The federal government’s new emissions reduction plan continues to undercount emissions from forestry, an environmental group says, throwing doubt on Canada’s ability to reach its goal of carbon neutrality by 2050.
“They’re not reporting their carbon in a balanced way and that is masking about 80 megatonnes of emissions from the logging sector,” said Michael Polanyi of Nature Canada.
On Tuesday, the Liberal government released its plan to cut the country’s emissions to meet its commitments under the Paris Accord. The plan covered all sectors of the economy, including forestry.
But Polanyi said Canada continues to fudge its carbon accounting for the forests.
Canada doesn’t report the carbon released from wildfires over its entire “managed forest” but does take credit for the carbon sucked out of the air by regrowing trees.
“You can’t have it both ways,” he said.
“If Canada does not report wildfires, then it should not take credit for post-fire removal of carbon from regrowing trees.”
Independent forest consultant Jamie Stephen agrees that Canada will eventually have to account for the carbon released in increasingly common mega-fires that rage through the country’s boreal forest.
“We have to acknowledge the emissions from the whole managed forest,” he said. “It should be part of our responsibility.”
But he suggests it’s not fair to blame those emissions on logging.
“It is not the forest industry,” he said.
Stephen said “managed forest” refers to all forests with any commercial potential. That’s much larger than the area under active forest management.
Those areas, he said, do report carbon lost from both wildfires and logging.
That’s also why facilities that burn wood pellets for energy don’t pay a carbon tax, he said. The carbon is tallied when the tree is cut, not when it’s burned.
Environment Canada did not immediately respond to a request for comment on how forest carbon is reported.
Both Polanyi and Stephen agree that Canada’s boreal forest, the vast swath of green that extends across the northern regions of most provinces, is slowly becoming a carbon source instead of a sink.
But that’s from wildfires, not logging, said Stephen. He points out Canada’s annual timber harvest is actually shrinking.
Polanyi said Tuesday’s pathway should have included more protection for old-growth forests, which store carbon in both trees and soils.
“There were no new funding commitments to do that,” he said.
Canada’s forest industry should shift from old-growth to focus on secondary forests that have already grown back after previous cuts, Polanyi said.
“A vibrant, healthy industry can continue,” he said.
Stephen said Canada will need to spend more time and money on its entire boreal forest, which accounts for nine per cent of all the world’s forests.
“We are not investing in trying to reduce wildfires, we are not investing in trying to contain insect outbreaks, we are not investing in the largest carbon reserve we have,” he said.
There’s no point, he said, in reeling in emissions from oil and gas or transportation unless Canada addresses the clouds of carbon dioxide roiling off wildfires.
“It will be in vain.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 30, 2022.
— Follow Bob Weber on Twitter at @row1960
Bob Weber, The Canadian Press