Need to Humanize the Natural and Social Environment Ever More Urgent
Report Sheds Light on Degree of Boreal Deforestation and Its Impact on Climate Change
– Pierre Soublière –
Clearcut logging on the West coast of Vancouver Island, October 2021.
A report published on October 28, just ahead of COP26, shows how the Government of Canada is, based on erroneous assumptions, underreporting total carbon dioxide emissions from the forestry sector, misrepresenting the extent of deforestation, and promoting biomass energy as a clean-energy alternative. The report, by Environmental Defence Canada, Nature Canada, Nature Québec, and NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) is entitled Missing the Forest — How Carbon Loopholes for Logging Hinder Canada’s Climate Leadership.
The report’s executive summary notes: “Protecting the world’s forests … is essential to avoiding the worst impacts of climate change. Forests, in addition to their importance in maintaining biodiversity, play an irreplaceable role in global carbon regulation, absorbing one-third of human-caused carbon emissions from the atmosphere annually and storing this carbon long-term in their soil and vegetation. … Preserving primary forests, which are forests that have never been impacted by significant human disturbance, is particularly critical. … Once gone, [these forests] are irreplaceable on any meaningful human timescale.”
The report points out that Canada’s boreal forest holds some of the world’s last large stretches of remaining primary forest and plays a crucial role in achieving a sustainable, livable future. The boreal forest stores twice as much carbon per hectare as tropical forests, making it an essential ally in the fight against climate change. The report warns, “Despite the boreal’s global importance, it is facing considerable threats from unsustainable industrial logging. … [T]he logging industry continues to clearcut more than 400,000 hectares of the boreal each year — about five NHL hockey rinks every minute — much of this in irreplaceable primary forests. This conversion of primary forests into second-growth forests, which store less carbon, is transferring large amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, driving significant climate impacts.” The report highlights that “the Government of Canada is neither adequately accounting nor regulating these climate impacts.”
In this respect, the report sets out how the Government of Canada has crafted a different set of rules for the logging industry that downplay its emissions and exempt it from carbon regulations, misrepresenting the actual carbon cost of industrial logging and therefore undervaluing the benefit of protecting existing forests. Industrial logging is one of the largest threats to the Canadian boreal’s carbon stores and ability to continue to sequester additional carbon. More than 90 per cent of the logging in Canada is in the form of clearcutting, a practice in which the logging operation removes nearly all the trees from a given area. Much of this occurs in carbon-rich, biodiverse primary forests. When these forests are clear-cut, carbon in the soils and remaining biomass is released into the atmosphere, which doesn’t just impact the vegetation but also undermines the integrity of the boreal’s soil carbon vault. In addition, scientific research shows that boreal forests logged today will not return to their initial carbon absorbing capacity — at least not within time frames relevant for climate action under the Paris Agreement.
In a section entitled “Deforestation vs. Forest Degradation,” the report points out that Canada claims that there is nearly zero deforestation of its forests — upholding itself as a positive example in contrast to countries such as Brazil and Indonesia that have much higher rates of forest loss. However, the report says, this claim relies upon the fact that under many international definitions “deforestation” is narrowly defined in a way that excludes much of the clearcutting in Canada.
For example, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization defines deforestation as the conversion of a forest to non-timber land use. The logging industry in Canada, as in many other northern countries in temperate and boreal latitudes, clearcuts with the intention of allowing the forest to regrow so clearcut landscapes are presented as healthy forests and clearcutting is thus not deforestation but “forest degradation.”
The report also reveals that biomass energy, which is derived from burning plants such as trees, is not a clean energy alternative to fossil fuels. Industry though often claims that biomass energy is carbon-neutral. Canada’s most recent climate commitments submission to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change mentions investments in biomass expansion as evidence of its climate progress.
Among the report’s recommendations to deal with the logging industry’s climate impact and the value of primary forest protection are: to ensure unbiased accounting of logging emissions, to improve accuracy of carbon emissions measurements associated with industrial logging, to ensure better governance and oversight of logging’s carbon emissions and to prioritize forest protection and restoration under Indigenous leadership.
See the full report: Missing the Forest: How Carbon Loopholes for Logging Hinder Canada’s Climate Leadership.
(Photos: Fairy Creek Blockade Facebook)