CIF-IFC defends Canadian greenhouse gas emissions reporting
CIF-IFC defends Canadian greenhouse gas emissions reporting
Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Nature Canada have released a report stating that Canada’s logging emissions are equivalent to those from oil sands operations. Additionally, they assert that Canada does not clearly report emissions from the forest sector.
In their report, NRDC and Nature Canada claim that when calculating carbon emissions, the Canadian government excludes emissions from wildfires, but takes credit for forest regrowth after the wildfires occur. However, this is incorrect.
In Canada’s reporting approach, forest areas affected by wildfire are transferred to a natural disturbance reporting category. Both wildfire emissions and subsequent carbon removals from the atmosphere in stands that regrow after fire are reported in this natural disturbance category. After 70 to 100 years (the age of commercial maturity that varies by region across Canada) these once burned forests are transferred back to the anthropogenic reporting category. By that age, the assumption is that on average wildfire emissions will have been balanced by carbon removals from the atmosphere during regrowth. Ongoing research is assessing this assumption.
Scientists, such as those from the federal government led by Natural Resources Canada -Canadian Forest Service (CFS), have been careful to follow all of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and United Nations (UN) protocols, and their analyses and results have been 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, and provincial governments have contributed and collaborated closely with the CFS scientists to advance the work. Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) 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 models used in the estimation of GHG emissions and removals 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 Canada’s GHG inventory report acknowledge that there are uncertainties and these are works in progress, there have been efforts 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 are reflective of Canada’s forest carbon balance in accordance with the best available science, and the assessments 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.
NRDC 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 needs full and disciplined carbon accounting as is currently in use for Canadian forest lands, in conjunction with relevant socio-economic considerations.
Forests are, and always have 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 during/after disturbance. As seen in recent years (State of Canada’s Forests Report), climate change appears to be a key driver in increased forest disturbance. While there are a number of valid reasons to want to set aside forests from consumptive uses, we must recognize the accumulating contingent liability of carbon storage as well as future losses of trees due to fires, pests, and extreme weather events. Additionally, 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.
Here is a list of additional resources where you can learn more about GHG and carbon accounting in Canada:
- A Compiled List of Technical and Research Publications Involving the Carbon Budget Model of the Canadian Forest Sector (2022) I Natural Resources Canada
- Forest carbon accounting: how does Canada assess the contribution of forests toward reducing emissions?
- How Canada reports on forest greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions
- NRDC, Nature Canada logging emissions report ‘misleading’: Nighbor
Forest Advocacy Committee
Canadian Institute of Forestry / Institut forestier du Canada
November 14, 2022
Formed in 1908, the CIF-IFC is the national voice of forest practitioners and many others with an interest in forestry and forests. The Institute strives to provide national leadership, promote competence, and foster public awareness of Canadian and international forestry/forest issues. To learn more about how the CIF-IFC advocates for forestry/forests, visit: www.cif-ifc.org/speaking-out.