivalent (CO2eq.) and their global warming potential (GWP) is estimated as the number of times a molecule of this gas increases the greenhouse effect relative to CO2. The main greenhouse gases have the following GWP:
Overall, water vapor is responsible for around 65% of the natural greenhouse effect, while CO2, despite its relatively low atmospheric concentration, is responsible for 25%.
The following figure (taken from the 2014 IPCC report) shows the evolution of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere between 1970 and 2010 and their relative contribution to the anthropogenic greenhouse effect.
By driving our cars for example, we emit GHGs into the atmosphere and contribute to climate change. The released CO2 molecules will circulate in the atmosphere for about 200 years unless they are captured before, by a serious and verified organizations like Carbone boréal: this is compensation or “offset”.
The compensation of GHG emissions is a trading mechanism by which a person partially or totally substitutes their own emissions by purchasing equivalent capture from a third party. The principle underlying compensation is that a given quantity of GHGs emitted in one location can be “offset” by reducing or sequestering an equivalent amount of GHGs in another location, since they are released into the atmosphere and follow the movement of air masses.
In short, when we offset GHG emissions, we recognize that there is already too much CO2 in the atmosphere or that more CO2 will inevitably be emitted by our activities, and we mandate a third party to partially or entirely (that would be carbon neutrality) offset our carbon emissions.
Whether you are an individual, a family, an organization, a business or a government, efforts must be made to reduce GHG emissions. However, even at zero global emissions, the models project that climate change will continue since GHGs remain in the atmosphere for decades or centuries. These gases must therefore be captured and sequestered, among other things, by planting new forests.
Source emission reduction and emission mitigation are not in competition and should even be implemented jointly. In fact, if GHGs continue to accumulate at the current rate, the danger is such that we need to implement both approaches. Recent studies even show that a hypothetical zeroing of anthropogenic GHGs emissions would not be sufficient to prevent global warming in the short term because past emissions have a long residence time in the atmosphere. In short, it is necessary to reduce our GHGs at the source, but it is also necessary to remove from the atmosphere what is inevitably emitted by our activities. This is what experts call negative emissions. The latest IPCC report states that planting trees over very large areas before 2050 will be necessary and is one of the means available to all countries to limit global warming to 1.5˚C in the 21st century.
CO2 is the main anthropogenic GHG, but photosynthesis carried out by plants captures it and releases oxygen. Thus, algae and all terrestrial plants are important allies in the fight against climate change by helping to decrease the level of CO2 present in the atmosphere.
The most important greenhouse gas we emit from our activities, CO2, is also the only gas that plants use in the photosynthesis process, which also releases oxygen into the atmosphere. In fact, almost a third of man-made GHG emissions are currently captured naturally by terrestrial plants, including trees. In other words, without trees, the problem of climate change would be much worse.
Therefore, global climate experts consider that the sequestration of CO2 by trees is one of the easiest ways to reduce our net GHG emissions. Increasing the sequestration of CO2 by trees is one of the most affordable and safest measures to implement. Moreover, these experts believe that with modest efforts, it would be possible to almost double the contribution of trees to the overall mitigation of our GHG emissions. Most of this potential could be realized by increasing areas of woodlands planted with trees and by reducing deforestation.
Carbon footprint is a measure of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions attributed to a product, an activity, a company or a person. We all emit GHGs into the atmosphere and it is possible to estimate our own carbon footprint by summing the emissions of our personal activities (see the questionnaire linked to the Carbone boréal calculator to compile yours).
The carbon footprint, expressed in units of CO2 equivalent, combines the gases that affect the climate according to their global warming potential (GWP). The GWP indicates the warming potential of a gas molecule relative to CO2.
Example: to calculate the carbon footprint of a kilogram of beef, it is necessary to calculate the quantity of methane produced by the enteric (intestinal) fermentation of the animal and the manure management, the CO2 emitted by the fuel combustion of machines used to produce food and transport it to the slaughterhouse, nitrous oxide (N2O) resulting from the use of fertilizers and HCFC (halocarbons) losses through maintaining the cold chain. The total of these emissions is then divided by the number of kilos of meat that will be marketed.
To calculate your individual carbon footprint, you must calculate all the emissions caused by your lifestyle: transport, travel, food, electronic devices, etc. You can use Carbon boréal’s calculator to help you estimate your carbon footprint as well as the questionnaire HERE to help you.
Here are several tips to reduce your carbon footprint. We must first be aware of carbon emissions from our activities, particularly those using fossil fuels (gasoline, diesel, fuel oil). By using the car less, by not letting it idle unnecessarily or by driving slower, you reduce carbon emissions. We can also avoid single-use plastic bags, eat less beef, reuse instead of throwing, composting and so on. Finally, we can compensate for what we cannot reduce.
For a majority of people, it is possible to reduce their carbon footprint by making minor changes in their lifestyle. Here are some examples:
You have to be careful when you offset your GHG emissions because many companies exist and some of them sell carbon credits that cannot be verified. The amount of information available, transparency, and verification by a third party to a recognized standard are crucial factors in ensuring that your money is well used to generate real CO2 sequestration.
A large number of offset organizations have emerged in recent years. Several criteria must be met to be considered as a reliable offset organization. The proposed reductions or sequestration must be:
Also, any offset organization should meet the following criteria:
Carbon offset by individuals is an ethical issue that relates to personal values. As in any financial transaction, you have to make sure of the quality of what you buy and the reliability of the supplier. Ancillary benefits can be as important, if not greater, than carbon neutrality in terms of benefits to humanity and to the planet.
