Plan to reduce forest emissions urgently needed
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
January 28, 2019
Victoria—B.C.’s hidden and uncounted forest emissions in 2017 and 2018 will be three times higher than the province’s total officially reported emissions, warns Sierra Club BC.
The environmental organization is calling on the B.C. government to develop a forest emissions report and reduction plan, with immediate steps to reduce emissions from destructive logging, slash burning and wildfires. B.C.’s growing forest carbon losses and steps to reduce them are summarized in the Sierra Club BC report Hidden, ignored and growing: B.C.’s forest carbon emissions.
”It’s bad enough that our official emissions have gone up in five of the last six years, yet our forests are contributing massive uncounted emissions that dwarf the official numbers,” said Jens Wieting, senior forest and climate campaigner with Sierra Club BC. “It’s an invisible crisis that government must stop ignoring and act to reduce.”
The provincial government can begin by ending its practice of burying this data and producing an additional, detailed report on forest carbon emissions.
“Reducing these ‘unofficial’ emissions is now an even greater challenge than reducing our so-called official emissions,” said Wieting. “Nobody will act if these alarming figures remain hidden. We need to acknowledge the crisis first, then take urgent steps to reduce them as much as possible.”
“The growing loss of carbon in our forests shows how severely climate impacts are already damaging the natural life support systems we depend on,” said Wieting. “Turning a blind eye to these massive amounts of carbon pollution allows governments to act as if new pipelines and fracked LNG terminals can be accommodated within climate action plans.”
The massive and growing forest emissions are a result of destructive logging, pine beetle outbreaks and wildfires. B.C.’s forests used to absorb more carbon than they released until the early 2000s when they became a net source of carbon.
The situation has gotten much worse in the last two years. Both the 2017 and 2018 wildfires burned more than 1.2 million hectares of the province, eight times more than the ten year average. B.C.’s 2017 fires caused an estimated 190 million tonnes of CO2 emissions. 2018 will be similar.
According to the latest data, which was quietly released by the B.C. government in December 2018, B.C.’s total emissions were about 62 million tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2016. Uncounted annual emissions from destructive logging and slash burning were close to 50 million tonnes in the last three years.
Combined with skyrocketing emissions from fires and a reduced ability of damaged forests to sequester carbon, the province must expect more than 200 million tonnes of “uncounted” annual carbon dioxide emissions from B.C.’s forests, once data becomes available for 2017 and 2018.
“B.C.’s forest management is making climate change worse—an alarming situation when our forests should instead be our best ally in the fight against climate change,” said Wieting. “Unless the B.C. government wakes up and takes far-reaching action to strengthen conservation and improve forest management, our provincial forests will continue to contribute to climate change instead of slowing it down. Sharing detailed information to inform forest climate strategies at all levels of government will be a crucial first step.”
To inform meaningful policy, forest emissions data must offer as much detail as possible, with a focus on different regions and ecosystems, forest management and forestry practices. This will require collecting regional data and data on management practices, distinguishing between carbon rich forests and less carbon rich forests, and distinguishing between emissions from destructive practices and selective logging.
Setting reduction targets for forest emissions is difficult. What the government can do is to set and deliver on targets related to actions like protecting forests and changing practices. Examples are targets for protection of carbon rich old-growth, timelines to phase out slash burning, and ensuring all communities at risk of wildfires are fully participating in Fire Smart programs.
Phasing out logging of carbon rich endangered old-growth forest will result in immediate emission reductions, as demonstrated with the Great Bear Rainforests Agreements. Improving management of second-growth forests and moving from destructive practices to careful logging allows for both the production of wood products and an increase in the amount of carbon stored in forests at the same time. This means more jobs and less damage per cubic metre. These steps must be integrated in provincial strategies like CleanBC and the coast revitalization initiative.
The Sierra Club BC report Hidden, ignored and growing: B.C.’s forest carbon emissions can be found at: https://sierraclub.bc.ca/wp-content/uploads/SCBC-Forest-Emissions-Report-Jan-19.pdf
Senior Forest and Climate Campaigner
Sierra Club BC