Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Nature Québec, Environmental Defence, and Nature Canada have released a report and technical report criticizing the Canadian forest carbon accounting processes immediately prior to the 2021 United Nations (UN) Climate Change Conference (COP26). They assert either biased or inaccurate reporting of the forest carbon account for Canada.
Scientists, such as those from the federal government led by the Canadian Forest Service (CFS), have been careful to follow all of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and UN protocols and the analyses and results are supported by many peer reviewed studies over the last decades. They have developed well-tested models that are used by other countries in their carbon accounting, provincial governments have contributed and collaborated closely with the CFS scientists to advance the work. Environment and Climate Change Canada reviews all results and combines these with results from other sectors for Canada’s annual submission of greenhouse gas (GHG) inventories (see this three-volume report).
The modelled processes account for many different pools of forest carbon, including living trees, dead wood, soil carbon and for carbon throughout the lifecycle of forest products. Indeed, while the CFS team and the GHG inventory report acknowledge that there are uncertainties and it is an ongoing work in progress, there has been strong progress to keep the error of the estimate of forest carbon unbiased. Processes have also been thoroughly reviewed and accepted by international auditors. The Canadian Institute of Forestry/Institut forestier du Canada (CIF-IFC) is confident that the assessments were complete and reflective of Canada’s forests carbon balance and will undoubtedly improve as more data becomes available. Canada is widely respected among its international peers for the leading research and analysis it produces on Canada’s forest carbon status.
Furthermore, NRDC, Nature Québec, Environmental Defence, and Nature Canada have the stated goal of conservation of forests. There are many good reasons for forest conservation: recovery of endangered species, general maintenance of biodiversity, sustaining all age classes of forests, and landscape aesthetic and spiritual values of forests. The CIF-IFC also supports these values. If, however, the implicit goal of these conservation groups is to reduce the responsible and sustainable harvest of forests and increase the preservation of stands to store carbon, then this strategy also needs full and disciplined carbon accounting as is currently in use for Canadian forest lands, along with relevant socio-economic considerations.
Forests are and have always been, vulnerable to disturbances such as wildfire, droughts, insects and diseases. In recent decades, Canadian carbon emissions from such forest disturbances have been as high as 200 MT/CO2e/year. The timing of such disturbances is not easily predicted and disturbances do not respect human boundaries or avoid preserved areas. Furthermore, older forests tend to be more vulnerable to such disturbances. Therefore, a preservation goal that gradually increases forest age, with its slowing accumulation of carbon, is also a risky strategy for managing carbon storage/emissions as this preserved carbon will eventually be released to the atmosphere after disturbance. As seen in recent years (State of Canada’s Forests Report), climate change appears to be a key driver in increasing forest disturbance. Canadians need to be assured that arguments of carbon storage to justify preservation are held to the same standard of scientific rigor, peer review, professional accounting, and life-cycle analysis as demonstrated by the scientists who assembled the complex carbon account for Canada’s forests.
Forest Advocacy Committee
Canadian Institute of Forestry / Institut forestier du Canada
November 29, 2021