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| 05/03/16

Canadian forestry firms to boost sector’s ‘carbon sink’ potential


Canadian forestry companies have pledged to remove 30 megatonnes of carbon dioxide every year by 2030, equivalent to 13 percent of the country’s pledged emissions reduction target.

The Forest Products Association of Canada (FPAC), the trade association that represents the sector, made the commitment on Monday, which it is calling its “30 by 30 Challenge”. To put this in context, last May, the former Harper administration pledged to the United Nations that the country would reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent, or 225 MT of CO2 per year by the end of the next decade.

Many industries are trying to decarbonise their processes by switching away from fossil-fuel combustion. The forestry sector is doing this as well, but trees also act as “carbon sinks”: drawing down carbon dioxide as they grow. The trick is twofold: maximising these sinks, and using wood products to displace other, more carbon-intensive materials.

Roughly half of the pledged savings will likely be met through better forest management practices, such as processing whole harvested trees instead of burning or letting rot those parts that previously have been viewed as unwanted, and an expansion of salvage harvesting—logging in areas hit by wildfires, floods or insect outbreaks. Forestry companies will also be planting tree species that are more resilient in the face of climate-related threats such as increased frequency and intensity of droughts.

Most of the rest of the emissions reductions are expected to come from society as a whole upping the use of long-lived wood products to store carbon for decades or even centuries. New super-strong wood-based materials can be used to replace carbon-intensive steel and cement in building construction. The group also believes additional carbon savings can be made from development of bio-products such as forest-based biofuels for use onsite at mills and elsewhere, and the displacement of fossil-fuel based products such as plastics.

The trick is twofold: maximise carbon sinks, and using wood products to displace steel and cement in buildings

Changes to building codes now permit up to six-storey wood-construction buildings, and an 18-storey residence building at the University of British Columbia is currently being built. But the group wants provincial governments to relax these rules further to allow more high-rise wood construction. FPAC also strongly backs the adoption of carbon pricing, whether in the form of BC-style carbon taxes or Quebec-style emissions trading, as it believes this will make wood more attractive than emissions-heavy competing materials.

FPAC’s plan is based in part on research conducted by the Canadian Forest Service and PICS’ Forest Carbon Management Project to quantify the forest sector’s potential to mitigate climate change.

Forest Carbon Management Project head Werner Kurz said that the announcement was encouraging but that fleshing out the finer points was still necessary: “While the general principles are well understood, research remains to be done on the details of the implementation and the interaction of proposed mitigation strategies with positive and negative climate change impacts on forests.”

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