PARLIAMENT HILL—One day after a world conference on climate change in New York City last week that Prime Minister Stephen Harper declined to attend, his Cabinet minister for natural resources quietly tabled a report providing detailed background on the effect climate change is wreaking on Canada’s forest, and fingering the oil and gas industry as the only growing source of deforestation in the country.
Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford (Kenora, Ont.) tabled the report from his department during routine proceedings after the daily Question Period on Wednesday, Sept. 24, shortly before Conservative MP Tilly O’Neill Gordon (Miramichi, N.B.) introduced a bill on behalf of the Senate calling for a National Fiddling Day.
Mr. Rickford’s report on the state of Canada’s forests contained the most detailed data yet on climate change and the effects of extreme weather and regional temperature shifts on forests went by with little notice, tabled as it was in the late afternoon after members of the Parliamentary Press Gallery had filed outside the House to scrum MPs in the foyer fronting the Commons Chamber.
At the time, the opposition parties were already raising alarm at the fact Mr. Harper (Calgary Southwest, Alta.) had not attended a UN climate change summit in New York on Tuesday, Sept. 23, even though he had arrived in the city in time to take questions at a business forum the next day, the day Mr. Rickford tabled his report, and to attend an emergency UN Security Council on terrorist militants in Iraq and Syria that afternoon.
Among other things, Mr. Rickford’s report revealed that Canada’s managed forests were a net carbon source for the year 2012, despite the vital role forests play in taking carbon out of the atmosphere as one of the Earth’s largest natural ways of reducing the air’s share of carbon dioxide.
The report said although the “overall forest area” is expected to remain “generally stable” in Canada—which has 24 per cent of the world’s northern boreal forests—“some shifts resulting from a changing climate, such as the northern migration of the northern tree line and the loss of aspen (softwood trees) along the southern edge of the boreal forest, may lead to change in forest area distribution across the country over the long term.”
Under a “Spotlight” chapter on the impacts of climate change on Canada’s forests—the most attention climate change has received in archived publications of the yearly sum-up—the report said climate change models suggest the climate of boreal northern latitude forests in Canada and other northern countries “is changing faster than the global average.”
“Canada’s forests and forest sector are likely already subject to diverse consequences of these changes,” the report says.
“Forest operations are already being impacted by changes in climate,” the report says. “For example, mid-winter thaws are shortening the season for winter harvesting and transport activities. Many areas have also seen forest fire seasons start earlier, with possible increases in management costs.”
The Northwest Territories last summer experienced its worst forest fire season in recent history, possibly ever, national news reports over the summer explained.
“Larger rainfall events are forcing operators to increase culvert sizing. Over time, climate change is projected to bring even more changes to forest operations across the country,” the report said.
“It is, however, through disturbances that climate change will have its greatest impacts on all aspects of the forest sector,” it says. “Natural disturbances such as fires and insect outbreaks are necessary agents of forest renewal, but they also have major impacts of the economies of communities through the cost of lost timber volumes, decreased forest growth and increased protection needs.”
The report noted large windstorms are the dominant disturbances in the Maritime provinces “and their frequency and levels of damage to forests have been increasing over the past few years.”
“Climate change is affecting all of these natural disturbances,” the report says. “Forecasts using climate change scenarios suggest that fire activity will increase across much of Canada’s forests, as will potential for pest outbreaks to expand into areas previously climatically unsuitable for certain insects and diseases.”
A table shows the oil and gas industry in Western Canada, where the oil sands of Alberta are the largest single base of boreal forest decline, is the only sector that has recorded a steady rise in deforestation from 1990 to 2010—from 4,400 hectares destroyed in 1990 to 11,100 hectares destroyed in 2010.
The report said Canada’s forests contributed 33 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents to greenhouse gas buildup in 2012—due to industry emissions, fires and the impact of deforestation on carbon emissions from the forest floor. The 61 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents that the forests took out of the atmosphere were outbalanced by the direct emissions and another 34 million tonnes of carbon that were transferred from the forest to the forest products sector by being stored in such things as wood housing construction.
The report reveals Canada’s forests were a net carbon source in eight of the 10 years from 2000 to 2012.
NDP MP Megan Leslie (Halifax, N.S.) said the timing and delivery of the report, combined with Mr. Harper’s snub of the UN climate change summit, show the government continues to ignore the effects of climate change.
“They refuse to acknowledge that climate change is an issue. They absolutely refuse,” Ms. Leslie told The Hill Times.
“I was elected in 2008, so in 2008 the Conservatives had a plan for climate change, they talked about it during the election, the budgets and the speeches from the Throne addressed it. They didn’t do a lot of it but they at least acknowledged its existence,” Ms. Leslie said.
“But climate change does not appear in the last budget, climate change does not appear in the last throne speech. I’m pretty sure climate change didn’t appear in the throne speech before that. They’ve completely given up on it,” Ms. Leslie said.
Liberal MP Joyce Murray (Vancouver Quadra, B.C.), an expert on climate change and the forestry sector who based her unsuccessful 2013 bid for the Liberal party leadership in large part on environmental issues, called the report an understatement of climate change effect on forests.
“This is very much a rose-coloured glasses report,” Ms. Murray said.
“The reality is that the lack of federal government leadership on forests, on natural resources and forests, has contributed to the forests being a carbon source,” she said in an interview.
Ms. Murray said Mr. Harper’s decision not to attend the New York conference underscored a policy of ignoring climate change, while his government provides public relations and financial support for the oil industry, particularly the oil sands.
“I think it’s a big signal about his lack of concern about the issue, that he didn’t go to that meeting which was intended to set the table for a successful [UN] conference in Paris [next month],” Ms. Murray said.
“The reality is that the federal government, the prime minister, has totally fallen down on the job, because it is Canada that makes commitments around climate change and we don’t have a national climate framework, which means provinces are doing it on their own,” Ms. Murray said.
Climate change affecting Canadaâ€™s northern forests â€˜faster than the global average,â€™ says government report | hilltimes.com