October 31, 2007

Canada's forest industry to turn over a new leaf

October 30th 2007.

Canada's forest industry says it will be carbon neutral by 2015.

In what is likely the first such pledge by any major industry sector in the world, the forest companies say their logging, paper and pulp operations, and the products they produce, will, in effect, no longer be a source of greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.

And they'll do it, they say, without resorting to offsets – the controversial practice in which polluters continue to spew emissions, but contribute to projects elsewhere that claim to reduce them.

The effort must extend beyond forests and mills to wood and paper consumers, such as construction sites, homes and offices, Avrim Lazar, president of the Forest Products Association of Canada, said.

The aim is to protect both the environment and the industry's bottom line, said Lazar, who was to announce the pledge this morning at a conference in Ottawa.

Global demand for wood products is soaring, he said. "If people continue to do it the old way ... it won't be very good for the planet."

The devastating spread of pine beetles in British Columbia – partly because winters are no longer cold enough to kill the insects – is a wake-up call, he said.

"We got a lesson in the impact of climate change before most of the rest of Canada."

As well, global buyers increasingly demand products from "sustainable" operations. That can be an edge for Canadian firms, which face fierce competition from China, Brazil and other places where trees grow faster, costs are lower, and environment rules can be lax.

The Canadian industry has reduced its greenhouse emissions 44 per cent since 1990, when its output increased by 20 per cent.

That puts it far ahead of Canada's Kyoto Protocol target – a 6 per cent cut.

Most of the industry's reductions have been at pulp and paper mills, which have become more efficient and, in many cases, converted from oil and gas to renewable fuels. But much of the effort will involve keeping wood and paper out of landfills where, as it decomposes, it releases methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

About half the paper used in Canada is recycled, Lazar said. To improve that figure, the industry will use publicity to target consumers in offices and apartment buildings, where recycling rates are low.

Another focus will be recycling wood waste at construction sites. The aim is to have it recycled into plywood, particleboard or paper; or sent to high-tech plants that burn wood for heat and electricity.

"We hope other industries will rise to the challenge" of doing the same, or better, said Lorne Johnson of World Wildlife Fund Canada, which is working with the association. Other green groups are on an advisory panel.

Johnson added the odds are good the industry will meet the target. "They're already doing a good job."

Shifting into neutral

How the Canadian forestry industry plans to meet its 2015 target:

Become energy self-sufficient – switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

Adopt energy-efficient technologies.

Increase diversion of used forest products from landfills.

Cap more landfills to prevent methane leaks.

Increase cogeneration – using waste heat to generate electricity.

Increase potential of forests and wood products to store carbon.

Maximize recycling of paper and wood products.

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