CANADA’S boreal forest comprises about a third of the huge forest which circles the northern hemisphere, mostly north of the 50th parallel.
The boreal forest originated with the end of the last ice age and covers a tenth of the earth’s land surface. Canada has retained 91 per cent of the forest that existed since Europeans first settled. There are 318billion trees (more than 8,000 for every one of the 37million population), mostly conifers, and it is home to 85 species of mammals including grizzly, brown and black bears, 130 species of fish and 300 of birds.
Many other countries have scarcely any of their boreal forest remaining, such as Sweden with only 5 per cent left. The lack of boreal forest in other countries is quite tragic because in Canada the boreal forest is effectively a carbon sponge, capturing and storing carbon in the trees and the peatland. In Canada’s north, the temperature can easily fall to -65 C. The cold acts to hinder the release of carbon dioxide from dying and decomposing trees. Furthermore, in areas where there is permafrost, the carbon remains trapped under the soil.
A quick google search would reveal a plethora of articles saying that Canada’s forest emits more carbon than it absorbs. When these articles claim Canada’s managed forests aren’t a carbon sink any more, they are misleading as the data typically does not include Canada’s unmanaged forest, accounting for approximately 35 per cent of its total forest area.
Net carbon emissions in Canada’s managed forest: Areas subject to human activities, 1990–2016
So how is it that the Canadian boreal forest has changed from functioning as a carbon sink of 115 million tonnes of CO2 in 1992 to being a source of 221 million tonnes of CO2 in 2015? The Liberal government headed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his minority government cronies on environmental policies (the Green Party and New Democratic Party) say it is clearly a result of, you guessed it, man-made climate change (see his twitter feed here). It is to suggest flooding, forest fires and natural disasters did not exist at all prior to the green agenda.
In Canada, we have a Prime Minister who emphatically joined a climate strike in September in Montreal, Quebec and met with Greta Thunberg. She promptly told him he was not doing well enough and he agreed. As the fourth-largest supplier of oil in the world, never has a nation or a prime minister done so much to torpedo their own nation’s major industry. Countless cancelled projects and scandals – Northern Gateway, Energy East, Trans Mountain, Keystone XL, Line 3 and now Coastal Gaslink pipeline. Canada cannot get anything built.
Despite the self-sabotage, Canada is still projected to fail its ambitious Paris Agreement pledge to reduce emissions, by 232 megatonnes in 2030. The data indicates that Canada emits 722.29 (excluding land use) megatonnes of CO2 per year and 585 megatonnes results from the energy sector alone (2017). In total, Canada is responsible for 1.6 per cent of the global carbon emissions and is the tenth largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world. Interestingly enough, Canada has elected not to include the forests when tabulating its emissions. Given the option, Canada elected to attempt some clever accounting, since negating forest fires could help Canada meet its Paris Agreement pledge. Surprising that a country can just elect not to include whole sectors (such as forestry) and yet Canada is looking into selling carbon credits to other countries in what the Paris Agreement refers to as ITMOs (internationally transferred mitigation outcomes) by using the forest to make the claim. Thus, Canada is hoping the accounting will include wetlands, farmland and forestry but please exclude the forest fires and pests.
Back in reality, the boreal forest has been suffering from an increase in a variety of factors including forest fires as a result of humans (setting fires or carelessness) and lightning, pests (such as the pine beetle), environmental policies against active forest management and to an extent, the modest warming from climate change. First and foremost, among the culprits, fires are particularly damaging and result in 170 tonnes of CO2 released per hectare burned. Next, pests are subsiding in recent years but still serve as the second leading concern hurting the boreal forest. Then of course, the forestry industry is heavily regulated, less than 0.5 per cent is available to harvest annually; and thus, the effects on emissions are negligible. Furthermore, the data actually infers that where there is forestry activity, there is a negative carbon count.
Lastly, the bureaucracy behind the current forest management is laughable and extremely mismanaged. The climate change alarmists and environmentalists have wormed their way with their degrees in environmental studies into jobs managing the forests, no doubt created by Justin Trudeau in the ‘green’ and ‘clean’ sectors. Now they are running the show and crafting policies in the logging and forestry industry which sadly miss the mark. What we are seeing are ineffective policies from the new wave of clean sustainable management so-called experts when what we need are methods such as strategically planned burns, varying the species regenerated, thinning and proper harvesting of timber.
If Canada were to improve its management of fires, continue to see a decline in pests and increase forestry, the negative drawbacks of the boreal forest could be negated and the reality is that Canada could be charging other countries for its carbon credits. Think of the billions Canada could be receiving to compensate for the loss of all those oil and gas projects Trudeau has cancelled. However, I wouldn’t hold my breath. The current government believes everything can be solved with more taxation and the Prime Minister believes the budget will ‘balance itself’, while he travels using not one but two private jets (though not at the same time). Meanwhile, left alone, the boreal forest will continue to be mismanaged despite being one of Canada’s strengths and biggest assets in the carbon wars. Instead, we’re banning plastic bags . . .