Ontario's secret climate change weapon: the Greenbelt


Study finds Ontario Greenbelt's forests and wetlands store millions of tonnes of carbon: equivalent to annual emissions from 33-million cars

TORONTO - The David Suzuki Foundation released a study today that assesses the economic value of hundreds of millions of tonnes of carbon absorbed and stored in the internationally renowned Ontario Greenbelt — a relatively unheralded carbon storehouse estimated to be worth more than $2.4 billion.

The study, Carbon in the Bank, estimates that forests and wetlands within the provincially protected Greenbelt keep an estimated 172 million tonnes of greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere — locked away in its rich soils and vegetation. This massive amount of carbon is equivalent (C02e) to the greenhouse emissions released from Ontario's entire transportation, industrial, building, and electricity sectors combined.

"It is clear that the Ontario Greenbelt is an immensely important natural asset, and arguably one of Ontario's key weapons for tackling climate change, along with continued government and private-sector investments in green energy," said report author Ray Tomalty, principal of Smart Cities Research Services and adjunct professor in the School of Urban Planning at McGill University. "Safeguarding this storehouse of carbon not only preserves the agricultural and ecological health of our region; it is equivalent to the greenhouse gas emissions from the energy used to power 15-million households or drive 33-million cars for a year."

The Ontario Greenbelt is the world's largest urban greenbelt. It provides a bounty of essential ecosystem services; providing local food and award winning wines, efficiently filtering the region's air and water, and helping to keep nearby communities cool. Today's study highlights the additional importance of the Greenbelt as an instrument of fighting climate change by valuing, in economic terms, its massive capacity to remove and store carbon dioxide using internationally accepted methods from the growing field of natural capital economics.

"The health of our communities depends on the ability of the Greenbelt's forests, fields and wetlands to continue to capture and store millions of tonnes of carbon, making them an important part of the solution to keep CO2 out of the atmosphere, and thereby do our bit to slow the pace of global warming," said Dr. Faisal Moola, director of Ontario programs for the David Suzuki Foundation. "Southern Ontario continues to be a hotbed of explosive growth, and we must manage our natural wealth by bringing nature into the equation."

The study examines a number of growing threats to the long-term ability of the Greenbelt to continue to serve its climate regulation function, including being home to hundreds of aggregate mines and quarries, sprawling urban expansion at its borders, and government plans to expand the existing network of busy highways that bisect the provincially-protected region.

"Studies have projected that the number of extreme heat days in Ontario will double in the coming decades unless serious action is taken to address climate change," Moola said. "Ontario's climate policies should be revised to strengthen our ability to protect and grow the Greenbelt's impressive capacity as a massive natural carbon storehouse in one of the fastest growing urban regions in North America."

To download a copy of Carbon in the Bank, visit www.davidsuzuki.org. For more information, please contact:

Dr. Faisal Moola, director, David Suzuki Foundation 416 348 9885 ext. 1571 or 647 993 5788 cell 
Jode Roberts, communications, David Suzuki Foundation 416 348 9885 ext. 1573


Carbon in the Bank: The Ontario Greenbelt and its role in mitigating climate change


  • Carbon in the Bank: Ontario's Greenbelt and its Role in Mitigating Climate Change is the sixth David Suzuki Foundation study examining the benefits of protecting nature and farmland (so called Natural Capital) in and around Canada's major cities.
  • It highlights the important role that the Ontario Greenbelt's forests, wetlands and agricultural soils play in capturing and storing vast amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, thereby helping us to meet provincial and national greenhouse gas reduction targets, and ultimately to slow the pace of global climate change.
  • A principle goal of the report is to bring the importance of the Greenbelt as a complimentary instrument of climate change mitigation, on par with green energy and energy conservation, by translating these essential ecosystem services into economic benefits.
  • The report also examines a number of threats to the long-term ability of the Greenbelt to serve this critical climate regulation function in light of explosive urban growth and development in southern Ontario, including expanding towns and cities, roads and highways, and ongoing mining for aggregate for urban development purposes.
  • It argues that Ontario's climate change policy framework should be revised to strengthen and expand the protection, restoration and enhancement of green space and agricultural land in southern Ontario as a critical carbon storehouse.


