Photo: What Ontario landmark stores as much carbon as annual emissions from 33 million cars?

(Credit: Jode Roberts)

By Faisal Moola, Director General, Ontario and Northern Canada

The David Suzuki Foundation released a study today that reveals the Ontario Greenbelt keeps a whopping 172 million tonnes of greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere — locked away in the rich soils and vegetation of its wetlands and forests.

The massive amount of carbon in this relatively unheralded storehouse is equivalent to the annual emissions from 33 million vehicles, or the energy used by 15 million households. The report estimates that the economic value of this climate change fighting service is at least $2.4 billion.

The report was written by Dr. Ray Tomalty, principal of Smart Cities Research Services and an adjunct professor in the School of Urban Planning at McGill University.

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While protecting nature has long been identified as a crucial strategy for fighting climate change, most political attention has focused on protecting wild spaces far from where most of us live. While iconic places like Ontario's massive Boreal Forest and the Great Bear Rainforest in BC are crucial hedges against climate change, the study suggests that the benefits of protecting nature closer to home shouldn't be overlooked.

With 80 per cent of Canadians now living in cities, the new study makes the case that protecting remaining carbon-rich forests, wetlands and agricultural soils near our urban areas will be critical weapons to fight climate change.

The study provides new evidence in support of the Ontario Government's original inclusion of the Greenbelt in the Province's 2007 Climate Action Plan, but argues that much more needs to be done to ensure that the natural climate mitigation capacity of the Greenbelt's ecosystems are strengthened. This means stricter management of development activities within and nearby the Greenbelt, like aggregate mining, and expanding the Greenbelt further.

Scientists warn us that we ignore rising greenhouse gas emissions at our own peril. Climate change is already having a dramatic impact on our planet — devastating heat waves, rising flood waters, and the precipitous decline of wildlife populations are just a few of a plethora of challenges we are facing. But as our new study, and others science reports have shown, by protecting nature, like the Greenbelt — we are helping to protect ourselves and the planet.

August 14, 2012

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