Our forests are the ultimate climate warriors: they remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and lock up carbon in their wood, releasing oxygen in the process. Did you know that 50 percent of wood is made of carbon? Planting more trees is a great nature-based solution to climate change; however, so is sustainable forest management!
What is Sustainable Forest Management?
Sustainable forest management maintains the long-term health of our forests while supporting the wide range of economic, social, and ecological values we rely upon. Across Canada, sustainable forestry is guided by rigorous regulations that ensure all activities are based on sound science, extensive planning, public and Indigenous consultation, and continuous monitoring.
The role of sustainable forest management has been widely recognized as an important tool in mitigating climate change. In 2019, the UN’s International Panel on Climate Change stated: “Sustainable forest management aimed at providing timber, fibre, biomass, non‐timber resources and other ecosystem functions and services, can lower GHG emissions and can contribute to adaptation.” It’s no surprise that all levels of government have embraced sustainable forestry as a key component of a carbon-friendly future.
How can Sustainable Forest Management Fight Climate Change?
Trees sequester and store carbon as they grow. Older trees can store a large volume of carbon (the average 80-year-old Canadian tree absorbs 200 kg of carbon over its life); however, as their growth slows, so too does their ability to absorb additional carbon. Conversely, younger trees that are still growing can sequester carbon at a much higher rate. Further, as trees age, they often become carbon sources rather than sinks, either through natural decay or as they become more susceptible to disturbances such as fire and pests.
The carbon implications of aging forests are evident here in Canada – today, our managed forests are net sources of carbon, owing in part to advances in fire suppression during the 1950s that resulted in an older forest than would naturally occur.
Sustainable forest management limits carbon losses associated with natural tree death. Harvesting trees allows sequestered carbon to remain locked up in the form of wood products for far longer than the natural lifespan of a tree. And, for each tree harvested, new trees take root, resulting in an additional carbon benefit. In Canada, forest renewal is required by law.
Additionally, wood products can displace carbon-intensive materials while still providing the range of products we rely on (toilet paper, books, furniture, television screens, renewable energy, etc.). Through innovation, wood is increasingly being used to replace single-use plastics and high-carbon construction materials.
As Canada moves towards a 2050 Net-Zero objective, one thing is certain: our forests, and their sustainable management, is a big part of the solution.