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Boreal forest agreement something for enviros and workers to celebrate

The Canadian Boreal Agreement announced by the Forest Products Association of Canada and 9 ENGOs, led by Greenpeace, is a huge win for the environmental movement.  It is also a hopeful sign for a battered forest industry.

The agreement effectively ends the “war in the woods” for the Boreal Forest before it really got going.  But this is more than a truce.  For the first time, environmentalists have committed to promote the forest industry in global markets, based on its positive environmental performance.

This is a tectonic shift that will shake up all the so-called “stakeholders”  - companies, unions, community leaders, and many enviros as well who have grown up with a serious dislike of the forest industry.

For a glimpse of what this means for the industry, check out the FPAC web site and hear what they say about the agreement.  Canadian forest products are being rebranded as sustainable and part of climate change solutions.  Some will no doubt call it green-wash, and forest companies should not expect immediate redemption for past sins.  But the agreement speaks for itself when it defers logging and road building on 29 million hectares, begins work on new eco-system based forest practices and calls for life cycle carbon management of the entire boreal forest. 

It is hard not to make the comparison between these environmental commitments and the unmitigated disasters in the Gulf of Mexico.  In this case, the industry and the ENGOs are way out in front of provincial government regulators, most of whom are now scrambling to find out what happened.

For Greenpeace and the other major environmental organizations that negotiated this agreement, it is a mark of their maturity and accomplishment.  They will change the direction and tactics of a defining campaign begun over 20 years ago.  For many in government, industry and unions who said that you can not negotiate with or satisfy ENGOs, this proves them very wrong.

This agreement is also an important win for trade unionists who have understood environmental imperatives and appreciated the need for a division of labour in which environmentalists campaigned against the industry from the outside, sometimes using boycotts and direct action.   

There were periods when explaining environmental campaigns to members required a certain leap of faith, especially when campaign rhetoric overpowered recognition that forest industry jobs can and should be green jobs, processing a renewable resource.

Over the past five years, the Canadian forest industry has lost 100,000 jobs.  There is nothing comparable that any other Canadian industry has faced.  By all accounts it is an industry needing a new vision and a new start.

What can happen next, leading from this historic agreement?  Perhaps a major move towards FSC certification of most of our forest tenures.  Consumer choices and building codes may change to favour wood based building products over concrete and plastics. Perhaps there may also be a return to paper recycling operations that have been shelved during the economic crisis, and new investments in environmental niche products like totally chlorine free pulp.  With a stronger global market for Canadian producers, just maybe the federal government will begin to support investment and the conversion of our old newsprint industry to higher value specialty products.

In the meantime, the ENGOs are having a party in Toronto to celebrate.  Lets wish them well.

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