Hudson Bay Lowlands, Ontario, Lorna Harris
Hudson Bay Lowlands, Ontario © Lorna Harris

Peatlands

Peatlands are the world's largest terrestrial carbon store - and 25% of peatlands are in Canada.

What are peatlands?

Peatlands are water-saturated areas composed of tightly compressed plant material that has built up over centuries

Only three percent of the planet’s surface is made up of peatlands, but 25% of this area is within Canada. Despite their relatively small area on a global scale, peatlands store close to a third of the total carbon found in soils worldwide.

WCS Canada envisions a world where the vast and carbon-rich forests and peatlands of North America’s boreal and arctic remain ecologically intact. These resilient landscapes provide a global service for climate change mitigation and adaptation, extensive habitat and refugia for abundant and diverse wildlife, and through reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples, continue to support the cultures and vision of First Nations, Métis and Inuit.

Peatland probability across Canada., Meg Southee/WCS Canada
Peatland probability across Canada. © Meg Southee/WCS Canada

Why peatlands matter

Canada's peatlands are estimated to store 150 billion tonnes of carbon. That’s equal to 25 years of Canada’s current greenhouse gas emissions. The vast peatland areas – more than 1.1 million square kilometres – that stretch across the boreal zone straddling the country’s midsection are a globally important and irreplaceable carbon sink.

Most peatlands in Canada are located on Indigenous territories. Peatlands are often regarded as highly culturally significant, as they play critical roles in maintaining clean water, providing habitat for boreal species, as well as other cultural, spiritual, and Rights-based practices. Many Indigenous communities across the boreal region are working hard to assert their Rights to protect and conserve peatlands, and to have these Rights recognized by provincial and federal governments.

Our solutions

  • We are leading a new national initiative with multiple partners to develop a shared vision and strategic framework for peatlands that identifies policy options, procedures, and tools for peatland protection and management at different governance levels across Canada. The goal of this initiative is to draw on the collective experience to identify workable solutions to the challenges in implementing effective policy for peatlands across Canada. Part of this work is an ongoing full review and analysis of science and policy issues for peatlands across Canada, including quantifying the threat of increased mining for critical minerals to these large carbon stores.

  • Identifying tools and actions to support climate-smart decisions for critical minerals development across the carbon-rich boreal region of Canada. The goal of this initiative is to address the challenge of how to maintain and manage the integrity and carbon storage and sink capacity of peatlands and forests across the boreal region of Canada with increased critical mineral development and associated infrastructure.

  • Developing and implementing a government engagement and communications strategy for peatlands. We have been successful in building awareness among government decision-makers and influencers about the importance of protecting high-integrity peatlands across Canada for climate change mitigation and adaptation, and the risk continued loss and degradation of peatlands (including from extraction of critical minerals) poses to Canada’s GHG targets. We continue to engage in key policy initiatives, including the Regional Assessment for the proposed Ring of Fire mining development in northern Ontario, Canada’s emerging Critical Minerals Strategy, the draft National Climate Adaptation Strategy, and oil sands expansion in peatlands in northern Alberta.

  • Conducting scientific research on peatlands across Canada, in collaboration and partnership with First Nations and other groups, with a particular focus on field-based research in the Hudson Bay Lowland in northern Ontario, and the Yukon. The science we generate will inform proposals for IPCAs and other protected areas, along with providing the data needed for the inclusion of peatlands in Canada’s national GHG inventory and climate and land-use planning policies. Our ongoing and new research projects include:
    • A regional synthesis of existing data on peatland carbon stocks and fluxes for the Hudson Bay Lowland, including supporting environmental data (hydrology, vegetation, temperatures etc.)
    • Understanding ecohydrological controls on methane emissions from undisturbed and drained peatlands (due to mining) in the Hudson Bay Lowland.
    • Linking small-scale controls and feedback on peatland GHG fluxes to site level and landscape scale change (e.g., mining and roads, drainage, permafrost thaw, fire), including with the use of drones.
    • Quantifying the effects of placer mining and reclamation activities on peatland GHG emissions and removals in the Yukon.

Projects

Ring of Fire

Ring of Fire

More than minerals at stake

Resources


Stories and op-eds

More than minerals at stake in Ontario’s claim-staking boom
2023-12-19

More than minerals at stake in Ontario’s claim-staking boom

With a click of a mouse, mining interests have laid claim to more than 72,000 square kilometres of land in northern Ontario over the last five years.
Constance O'Connor
Ignoring Canada’s peatlands is a catastrophe in the making
2022-12-14

Ignoring Canada’s peatlands is a catastrophe in the making

Canada has one-quarter of the world’s peatlands within its borders, storing more carbon than the Amazon Rainforest.
Lorna Harris
WCS Canada comments on Canada's Critical Minerals Strategy, to Natural Resources Canada
2022-09-23

WCS Canada comments on Canada's Critical Minerals Strategy, to Natural Resources Canada

Perpetuating current approaches and proceeding with an “extraction first” mentality is going to have massive climate consequences.
Justina Ray

Media coverage

Area covered by mining claims in Ontario’s ‘Ring of Fire’ increased by 30 per cent in one year

“I’m worried the increase in mining claims will lead to more exploration activities within the region and that those exploration activities, which are largely unchecked, will lead to irreversible damage to the peatlands within the region,” says Lorna Harris.
2023-12-04 | Global News

Inside Canada’s fight to save its peatlands

2023-06-27 | The Weather Network

Our team

Lorna Harris

Lorna Harris

Director of Forests, Peatlands and Climate Change Program

Adam Kirkwood

Adam Kirkwood

Research Associate

Victoria Goodday

Victoria Goodday

Policy Analyst - Natural Climate Solutions