Sustainable Forest Management Will Help Drive Our Net Zero Future

March 19, 2021

By Derek Nighbor | President and CEO, Forest Products Association of Canada

Governments and stakeholders agree that we must urgently work together to build our net zero carbon future. The cost of inaction is simply far too great.  The sooner we act, the more effectively we can reduce the risks and protect the health and safety of Canadians.

It is therefore fitting that the UN is promoting this year’s International Day of Forests around the theme “Forest Restoration as a Path to Recovery and Well-Being”. In Canada and around the world, sustainable forest management, renewable forest products, and committed forest sector workers are uniquely suited to drive a climate smart economic recovery and a net zero future. I would go so far as to say that the quickest and most effective path to meeting Canada’s net zero targets will be one that recognizes the powerful potential of Canada’s forest sector — and the people working in it.

The federal government’s recent Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change, and A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy plan released before Christmas, provide us with important roadmaps for Canada’s move to a net zero carbon economy. While the federal government recognizes the value of tree planting, with its commitment to two billion trees, this is just one important chapter in a larger forestry story about the path to net zero carbon.

We all know that forests contribute to the quality of life of all Canadians by providing significant economic, environmental, recreational and cultural benefits. What’s less well understood is the role that Canada’s forest sector plays in sustainably managing these resources. 

The United Nations and forested countries around the world recognize forestry as one of the few industries that have the potential to meet and go beyond net-zero emission targets. This is due to a number factors, including forestry’s ability to: store carbon in wood-based products; renew forests while mitigating pest and fire risks; further decarbonize operations; help other sectors access lower carbon fuel options from wood waste; make wood-based bioproducts and recyclable products; and reduce land-based emissions through climate smart forestry.   

With over 90 per cent of managed forest areas on public land, Canada’s forests are governed by robust provincial laws and regulations. Our foresters work closely with governments, Indigenous and local communities to maintain carbon-rich peatlands and wetlands, support plant and wildlife biodiversity and protect communities from worsening wildfire patterns. 

Today, forestry contributes $80 billion in annual revenue, exports to 180 countries around the world, and directly employs more than 230,000 Canadians in over 600 communities. In Canada, forestry is a key driver of job creation and economic growth, especially for families and Indigenous communities of the North.

As world leaders in sustainable forest management, Canada’s forest sector is committed to working with federal and provincial governments to ensure made-in-Canada forestry, and forest products, are central to building a greener economy, getting more people back to work and jumpstarting economic recovery. As we do this, Canada can learn from other forestry-leading jurisdictions like Sweden and Finland. Our Scandinavian counterparts are leading the way by leveraging their natural advantages.

Sweden has collaboratively developed strategies for all major economic sectors, including forestry. Its National Forest Program promotes sector growth, sustainable forest management and a bioeconomy strategy rooted in net-zero carbon goals and job growth. Similarly, in Finland, forestry is among key sectors aiming for a 10 per cent increase in bioenergy, mainly from forest residues and agricultural waste.

As part of its approach, Finland’s National Forest Strategy 2025 is linked to other central government strategies, including those on bioeconomy, energy, climate and biodiversity. Sweden and Finland have adopted sector-specific strategies with a full value chain approach with success anchored in both economic growth and net zero carbon goals. A similar strategy is needed in Canada if we are to truly capitalize on the economic and carbon reduction opportunities in the recovery. 

Closer to home, Quebec is a model for some smart forest climate policy. The Government of Quebec’s Green Economy Plan uses the fight against climate change as a source for economic growth, jobs, and innovation. For new building construction, Quebec also promotes use of materials that have a lower carbon footprint, including wood. It recognizes the value of sustainable forest management by placing the forest sector at the centre of the province’s National Wood Production Strategy, to spur economic recovery and help lead the way on climate change. 

There are also important lessons for the forestry sector in the federal government’s Blue Economy Strategy for Canada’s fisheries; the strategy importantly recognizes the industry’s importance to both sustainability and economic growth.

Over the long term, sustainably managing forests and the wood products harvested from them is critical to supporting Canada’s achievement of a net-zero carbon economy by 2050. Governments face immense challenges as they look to rebuild, grow, and reinvent our post-pandemic economy. We are here to help. Canada’s forest sector and its workers stand ready and willing to work with our public sector partners and lead the way to recovery, job creation and our net-zero future.

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