Province ignoring wildfires in carbon calculation: Sierra Club BC

File photo courtesy of the B.C. Wildfire Management Branch

The wildfires that ripped through B.C. forests during the last two summers have done the province no favours when it comes to carbon emissions, according to an environmental advocacy group.

In a report released Monday, Sierra Club B.C. says that both the 2017 and 2018 wildfires took out more than 1.2 million hectares, eight times more than the 10-year average.

In the process, the 2017 fires emitted an estimated 190 million tonnes of carbon dioxide and produced a similar amount in 2018.

According to the latest data, released by the B.C. government in December, B.C.'s total emissions in 2016 were about 62 million tonnes.

And Sierra Club B.C. says that's on the low side, claiming the government failed to take into account emissions from "destructive logging and slash burning" that amounted to nearly 50 million tonnes in the last three years.

The practices have turned B.C. forest from a carbon sink to a carbon emitter, the Sierra Club B.C. says and adds that if the provincial government continues to use its current method, it will have undercounted emissions from B.C.'s forest by more than 200 million tonnes, once data becomes available for 2017 and 2018.

"Turning a blind eye to these massive amounts of carbon pollution allows governments to act as if new pipelines and fracked LNG terminals can be accommodated within climate action plans," Sierra Club B.C. senior forest and climate campaigner Jens Weiting said in a statement.

The organization is calling on the province to provide more thorough estimates and to collect regional data and data on management practices, distinguish between carbon-rich forests and less carbon-rich forests, and distinguish between emissions from "destructive practices" and selective logging.

It is also calling on the province to set out targets for protecting carbon rich old-growth, to phase out slash burning, and ensure all communities at risk of wildfires are fully participating in Fire Smart programs.

In an emailed reply to the Citizen, Environment and Climate Change Strategy Minister George Heyman said the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change dictates that non-human related activities are not reported in greenhouse gas emission inventories.

However, he said forest fire emissions are included in the Provincial Greenhouse Gas Inventory for transparency but they are not counted towards the reported totals by either B.C. or Canada, in line with international practice.

"We know the last two years have been the two worst fire seasons on record. Most fires are natural events, outside of our direct control, though climate change is clearly intensifying the impact," he said.

Emissions from the wildfires and their consquences are "impossible to ignore," Heyman added.

"That's why I'll be taking a closer look at how British Columbia reports emissions from forest fires."

Prince George Citizen