Logging up the Fraser River in B.C.
Logging up the Fraser River in B.C. Credit: Tony Hisgett / Flickr

Canada is underreporting CO2 emissions in the logging sector by more than 80 million tonnes a year, or the equivalent of the emissions from heating and cooling every building in Canada.

Canadian government leaders are currently at COP26 hoping to deliver new global climate commitments, including overdue climate financing for developing nations and stronger action to cut emissions and protect natural carbon sinks.

They will point to Canada’s new 2030 emission reduction targets and the rapidly rising price on carbon as evidence of a strong climate commitment.

But our leaders have also gone to Glasgow with this major gap in their climate plan which threatens their climate ambitions.

According to a new report from four major environmental groups and authored by myself and Jennifer Skene, Canada’s approach to measuring, counting and reporting forest sector emissions is badly biased and contravenes United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) guidelines.

This misrepresentation of logging emissions is blowing a hole in Canada’s climate plan and perpetuating the myth that forestry is a low-carbon sector.

Missing the Forest details four fundamental flaws in the way Canada counts and reports forest sector emissions.

First, Canada is manufacturing an artificial carbon sink by taking credit for carbon stored by trees regrowing after fires, but not reporting emissions from the fires themselves. This contradicts a UNFCCC guideline requiring that countries report all emissions and removals in managed forests.

Second, Canada is failing to measure and report emissions associated with permanent forest loss caused by the construction of logging roads, seismic lines and hydro lines. (A recent study by Wildlands League found that 14 per cent of clear-cut areas in northwestern Ontario remained barren).

Third, Canada has adopted a less stringent target for emissions reductions in the forest sector (using a contrived “business as usual” baseline, rather than the 2005 baseline used in all other sectors). As such, Canada is awarding itself an artificial 19 megatonne contribution towards its overall 2030 emission reduction target.

Finally, because the logging is (wrongly) assumed to be carbon neutral, Canada exempts wood combustion emissions from its carbon pricing system. This amounts to an effective subsidy of wood burning to the tune of millions of dollars a year, and perversely incentivizes the unsustainable logging of Canada’s primary forests.

Exempting the logging sector from the carbon price also means that the government is failing to incentivize climate-friendly innovations in the sector and is forgoing critical revenue that could be used to support sustainable economies, including Indigenous-led land stewardship through Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas and Guardians programs.

The world is at the tipping point of unstoppable global warming and irreversible biodiversity loss.

It needs Canada’s climate and nature leadership more than ever.

But our government can only lead on the international stage if it has its own house in order.

Canadian officials, including our new ministers of environment and climate change and natural resources, can show leadership at COP26 by acknowledging the serious shortcomings in Canada’s — and other countries’ — approach to accounting for forest carbon, and by committing to work to better measure and report the true climate impacts of logging.

Only then can Canada put in place effective policies to reduce forest sector CO2 emissions and protect our irreplaceable carbon-rich and biodiverse forests.

Our children, and all species, whose lives depend on the health of our forests and the contribution they make to a livable planet, deserve no less.

Michael Polanyi

Michael Polanyi is Policy and Campaign Manager (Nature-based Climate Solutions) at Nature Canada.