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Recognizing and Capitalizing on Canada’s Wetlands and Grasslands

A recent report by Tim A. McAllister, PhD highlights the importance of both grasslands and wetlands and the large carbon stores they represent.  In the report, Dr. McAllister highlights the role these ecosystems have contributed to a net uptake of atmospheric carbon since the last ice age. Dr. McAllister highlights that once near-steady state levels of carbon sequestration are achieved these ecosystems can fluctuate between net carbon sinks and net carbon emitters.  He discusses the need for further research into the impact of vegetation type, alterations in hydrology, grazing management and climate on carbon fluxes could provide insight into how these ecosystems can be managed effectively to combat climate change.  The full report can be found here. 

Viresco Solutions is busy working towards recognizing the valuable role that wetlands can play in mitigating climate change.  Viresco is pleased to publish the following two reports:


Wetland and Grassland Retention and Restoration as an Effective Carbon Management Strategy in Alberta The Business Case

Alberta is host to significant carbon management and climate adaptation tools in the form of wetlands (including freshwater mineral soil wetlands in the parkland, prairie and boreal regions, and boreal peatlands) and perennial grasslands. The retention and minimization of functional impacts to these ecosystems is essential to maintaining a biological carbon store of 39-43 billion tCO2e, and sequestration of 33,535,000 tCO2e (equivalent to 7 million passenger vehicles) per year, with an estimated average value of $2.5 billion per year (Sawyer and Bataille 2017). Table 1 shows that the carbon management services provided by retained ecosystems are very cost-effective on a cost per tCO2e basis, compared to current ($20/tCO2e), and expected future prices ($30-100/tCO2e to 2030) of carbon (Sawyer and Bataille 2017).

However, if ecosystem losses continue at the current rate, the associated loss of biologically stored carbon and carbon sequestration services alone could cost Alberta an estimated average of $2.4 billion per year between 2018-2030 (see 7.2.0 Value of Carbon Lost due to Conversion – Cost: Benefit Analysis) (Sawyer and Bataille 2017). These losses could negate the advances being made in other sectors. For example, it is estimated that an additional 21,500 MW of renewable electricity generation capacity would be required to offset the greenhouse gas emissions and loss of carbon sequestration services associated with the current annual rate of ecosystem losses in Alberta (see 7.2.1 Impact of Ongoing Ecosystem Losses on Current Efforts to Reduce GHG Emissions in the Energy Sector).

The carbon management, climate adaptation, and ecosystem services provided through functional wetland and grassland ecosystems, align with national priorities outlined in the Pan Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change, green infrastructure investments and international commitments (such as Aichi biodiversity targets); and provincial priorities outlined in the Alberta Climate Leadership Plan, Land Use Framework and Regional Plans, flood and drought management policies, and biodiversity plans (such as the Caribou Recovery Strategy).

This report describes the business case for the retention and minimization of functional impacts to remaining wetland and grassland ecosystems in Alberta as cost-effective carbon management tools, that also provide many additional ecosystem services that align with federal and provincial priorities. The case is also made for the restoration of historically lost ecosystems to restore lost carbon management and climate adaptation services. Existing conservation and stewardship tools are explored to provide insight into regulatory approaches, and government and NGO incentive-based options to realize wetland and grassland retention and restoration aims.

To see the detailed report please see:

Possible Implementation Pathways for Wetlands and Grasslands as Carbon Management Tools Discussion Paper

The business case for the retention and restoration of Alberta’s wetlands and grasslands as critical biological carbon stores and sinks is clear. In addition to providing a myriad of cost-effective ecosystem services, including water quality improvements, flood, and drought mitigation, socio-economic and recreational benefits, they sequester and store a substantial amount of carbon. Biological carbon stores represent an important natural capital asset and can play an important role in helping Alberta and Canada meet their national and international greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction targets. The significant benefits provided by the presence of these ecosystems on the landscape is recognized directly and indirectly in a number of provincial and federal priorities. The Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change (PCF) (Government of Canada 2017) outlines how Canada will achieve GHG emission reduction targets and achieve a low carbon economy, with biological offsets and green infrastructure key to achieving targets. Alberta’s Climate Leadership Plan (CLP) outlines the province’s contribution to reducing GHG emissions. The retention of existing healthy ecosystems, and restoration of historically lost or impaired ecosystems, aligns with the objectives of green infrastructure investment opportunities:

• aiding the implementation of the PCF
• reducing GHG emissions
• investing in clean and safe water and wastewater
• aiding adaptation to a changing climate and building resiliency.

Provincial priorities detailed in the Alberta Wetland Policy (AWP) reference the importance of ecosystem services by aiming to “conserve, restore, protect and manage Alberta’s wetlands to sustain the benefits they provide to the environment, society and economy” (Government of Alberta 2013). The Land Use Framework (LUF) sets out three aims to achieve a healthy economy through the management of healthy ecosystems and the environment while providing ample recreational and cultural opportunities (Government of Alberta 2008). There is a clear alignment of wetland and grassland retention and restoration with the aims of the AWP, LUF, and associated Regional Plans.

This report builds on the outcomes of the companion “Business Case” report to describe potential pathways to implement wetland and grassland retention and restoration activities, with the central intention of maintaining carbon stores, increasing biological carbon sequestration, and adapting to climate change.

The full report can be accessed here: