Our Greatest Ally In The War Against Climate Change is Ailing
By Roy L Hales
British Columbia could be emissions free. The province’s forest cover is vast enough to absorb more carbon than we actually need to use. Unfortunately, the Ministry of Forests has not been doing a good job since the Liberal Government took power. Instead of storing carbon, BC’s forests now emit carbon. So many trees have been clear cut, infested by Mountain Pine Beetles or burned in forest fires, that BC’s forests produced 256 million tonnes of CO2 in the decade following 2003.
Forests Generally Absorb Carbon
“Most people rightfully think that forests are slowing down Climate Change. They generally absorb carbon. Globally, about half of human produced emissions are being absorbed by forests and oceans. In some parts of the world forests are still healthy and resilient, but in British Columbia that is no longer the case. We have to change the way we manage our forests, if we want them to slow down Climate Change,” said Sierra Club Campaigner Jens Wieting.
After a close examination of government records, the Sierra Club concluded that the biggest contributor to these forest emissions is poor logging practices like clear cutting.
Since The Liberals Took Power
BC’s forests absorbed the equivalent of 70% of the province’s official emissions, in the decade prior to the Liberal government. (Though the Sierra Club report does not name the Liberals, Premier Gordon Campbell obtained power through the election of 2001. As you can see in the graph to the left, the decline of BC’s forests started the following year. )
If you include forestry emissions in the equation, BC’s carbon footprint was only about 200 million tonnes in the decade from 1993 to 2002, and grew to 900 million tonnes in the succeeding decade.
This is critical because signs of Climate Change are already upon us. Snowpacks, on mountains from British Columbia south to California, are low. Oceans are getting acidic. The number and size of wildfires is increasing.
Calling On The B.C. Government
Sierra Club BC is calling on the B.C. government to make forest health, rather than LNG exports, their priorities. If the government phased out fossil fuel subsidies, they could make $1 billion available to develop and implement a 5-year forest action plan. Core elements of this plan should be to restoring government capacity for forest stewardship, increasing conservation, improved forest management, adjust the annual cut and create more jobs per cubic metre.
“We have the means to reduce emissions and absorb carbon. We just have to double our efforts to restore healthy forests. We can create jobs that will reduce emissions, instead of increasing them, slow climate change down instead of speeding it up and support communities, the economy and forests instead of putting them at risk,” he said.
Though most of British Columbia’s Old Growth forests have disappeared, Wieting insists “We still have resilient ecosystems.” It may take a decade, but British Columbia’s forests can be restored to health.
The ECOreport queried the Ministry of Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations about many of the questions raised in this story and you can access the answers here.
Top Photo Credit: Vancouver Island Clearcuts by T J Watt, from BC forest wake-up call