Executive Director, Canadian Institute of Forestry/Institut forestier du Canada (CIF-IFC)
As we come together this Earth Month to bring attention to the environmental challenges facing our planet, forests are a part of the solution.
Canada has a rich forest heritage intertwined with our past, present, and future. With 347 million hectares of forest, Canada is the world’s third-most forested country, with 9% of global forests.1 Sustainably managed forests offer a variety of products, social, cultural, and health benefits, and provide essential ecological functions.
These functions include: regulating ecosystems, protecting biodiversity, cleaning water, providing healthy habitats, and playing a key role in the earth’s carbon cycle.
With rapid change and unprecedented environmental events occurring, forests and the forest sector have and will continue to play a major role in fighting climate change, while also being heavily impacted by a changing climate.
In particular, forests and sustainable forest management practices reduce greenhouse gas impacts, as growing forests sequester carbon dioxide (C02). Worldwide, forests absorb 2.6 billion tonnes of C02 — a third of the C02 derived from burning fossil fuels.2
Innovation and new technologies in Canada’s forest sector are also mitigating climate change. Engineered wood product developments and building systems are making buildings more sustainable and energy-efficient. For instance, during construction, building with wood decreases carbon pollution by 25-45%. Also, since wood is a natural insulator, wood buildings require less energy for heating and cooling. Wood is also highly versatile and reusable, helping limit waste.3
Bioproducts created from wood fibre residue and forest by-products are helping to decarbonize the global economy. These bioproducts include biochemicals, biomaterials, and bioenergy. A prime example are low-carbon biofuels produced from previously unused wood waste and residues.4 Forest biomass accounts for 85% of Canada’s bioenergy5 and is increasingly used to provide renewable energy for communities, including remote communities.6 Additionally, as single-use plastics infiltrate landfills and oceans, bio-plastics made from wood fibre offer a biodegradable alternative.
The impacts of climate change can also affect Earth’s biodiversity. Biodiversity is critical in sustaining Canada’s various ecosystems including forested areas. Loss of biodiversity and deforestation are intimately linked and can be seen globally. In Canada, deforestation is among the world’s lowest, accounting for only 0.3% of global deforestation (34,300 hectares) and is primarily attributed to agriculture, mining, oil and gas.7 Additionally, Canada’s overall deforestation rate is predicted to remain low and decrease.8
Canada remains a world leader in sustainable forest management and forest certification, with some of the strictest laws and standards to ensure forests are protected and properly maintained for present and future generations. To put this into perspective, 200 million hectares of Canada’s forests have a long-term forest management plan, and 168 million hectares have been independently certified to third-party standards.9
By using sound science to conserve biodiversity, safeguard wildlife habitat, protect ecosystem processes, and practice responsible forest management, Canadians should celebrate our forests for their critical role in protecting and preserving our earth.