Forestry has long been foundational in the history, economy, and culture of Canada. More recently, it has figured prominently in what is fast becoming a global “cri de coeur” for environmental leadership and action on climate change. This past December, Canada’s forest sector was validated at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP24), which officially recognized the critical role that forest management plays in helping us achieve global climate change targets. Although not widely understood, Canada’s forest certification regime plays an important role in maintaining this global reputation for leadership and excellence.
When it comes to forest certification, Canada leads the world with an estimated 164 million hectares certified. This represents 70 per cent of Canada’s managed forest – or an area larger than the entire province of Quebec. Impressive numbers to be sure, but what does it really mean and why should anyone care?
Since Confederation, Canada’s forest industry has evolved and matured. We are active players in the economies of over 600 Canadian communities and represent 12 per cent of Canada’s manufacturing GDP. Notwithstanding shifting trade rules, growing protectionism, volatile markets, and some devastating fire seasons, Canada’s forest products sector has still managed to assert itself as a global leader in sustainable forest management. Our collective efforts have provided both economic and environmental benefits to Canadians for more than 100 years and we are proud of this record.
Canada is unique in that about 94 per cent of our managed forests are located on public lands. As a result, the forest industry in Canada has among the most rigorous frameworks in the world and must comply with hundreds of federal and provincial laws, policies, and regulations. Although forest management certification is a voluntary tool, it has been wholly embraced by Forest Products Association of Canada (FPAC) members. This is because it allows companies to demonstrate to partners and consumers that they go above and beyond Canada’s tough regulatory requirements. Independent forest certification provides a stamp of approval so that customers know they are buying products that come from forests managed to comprehensive environmental, social, and economic standards.
There are three independent certification programs available in Canada, all of which are endorsed by the Canadian Council of Forest Ministers. These include Canadian Standards Association (CSA), Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), and Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI). These programs cover much more than harvesting practices as they also set requirements that ensure the social and economic well-being of local communities as well as transparency and inclusiveness in the decision making. Even in circumstances where stringent regulations are in place and where an organization’s practices are already aligned with such certification requirements, it remains a significant endeavor to document these practices, monitor their impacts and demonstrate in a robust way to independent auditors that all requirements are met. A certificate is issued only after a thorough review by a third-party auditor determines that long-term harvests are sustainable, there is no unauthorized or illegal logging, Indigenous rights are respected, wildlife habitat is preserved, and that soil and water quality is maintained.
In recent days, we have seen stories covered around the world that point to the critical role that tree planting and sustainable forest management plays in achieving global climate change targets. Canada’s forest products sector is in a unique position to be part of the solution. In addition to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, forests have an important role to play in the sequestration and storage of carbon in the soil, trees and other vegetation, as well as providing products that store carbon. Forestry is Canada’s original renewable industry. Through innovative practices and active forest management, the Canadian forestry workers will continue to work to regenerate important habitats, keep communities safe from wildfires, and increase carbon storage in the forest and in renewable products. Our commitment to delivering environmental, economic, and social benefits to Canadians for generations to come is certified.