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Opinion: Moving towards a net zero, zero-carbon future

February 1, 2022  By Derek Nighbor, FPAC

Canada’s approach to sustainable forest management has helped retain over 90 percent of its original forest cover. Photo: © shaunl / E+ / Getty Images

Canada’s forests and sustainably sourced products, whether they be manufactured wood products or wood residuals to make pulp and paper or forest bioproducts, are among the most powerful weapons in Canada’s climate change arsenal as we work to reduce emissions, store more carbon and displace more fossil fuel intensive materials in the coming years.

Canadian forestry is rooted in the principles of sustainability, biodiversity conservation and supporting forest health and renewal. Workers in our sector have for decades acted as our first line of defense in monitoring and managing these dynamic ecosystems. 

Canada’s forest sector was one of the few industry groups that got behind ‘The Kyoto Protocol’ in the late 1990s. We were early adopters of industry targets to help Canada meet its Paris Agreement commitments, and we are currently finalizing an action plan to be the blueprint for how the sector will help Canada achieve a net-zero carbon economy by 2050. In fact, we believe we are one of the few industries in the country that can go beyond net-zero – and do it well before 2050. We just need the right enabling conditions by Canadian policymakers.


While there has been a consistent carbon sink in managed forests, the past decade has also seen considerable areas of forest affected by pest outbreaks and fires. These have created a large source of carbon emissions into the atmosphere, because trees killed in affected forests stop sequestering carbon and instead emit carbon. Sustainable forest management ensures these forests retain their potential for storing carbon while respecting the wildlife and biodiversity and renewing our forests to keep them as forests forever. 

Our globally recognized approach to sustainable forest management has been one of the factors helping Canada retain more than 90 percent of its original forest cover. We harvest less than one percent of harvestable forests per year and replant 400 to 600 million seedlings annually. Canada is home to nine percent of the world’s forests and 36 percent of the world’s independently certified forests which makes us a global leader in sustainable and responsible sourcing.

By 2030, Canada’s forest industry will be in a position to remove the equivalent of 30 megatonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere each year through innovative efforts in our woodlands operations, at our mills, along our supply chain, and through the products we make that store carbon and can displace more fossil fuel intensive materials. Those removals represent more than 10 percent of Canada’s goal under the Paris Agreement and is equivalent to taking over nine million cars off the road.

Canadian forestry is on a path to be a zero-waste sector and we do this by producing an array of products using every part of the tree.  Today, almost 60 percent of Canada’s forest industry runs on bioenergy which used to be considered waste, and that number is growing.  At the same time, wood lignin is being used to create more eco-friendly adhesives and asphalt, while wood-fibre is being used to create more eco-friendly water filters, medical masks and paper products. Even tree sugars can be used in a range of bioplastics with medical applications such as bone implants.  These products are in addition to the carbon-storing lumber we provide that is needed for national construction projects and housing.

As we work to create the green, family-supporting jobs the next generation of Canadians need, we are supporting Canada’s net-zero carbon future by reimagining the resources and products we use every day through a cleaner, greener lens.  Now is the time for us to leverage the power of sustainable forest management as a nature-based climate solution to deliver on our international commitments, grow our forest-based economy and help our forests adapt to a changing climate.

Derek Nighbor is the President and CEO of the Forest Products Association of Canada, a voice for Canada’s wood, pulp, and paper producers nationally and internationally in government, trade, and environmental affairs.

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