Effective action to address climate change depends on accurate emissions reporting.

Unfortunately, when it comes to industrial logging emissions in Canada, policymakers — and the public — are largely in the dark.

Last month, Canada’s commissioner of the environment and sustainable development, Jerry DeMarco, released an audit criticizing the federal government for failing to clearly and separately report the greenhouse gas emissions associated with industrial logging.

The audit stated that the government’s failure to transparently report emissions from the forestry sector “makes it difficult for decision-makers to … guide policy decisions and for Canadians to hold government to account.”

DeMarco urged the government to implement “sector-specific reporting, as is done for the oil and gas industry, [to] support the development of effective policy measures to reduce emissions from the forestry sector.

The commissioner’s report echoes the transparency concerns scientists and environmental groups have been raising with government officials for well over a year.

Ottawa is effectively erasing logging’s emissions from its ledger book, leading to forest policy-making that ignores climate impacts.

In its reporting, Canada combines the emissions from logging with carbon absorbed by vast areas of never-before-logged primary forests. These trees, now regrown and sequestering carbon decades following the last major natural disturbance, lie entirely outside industrial logging’s ambit.

By adding the carbon these trees absorb, on top of emissions actually attributable to logging, the inventory effectively masks the industry’s true climate impacts, portraying the forest sector as a net carbon sink (totalling nine million tonnes of CO2 in 2021). That has helped perpetuate a misperception that industrial logging is low-carbon and sustainable.

When it comes to industrial logging emissions in Canada, policymakers — and the public — are largely in the dark, write @MichaelPolanyi @NatureCanada & @jen_skene @NRDC #cdnpoli #logging #climate #Boreal #LoggingEmissions #COP15
Each year, Canada's logging industry clear-cuts more than 550,000 hectares of forests like this one in Ontario. Photo by River Jordan for Natural Resources Defense Council

In fact, the logging sector accounts for about 11 per cent of Canada’s total reported greenhouse gas emissions.

While Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) does not separately report logging emissions, it is possible to calculate these emissions from data scattered throughout Canada’s National Inventory Report, an updated version of which was released in April.

Nature Canada and the Natural Resources Defense Council recently undertook this analysis.

We found that net emissions from logging in Canada — comprising carbon the logging industry takes out of the forest (and emissions from soil and debris), minus carbon stored in long-lived wood products and carbon absorbed by trees planted after logging — were 73 million tonnes (Mt or megatonnes) in 2021.

This means, for numerical comparison, logging emissions are significantly higher than emissions from electricity generation (52 Mt), and only slightly lower than emissions from oilsands operations (85 Mt).

The logging sector’s full climate impact, however, is not currently factored into government decision-making, leading to counterproductive climate policy and jeopardizing Canada’s international climate and nature commitments.

In fact, the federal government presents forestry as a “nature-based solution,” stating in its Emissions Reduction Plan that “Canada’s forestry sector can also help contribute to Canada’s climate targets.” Indeed, Canada spends tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars each year subsidizing logging and wood use.

Meanwhile, other sectors and the public bear the cost of the industry’s impact.

This policy failure is also putting the future of Canada’s logging industry at risk. Jurisdictions like Europe and the United States are increasingly demanding wood products that do not contribute to deforestation and forest degradation, and investors are holding companies to higher forest sustainability standards.

By failing to recognize — and regulate — the true climate impacts of Canada’s business-as-usual logging practices, the federal government is missing the opportunity to incentivize the transition to a more sustainable and climate-friendlier forestry sector.

Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault should heed growing calls to close the massive logging gap in Canada’s climate plan — and commit to clearly and separately reporting net emissions attributable to industrial logging.

Clarity and transparency of data are prerequisites to good policy. With little margin for error left for our climate, it’s time Canada acted with eyes wide open.

Michael Polanyi is the policy and campaign manager for nature-based climate solutions at Nature Canada.
Jennifer Skene is the natural climate solutions policy manager for the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Canada program.

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Thanks for this great article. YES, we need the federal Government to stop subtracting the carbon sequestration by forests from the carbon emissions of the logging industry to get an accurate and realistic understanding of the environmental damage done by the logging industry. We also need our provincial governments to do the same.
Here in my province of Ontario the Doug Ford Govt is giving logging companies a free hand to cut even in our protected provincial parks, such as Algonquin, and regardless of vital wetlands and species at risk. We, the Ontario people, basically can only object to this on principle, because we lack the necessary information as above. However, given its terrible environmental history and generosity to its monied supporters, I suspect that the Ford Government will continue to ignore us no matter what.