Working Toward Climate Smart Forestry

Derek Nighbor 

Last week, after discussing the importance of forestry to this country, we asked: how can the federal government work with Canadian forestry workers to help us address worsening climate-induced forest disturbance while realizing significant GHG reductions? This week, we offer up some possibilities.

First, we must provide more Canadian wood and wood-based products to Canada and worldwide. One cubic metre of wood stores approximately one tonne of CO2. In 2019, Canada produced about 70 million cubic metres of lumber and board. That is 70 million tonnes of CO2 locked away every year, most of it for decades or centuries. 

Improved domestic and international markets for lumber and mass timber, such as cross-laminated timber and glued laminated timber, will help reduce Canada’s GHG emissions in a significant way. The federal government can accelerate this by prioritizing the use of made in Canada forest products for green procurement and federal infrastructure projects, establishing a National Net-Zero Building Strategy that includes carbon-storing wood products, and promoting Canadian made forest products to the world – not to mention standing up for Canadian industry and workers in the face of increasing global trade protectionism, especially with our neighbours to the south who are being difficult of late.

Second, we need the federal government to ensure sustainable forest management is front and centre in its National Adaptation Strategy to help make Canada a global leader in Climate Smart Forestry. This means developing a plan with the provinces to thin fire-prone stands and use prescribed burns to avoid megafires that scorch both trees and organic soil and threaten human life, wildlife, homes, and critical infrastructure. Indigenous leadership and engagement in this effort are essential to its ultimate success in communities across the country.

Where pest infestations occur, we must move more quickly to contain outbreaks and the fire risks that often follow. We can also restore forest lands with low productivity or poor biodiversity by thinning and removing deteriorating trees to provide the light and space needed to grow larger trees and more resilient forests. 

The overarching goal of Climate Smart Forestry is to maximize forest productivity, stored carbon, and support biodiversity in the forest over time. While these activities will not yield instant results, they have the potential to reduce GHG emissions relative to baseline by 100-200 Mt CO2 per year by 2050. 

Third, we need to grow markets for low-grade wood. Some of the wood harvested for Climate Smart Forestry will not meet the high-quality requirements for Canadian sawmill production. Historically, there was significant demand for low-grade timber and residues from lumber milling for pulp and paper production. Still, with digitization and a challenging investment environment, we have seen a decline in this demand in many parts of the country. We must find a new path forward for these materials, and Canada’s emerging forest bioeconomy holds incredible promise – biofuels, bioplastics, and bio-adhesives like lignin, to name a few.

Fourth, with the federal government’s support, we can further reduce GHG emissions at Canada’s pulp and paper mills. The Canadian forest sector was an early adopter of new technologies and processes to reduce GHG emissions on production sites. Since the early 1990s, GHG emissions have been down by nearly 70%, making Canada’s mills among the greenest in the world. We can do even more. It’s now a case of what got us here will not get us there. There are game-changing opportunities to move many of these mills to net-zero carbon in the next few years. Programs like the Investments in Forest Industry Transformation (IFIT) and the Net-Zero Accelerator Fund need to be revisited and more robust to help us get there.

As we enter 2022, we are reminded that Canada’s forests, manufacturing facilities, forest products, and Canadian forestry know-how give our country an advantage that most countries on the planet envy. Let’s use it.

The New Year presents us with a timely opportunity to use sustainable forest management as a nature-based climate solution to accelerate GHG reductions in the built environment and at Canadian mills, deliver on our international climate commitments, strengthen prospects for Canadian forestry families and communities, and help build resiliency in our forests and keep communities safer from fire.

Derek Nighbor is the President and CEO of the Forest Products Association of Canada – representing the forest products sector which operates in over 600 Canadian communities, providing 225,000 direct jobs, and over 600,000 indirect jobs across the country.

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