Canada’s forests play a major role in the global carbon cycle. This means they can be an important part of international efforts to address climate change. Under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the federal government has been negotiating with other signatories on the measures that countries should take to address climate change.
Current negotiations are aimed at developing a global agreement on greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reductions that developed and developing countries will make by 2020.
Forests feature in international climate change negotiations in two main ways:
- Rules are being determined for accounting for GHG emissions related to forests in developed countries.
- Efforts are underway to establish a means of reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, and to encourage sustainable forest management in developing countries.
Key issues related to forests and climate change:
In developed countries
- GHG accounting rules for forest management
- how to deal with emissions from natural disturbances such as fire and insects
- how to account for the carbon in wood products
In developing countries
- how to finance action to reduce emissions and increase sequestration in forests
- how to measure the results of actions taken
- social and environmental safeguards
Canada is involved in negotiations that support a United Nations program known as REDD+ (for “Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation”) which also promotes sustainable forest management).
Several initiatives under REDD+ are working to help developing countries build the capacity to: (1) create domestic policies aimed at reducing deforestation and improving forest management practices; and (2) establish forest and GHG monitoring systems.
Canada is a major contributor to one of these initiatives, the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility.
Canada’s position on forests in international negotiations
Canada’s forests are subject to highly variable and unpredictable natural disturbance regimes. Notable of these are fire, insect infestations and disease outbreaks. Together these factors play a major part in determining whether a forest is serving as a carbon source or sink at any given time.
In international negotiations concerning responses to climate change, Canada’s position has been that natural disturbances are unpredictable, not directly caused by human activity, and difficult or impossible to control. For these reasons, Canada believes that natural disturbances should not be included in the accounting of GHG emission reductions. Instead, Canada would like to see: better monitoring; more focus on human activities that are controllable; and the creation of international incentives for sustainable management that reduces emissions and increases sinks.
In this way, accounting rules would focus on forest management while not penalizing countries for uncontrollable natural disturbances.
Canada has also been seeking more accurate accounting of the fate of carbon in harvested wood products. Under current international rules, the carbon in these products is assumed to be emitted at the time of harvest. In reality, however, the carbon in many harvested wood products remains stored for years or even decades.
Canada’s position is therefore that countries should be required to account for product-related emissions only when those emissions actually occur. Methods for carrying out this more accurate accounting are readily available.
Incentives for world-wide emission reductions
Deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries represent about 15–20% of human-caused GHG emissions. Many countries therefore have a strong interest in finding ways to reduce these activities.
- For developed countries, helping to finance REDD+ activities in developing countries may be a relatively low-cost way to achieve emission reductions while encouraging sustainable forest management.
- For developing countries, participating in REDD+ activities is a way to obtain financing to support sustainable, green development.