In 1998, the net capacity of BC forests to absorb carbon from the atmosphere was about 86 megatonnes each year. At the time, the province’s total emissions (not including forestry-related emissions) were 66 megatonnes. Those are the emissions that result from burning fossil fuels, making cement, creating and managing waste, agricultural-related emissions and so forth. So BC’s net emissions at that time were -20 megatonnes per year. In other words, our forests absorbed more carbon than we emitted from all other activities.
By 2019, however, BC’s annual emissions had grown to 69 megatonnes while its forests’ ability to absorb carbon from the atmosphere had dropped below zero; the forests had become a net emitter of carbon.
This means BC’s net emissions rose from -20 megatonnes in 1998 to 69 megatonnes in 2019. That’s a net growth in annual emissions of 89 megatonnes per year.
What a spectacular fall from grace. What happened to our forests?
It’s common practice to blame the Mountain Pine Beetle (and lately, fires) for BC’s fall from grace, but this is—to be kind—disinformation created by the people who were mismanaging BC’s forests on behalf of the logging industry. Logging was responsible for 60.5 percent of the loss in merchantable volume in BC, followed by the Mountain Pine Beetle (30.5 percent) and forest fires (9 percent) between 2000 and 2019.
The cost of our lost carbon sequestration capacity is immense. When calculated at the value of BC’s Carbon Tax—based on its value in each year since 2010—the cumulative loss for just the 10 years between 2010 and 2019 is about $22 billion. Since 60.5 percent of that loss results from logging live, healthy trees, logging has cost BC over $13 billion in foregone carbon sequestration over just the past 10 years.
Since all the volumes above are based on lost merchantable volumes—the volume of biomass killed that could have been removed as merchantable logs—the values for lost carbon sequestration capacity shown are actually only about one-half of the total loss in sequestration capacity.
In 2019, forest scientist William Moomaw published the peer-reviewed paper Intact Forests in the United—Proforestation Mitigates Climate Change and Serves the Greatest Good. Moomaw writes, “The recent 1.5 Degree Warming Report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change identifies reforestation and afforestation as important strategies to increase negative emissions, but they face significant challenges: afforestation requires an enormous amount of additional land, and neither strategy can remove sufficient carbon by growing young trees during the critical next decade(s). In contrast, growing existing forests intact to their ecological potential—termed proforestation—is a more effective, immediate, and low-cost approach that could be mobilized across suitable forests of all types. Proforestation serves the greatest public good by maximizing co-benefits such as nature-based biological carbon sequestration and unparalleled ecosystem services such as biodiversity enhancement, water and air quality, flood and erosion control, public health benefits, low impact recreation, and scenic beauty.”
To restore BC’s long-term 90-megatonne forest carbon sequestration capacity, there needs to be a halt to logging of primary forests in the Timber Harvesting Land Base. Protected carbon reserves need to be established in the most productive forests where there is a low likelihood of large, intense fires. This would include mature second-growth stands.
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