Climate Smart Forestry: For the environment and future of Canada’s northern, rural communities
December 22, 2022 By Derek Nighbor
Canada 2020, a leading national think tank, set out earlier this year to build a new, post-pandemic policy agenda to strengthen the prospects for Canada’s rural and smaller communities.
This work done under the leadership of senior fellow Matthew Mendelsohn could not have been timelier.
Canadians who live, work, and raise their families in smaller communities, often long distances from major urban centres, face unique challenges when it comes to accessing family health care and mental health supports, high speed internet, and economic opportunities.
These challenges are amplified when these same families are dealing with increased borrowing costs and budgeting for more expensive grocery and home heating bills this winter.
Across these communities, Indigenous and non-Indigenous families are not only managing through social and economic stresses but are also seeing first-hand the climate-related impacts of worsening pest outbreaks and more catastrophic fire patterns. Every year, these natural disturbances are putting human health, safety, and critical infrastructure at risk.
These real-life impacts are among the reasons why forestry and forest products solutions were front and centre at recent global climate and biodiversity meetings in Egypt (COP 27) and Montreal (COP 15).
In Canada 2020’s recent report, Mendelsohn notes “the twin transitions taking place across societies – toward net-zero (carbon) and digital – will be at the heart of rural and community economic development in Canada over the next decade.” He added that “Canada should expect and plan for growth, and policy-makers should design and deliver programs in ways that invest in the quality of life and the unique assets of smaller communities.”
We could not agree more.
Access to high-speed internet and cell coverage are key to enabling new and innovative technologies in our forests and at our mills so we can keep pace with global competitors. But we also need reliable digital access to attract workers and their families to northern and rural communities. Not only to keep them connected, but to keep them safe.
On the net-zero carbon transition, Canadian forestry is ahead of the curve given greenhouse gas emissions have been reduced by nearly 70% at our manufacturing facilities since the 1990s. There is an opportunity to do more, and it will require a renewed commitment from the federal government to improve accessibility to decarbonization support programs and ensure Federal Budget 2023 tax credit incentives hit the mark. Getting these business incentives right is mission critical since the US passed its Inflation Reduction Act which poses a massive threat to Canada’s industrial competitiveness, well beyond the forest sector.
In Canada’s forests we have an opportunity to do more with this sustainable resource to provide for Canadians, to accelerate economic reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, to build healthy and resilient forests for the long-term, and to achieve our net-zero carbon and biodiversity goals.
The benefits of climate smart forestry are in plain sight. As trees grow across Canada’s boreal forest, they absorb and store carbon. As they approach the 50 to 100 year age range and beyond, they become susceptible to natural disturbances like pest outbreaks, droughts, storms, and fire – releasing that carbon back into the atmosphere. While such natural disturbances are normal, they are becoming more frequent and severe, significantly increasing the amount of greenhouse gas emissions coming from Canada’s forests.
Our protected areas are not immune from this growing climate risk. Pest and fire outbreaks have become so pervasive that our national parks are now carbon sources.
In Canada’s managed forest we can minimize these disturbances through climate smart forestry and renew our forests with younger trees to restart the carbon-storing cycle, while at the same time turning the harvested trees into high value, low carbon products to build our communities and provide alternatives to fossil fuel-intensive products.
Among the many things we learned during the pandemic was how important it is to have resources here at home to provide for our people – and to have domestic supply chains that can deliver when we need them. We must place a high priority on growing our natural resource industries sustainably, so we are not depending on other countries for basic goods and supplies – and so we can generate economic wealth for Canadian workers and their families.
As 2023 greets us with a host of social, economic, and environmental challenges, we know that climate smart forestry can do its part to deliver for Canada.
By committing to a clear economic growth plan for northern and rural Canada, the federal government can make a positive difference in the lives of the people who call these communities home.
Derek Nighbor is the president and CEO of Forest Products Association of Canada. He was born and raised in Pembroke – in the heart of the Ottawa Valley. Derek also serves as the industry representative and advisor to the United Nations Forum on Forests and is the past president of the International Council of Forest & Paper Associations – an organization of forest sector leaders from 28 countries around the world. He is also a member of the board of directors of FPInnovations, Canada’s leading forest sector research institute.
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