The path to net zero runs through Canada's forests

  • National Newswatch

After a summer of heat waves, droughts and intense wildfires, Canadians are more concerned than ever about the threat of climate change. Polling by Abacus Data and Nanos Research puts climate change in a close race with health care and economic issues as top concerns for voters.The urgency of the situation cannot be overstated. On August 9, the world's leading climate scientists produced their starkest warning yet about the deepening climate emergency. And, with the Arctic warming at twice the rate of the rest of the world, Canadians can expect to see more, not less, disruption and damage from global warming in the near future.Against this backdrop, all our country's political parties are increasingly turning their attention to serious and sustained climate action. In fact, the if climate change exists debate has been replaced with a now what debate.Any now what plan by any party needs to include both nature-based solutions and the use of carbon-capture technology. Why should nature-based solutions be a key component? A recent landmark study by Nature United found that natural climate solutions can help Canada avoid or increase capture of up to 78 mega tonnes of CO2e annually by 2030. That's equal to more than 10 per cent of Canada's total emissions.Unleashing the full potential of our forestsJust this past week, Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce, and Jad Daley, CEO of American Forests, wrote an article in Time Magazine stressing “trees are our planet's natural air purifiers—the single most effective 'device' we have to pull carbon out of the atmosphere.”In short, there is no path to net zero for Canada that doesn't lead through our country's forests. And with that truth in mind, we need during this election to look closely at each party`s campaign platform. Does the party acknowledge the critical role of natural solutions in any realistic strategy to tackle climate change? Is that strategy front and centre in the party's environmental platform? And if not, why?The fact is, to really make progress to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, Canada's leaders must urgently take full advantage of our forests and the ability of nature-based solutions to provide long-term and cost-effective ways to reduce emissions and sequester carbon on a large scale.Smart forestry plays an essential role and Canada is well-positioned to demonstrate global leadership in a major effort to protect, better manage and restore our forest heritage to maximize long-term reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and ensure sustainable biodiversity.The opportunity for bold thinking to take advantage of this potential has never been greater. Investors, elected leaders, and consumers are increasingly factoring environmental sustainability into their decisions. A recent poll for Canada's Forest Trust by Abacus Data found that, although Canadians believe our climate strategy should include both forest restoration and the use of carbon-capture technology, reforestation is considered by a measure of two-to-one to be the best method for removing carbon from the atmosphere.A bold visionEffective action will require elected leaders to harness the power of our natural forest heritage in the long-term fight against global warming. We recommend that the government take steps to significantly increase Canada's capacity to combat climate change through its existing forestry-based programs and other initiatives. In doing so, the government can meet its commitment to plant two billion trees by 2030; increase green jobs; eliminate key supply chain hurdles in the procurement of seedlings and access to labour, and position Canada as a global leader in using nature-based solutions.At its core, this is about building smart forests, not just planting trees. It means bringing together Indigenous land knowledge keepers, family foresters and landowners, seedling producers, conservationists, and scientific experts to work together to reverse the damage caused by deforestation and provide a path to long-term reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.Reaching this goal will take leadership, patience and steady funding allocations. However, rebalancing our approach to forests to favour protection and biodiversity for the long haul is a commitment our political representatives must make to give Canada a fighting chance of meeting its emissions-reduction targets.Engaging every business and every CanadianCanada's Forest Trust believes this crucial transformation can only be accomplished by engaging all Canadians in a national reforestation strategy. Every option should be considered to give Canadians and businesses— particularly where their livelihoods are dependent on our forests — incentives to make preservation and sustainable forestry an enduring priority.While this call to action involves a long-term commitment, it is a vision that draws on every Canadian's experience in a country renowned for having some of the world's most vast and natural spaces. For the sake of future generations, we need to take responsibility now for preserving our unique legacy by unleashing proven smart forestry solutions.And, as one of the global stewards of the vital boreal forest, Canada must fully recognize the importance of its environmental role and rethink its commitment to maximizing the natural power of our forest heritage in this life-and-death struggle against climate change.Gary Zed is the Chief Executive Officer of Canada's Forest Trust Corporation.