There is more than one carbon trading market and the term refers to the sale and trading of carbon offset credits. On the regulated market (Quebec is a member of the Western Climate Initiative (WCI)), credits are generated by businesses making efforts to reduce their allowed GHG emissions and can be sold to others who exceed their emission quotas. The voluntary market, in which Carbone boréal is involved, allows those who wish to do so, but are not forced by law, to offer or buy carbon credits or emission offset certificates.
When negotiating the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, countries agreed to favor a carbon market, which is thought to increase flexibility and stimulate the easiest emission reductions. The mechanism works like an asset market in which the balance of supply and demand is sought to set transaction prices. In the regulated carbon market, such as C&T, which links Quebec and California, emitters are imposed a target based on their history and a cap is set for all emitters. Issuers must quantify and report their emissions annually. If they emit more than they are allowed to, they have to buy credits on the market that have been made available by other large, regulated emitters. Conversely, when they emit less than their target, they are allocated certificates which they can sell on the market or keep for later use. The asset is defined in tons of CO2 equivalent. Reductions must be produced according to an approved quantification protocol and verified according to the rules applicable on the market. A certain amount of reductions made by unregulated issuers may be offered for sale in a regulated market, but they must be made according to protocols approved by the market authority. These additional reductions can be applied by large emitters to compensate for their emissions beyond their targets. Each reduction unit must be unique.
There are also so-called “voluntary” compensation markets. Emitters that are not regulated can exchange emission reduction or absorption certificates on these markets. As its name suggests, a voluntary market does not contain binding measures for the buyer. However, the seller who issues certificates must follow very specific standards. The quality of emission reduction or absorption certificates depends on the rigor with which the sellers follow the rules of the standard of reference. Some organizations sell offsets that are not regulated by a standard. It is then the buyer’s responsibility to ensure that he really knows what he is buying and that he trusts the organization he deals with. For more information, see the FAQ “How do I know whether an offset organization is reliable? “
Generating and getting verified carbon offset credits from plantations on private lands is possible on the voluntary market, but it is relatively complicated and expensive. It is necessary to establish the baseline scenario (what is the actual state for the land in question? Are we going beyond what we would do anyway?), to follow a recognized methodology, to have the plantation verified, to quantify the amount of carbon sequestered in the plantation and to have the credits registered. Without support, this can be a difficult task.
For a plantation to have a credible value in terms of carbon offset, it is necessary to demonstrate that the plantation produces a positive net carbon sequestration which is additional relative to the baseline scenario, i.e. the same site without the plantation or any intervention. In addition, the description of the scenarios (afforestation / reforestation and reference) requires the best available methodologies, standards and protocols to be followed. Finally, for the project to be valid and credible, your carbon sequestration claims have to be verified by an accredited and independent third party, the plantations must be monitored and you must make the documentation regarding the project available to all.
These requirements make any ex post evaluation difficult if the baseline scenario has not been established and followed properly since the establishment of the plantation. In addition, the monitoring, accounting and verification of a plantation project are time- and money-consuming. We recommend that promoters of private projects refer to Tree Canada, an organization that can help with projects on private lands.
The albedo (from latin “albus” meaning “white”) of a surface is the fraction of the incident sunlight that the surface reflects. Radiation that is not reflected is absorbed by the surface and warms the Earth. The snow almost completely reflects the incoming sunlight (high albedo) and has thus a cooling effect, which slows down climate change. Afforestation of boreal open woodlands with conifers that remain green in the winter reduces the albedo and generates more heat than the original open woodland which is completely covered with snow. However, the magnitude of this effect varies with tree species, latitude, tree density etc. Our research will provide insights on the best silvicultural practices, especially on the tree species that should be planted, and will allow us to quantify precisely this effect for it to be subtracted from the cooling effect due to carbon sequestration by trees. The decrease in albedo does not affect the other ecological benefits of a plantation (water cycle, maintenance of biodiversity, protection against erosion, etc.).
Albedo value for a few surface types
Fraction of sunlight’s energy reflected (%)
Fresh snow, high sun
Fresh snow, low sun
Water, horizontal sun
Water, sun at its zenith
From Villeneuve, C. et Richard, F. (2007). Vivre les changements climatiques. Réagir pour l’avenir. Éditions Multimondes, 486 p
The dynamics of the climate and the forest are complex and their understanding requires the analysis of various criteria. Thus, quantifying the net impact of a decrease in albedo in winter (biophysical effect) in afforested open woodlands and comparing it with plantation’s CO2 sequestration potential (biogeochemical effect) requires more study. The 2016 plantations of Carbone boréal were carried out with the aim of answering questions related to the effect of albedo (for instance: how do the changes in albedo and water regime resulting from the afforestation of open woodlands influence local and global climates? How does the albedo vary among tree species and plantation density? What species and forest management practices produce the best outcome for the climate?). To do so, we established an experimental plantation comprising 160,000 trees including deciduous species, which shed needles (tamarack) or leaves (white birch) in winter, versus evergreen species (black and white spruce, jack pine). As well, in the summer of 2020, a plantation of 200 000 tamaracks has been established to further explore this topic. The data we will collect over the next few years will allow us to assess the effect of the species used in plantations on the albedo and climate change mitigation. Other research will also be needed to assess and quantify biophysical effects other than albedo that can influence the radiative balance of plantations in the boreal forest. If it were found that the radiative forcing resulting from the decrease in albedo was large enough to offset a part of the beneficial effect of CO2 sequestration, the claims of sequestration would be revised accordingly and the equivalent in unallocated trees of the measured loss would be deducted from the reserves of Carbon boréal trees.