Canada still not counting emissions from logging sector, says report

Canada gives its logging industry credit for the carbon absorbed by trees planted after a wildfire, and in so doing, erases carbon pollution from one of its largest emitting sectors, the report says

A truck unloads a load of logs at a a sort near Powell River, B.C. | Robin Munshaw

In 2021, Canada's logging industry released nearly as much carbon as the Alberta oil sands, but a new report out today has found the federal government failed to report those emissions properly.

The report, released May 4 by Nature Canada and the National Resources Defense Council, found Canada's 2021 national greenhouse gas emissions inventory reported the country's forests acted as a carbon sink when in fact, they were the source of 73 megatonnes of carbon pollution.

That volume of emissions supersedes Canada's electricity sector by more than a third and is equivalent to 11 per cent of the country's total greenhouse gas output.

"Canada has been obfuscating its emissions in forestry for years now," said Jennifer Skene, one of the report's authors and the NRDC's Natural Climate Solutions Policy Manager for Canada.

"It allows Canada to portray the forest sector as carbon neutrals. It treats it as a climate non-entity."

The report comes less than two weeks after Jerry DeMarco, the Commissioner on Environment and Sustainable Development, released an audit finding Canada won't get even a tenth of the two billion trees it promised to plant in the ground over 10 years. When it comes to emissions from forests, the federal government "did not clearly report on the effects of human activities on forest emissions," the audit found.

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Net logging emissions compared to emissions from the Alberta oil sands and Canada's electricity sector. Nature Canada/NRDC

The gap between what's reported in the national inventory and what's happening on the ground occurs because Canada is giving the logging industry credit for the regrowth of trees planted after a wildfire, the report notes.

"And despite repeated calls around the need for transparency, Canada has continued to fail to clearly and separately account for the emissions," said Skene.

The authors say their estimate is "conservative" because it does not include the logging industry's use of fossil fuels in vehicles or the pulp and paper industry. It also notes Canada's emissions inventory does not include the impact of "logging scars," where forests fail to regrow properly and, once again, capture atmospheric carbon.

Provinces like B.C. make up a disproportionate share of logging emissions. In 2004, B.C.'s forestry sector flipped from a net carbon sink to a net carbon emitter. By 2018, the industry released more than half the annual emissions currently being counted in the province, according to public data.

Since 2005, emissions from logging operations have declined nearly 40 per cent, largely due to a reduction in area harvesting, the report says. Between 2020 and 2021, emissions from the logging sector fell by three megatonnes.

Still, the logging industry remains one of the highest emitting sectors in Canada, said Michael Polanyi, policy and campaign manager for Nature Canada and a co-author of the report.

"Ignoring this sector's significant emissions is leading to the adoption of a range of counterproductive climate policies," he said.