Auditor Calls for Canada’s Transparency on Logging Emissions
Canada's Environment Commissioner found that the Government of Canada has failed to transparently report on the climate impact of industrial logging, with potentially sweeping ramifications for its forest policymaking.
For years, the Government of Canada’s approach to industrial logging’s climate impact has been one of willful blindness, favoring obfuscation over transparent bookkeeping on the sector’s annual emissions footprint. It has met critiques of its reporting practices with dismissal and deflection, positioning the logging industry as the only high-emissions major sector entirely insulated from accountability for its climate consequences and leaving a significant hole in its climate strategy.
Today, the government received a loud wakeup call that underscores the perversity of the government’s insistence on its leadership on nature and climate while sweeping one of its biggest environmental liabilities under the rug.
In a long-awaited audit report, Canada’s Environment Commissioner validated the accounting concerns officials have so far ignored, affirming that the government’s failure to transparently report emissions from industrial logging breeds biased, counterproductive policymaking. As the report notes, “Natural Resources Canada and Environment and Climate Change Canada did not provide a clear and complete picture of the effects of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions from forests….This makes it difficult for decision makers to use the information to guide policy decisions and for Canadians to hold government to account.”
The Environment Commissioner’s investigation came amid growing calls from scientists and civil society for clarity from the government on industrial logging’s emissions. As NRDC and Nature Canada found, based on the government’s own data, the logging industry, which clearcuts more than 1.3 million acres of forest each year, is responsible for emitting more than 70 Mt CO2 each year, more than ten percent of Canada’s entire annual emissions.
Instead, through a series of flawed, biased practices, the government has contorted its reporting in a way that falsely represents the forest sector as a whole as roughly carbon-neutral. Essentially, Canada has been gifting the sector credit for the forests it has not cut or planted, “offsetting” the logging sector’s climate impact with emissions removals from never-before-logged primary forests.
As a result, Canada has effectively erased the logging industry’s emissions from the ledger books, entrenching a system of “climate-blind” policymaking in which decisions about Canada’s forests are entirely divorced from the actual climate ramifications of the logging industry’s practices.
One of Canada’s go-to pivots in the face of concerns on its forest carbon accounting has been its much-touted Two Billion Trees Program, the government’s marquee example of its ambition on natural climate solutions.
As it turns out, that program has problems of its own.
As the Commissioner highlighted, the Two Billion Trees program is not positioned to achieve its originally projected emissions reduction goals, and has limited immediate climate utility. In fact, the initiative is projected to act as a small source of emissions until 2031. While the initiative’s mitigation potential eventually reaches 4.3 Mt CO2 in 2050, this benefit is not a substitute for addressing the far larger, more immediate emissions attributable to industrial logging and ensuring that logging-related policy decisions are grounded in the best available data. These issues are compounded with the government’s failure to implement criteria to ensure the planted areas’ value for biodiversity or their permanent protection.
The Environment Commissioner’s criticisms of Canada’s approach to forests and climate point to a systemic rot at the root of the government’s policymaking. The lack of transparency and clear, separate data on industrial logging’s emissions impact threatens to hobble Canada’s ability to pursue effective, climate-conscious forest policy. It hinders its climate and nature commitments globally, and undermines the integrity of its domestic targets.
It also eliminates any incentive for the logging industry to pursue climate-friendlier practices. In a global marketplace increasingly disassociating from unsustainable forest product supply chains, the government does industry few favors long-term by enabling regressive, business-as-usual practices.
In our rapidly warming world, international scientists have been clear that the margin for error is small and shrinking by the day. Transparent accounting is essential to the clear-eyed climate solutions. Instead, Canada is stumbling in a self-imposed dark.