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Mining Ontario’s Ring of Fire could help build green energy — but also damage vital peatlands

Originally published in CBC

18 March 2022

Northern Ontario has rich mineral deposits that can help meet growing demand for EV batteries. But digging the minerals out risks destroying one of the planet’s largest carbon stores. This week we look at the benefits, drawbacks, and ask what’s at stake for the climate?

The tension and the truth about Ontario's Ring of Fire

by Laura Lynch | CBC's What on Earth? podcast

Roughly 500 kilometres north of Thunder Bay, Ont., lies one of the most carbon-rich peatlands on the planet. This water-logged landscape of lakes, ponds and rivers carpeted in moss is known as the Hudson Bay Lowlands — or the “breathing lands” to nearby First Nations. 

But along with its status as an enormous stash of carbon, the area has become synonymous with a mining development known as the Ring of Fire, which the Ontario government has supported for more than a decade and included in a new “critical minerals” strategy announced by Ontario Premier Doug Ford today. 

With this renewed push by the Ford government and Canadian mining company Noront Resources to extract the minerals needed for electric vehicles and clean energy, questions are surfacing about the impact of peatland mining on Canada’s climate goals.

The Hudson Bay Lowlands are often cited as the second-largest peatland complex in the world, after the Western Siberian Lowlands in Russia. Ontario’s lowlands squirrel away 30 billion tonnes of carbon and soak up more from the atmosphere every year.

Lorna Harris, a carbon and peatland researcher at Wildlife Conservation Society Canada, estimates that the area of the proposed Ring of Fire development alone locks away the equivalent of around 1.6 billion tonnes of CO2.

Releasing even some of that through damage to the landscape could create significant emissions of CO2 and methane. 

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The power of peat: Canada’s secret weapon against climate change

The power of peat: Canada’s secret weapon against climate change

Scientists call them Canada’s Amazon Rainforest, and they could be at risk. Peatlands are ancient ecosystems that cool the planet by absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, trapping it deep underground. A quarter of peatlands on Earth are found here in Canada, but some are under threat from potential mining developments aimed at creating technology for a greener future.