  • The Ontario Greenbelt is a 7,000-square-kilometre band of permanently protected land established by the Government of Ontario in 2005 to contain urban sprawl and prevent loss of valuable land and natural resources.
  • With more than 7,000 farms, the Greenbelt's predominant land use is agriculture, which generates over $1.5 billion in total gross farm receipts annually. The area is home to almost half of Ontario's fruit farms and one fifth of Ontario's vegetable farms.
  • Previous research by the David Suzuki Foundation estimated that the Greenbelt's natural capital produces $2.6 billion a year in critical ecosystem services (e.g., water storage and filtration, pollination, etc.); an average value of $3,487 per hectare.
  • There are hundreds licensed aggregate sites in the Greenbelt and vicinity. The highly controversial Mega-Quarry, proposed by Highland Companies', is located just outside the Greenbelt in the Township of Melancthon.
  • The Oak Ridges Moraine, which serves as an essential groundwater discharge and recharge area for millions of Ontarians and a direct drinking water source for over 250,000 residents, currently has 41 golf courses.


  • The Greenbelt's forests and wetlands store 47-million tonnes of carbon, equivalent to 172-million tonnes of C02e (carbon dioxide equivalent).
  • The economic value of this stored carbon is estimated at $2.4 billion (in 2005 C$).
  • The forests and wetlands also sequester an additional 161,000 tonnes of Carbon (586,000 tonnes C02e) each year.
  • Ontario's total reported greenhouse gas emissions for 2008 were 190-million tonnes C02e, including transportation (60.3 Mt), industry (51.8 Mt), buildings (33.0 Mt), electricity (27.4 Mt), agriculture (10.3 Mt) and waste (7.4 Mt).
  • According to the US EPA Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator, 47-million tonnes of stored carbon is equivalent to the annual greenhouse gas emissions from 33,790,850 passenger vehicles or carbon dioxide emissions from the energy use of 14,920,635 homes for one year.
  • Projections show that the average annual temperature in Ontario will increase by 2.5 to 4°C by 2050, depending on the rate of GHG emissions over the coming years. Maximum warming will occur in the winter and the number of extreme heat days (exceeding 30°C) is projected to more than double by 2050. In general, higher temperatures will result in more moisture in the air and lead to an increase in extreme weather events, including rain, snow, drought, heat waves, wind and ice storms.


  • The Greenbelt should become a key strategy in Ontario's annual Climate Change Action Plans for its key role in sequestering and storing carbon dioxide, thereby helping the province achieve its ambitious greenhouse gas reduction targets.
  • The government should recognize natural capital within the Greenbelt as a potential source of carbon offsets, thus increasing value and incentives for Greenbelt landowners to adopt climate mitigation enhancing practices, such as woodlot protection, tree planting, and low-till agriculture that protects soil.
  • There should be increased collaboration between the province and municipalities to track and report greenhouse gas emission resulting from major land use and transportation decisions, such as new aggregate mines, highways, and urban developments.
  • Municipalities should commit to climate change mitigation targets and measures in their official growth plans, including the protection of natural capital.
  • Ontario should limit aggregate mining in and near the Greenbelt and encourage the use of recycled aggregates other low-carbon alternatives.

To download a copy of Carbon in the Bank visit www.davidsuzuki.org. For more information, please contact:

Dr. Faisal Moola, director, David Suzuki Foundation 416 348 9885 ext. 1571 or 647 993 5788 cell 
Jode Roberts, communications, David Suzuki Foundation 416 348 9885 ext. 1573


pdf-icon.png DSF Ontario Carbon Greenbelt

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