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CPAWS accuses Western Climate Initiative of ducking a burning issue

  • Published on Sep 24 2008 |
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Four Canadian provinces and seven American states have just released their recommendations for the design of a regional cap-and-trade system to put a price on carbon and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in their jurisdictions.  According to the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS), the recommendations duck a key issue -- whether partners will be allowed to falsely claim carbon neutrality for logging and burning natural forests to produce electricity.

Wood is a low quality fuel that results in significant carbon dioxide emissions. The draft WCI recommendations released in the summer suggested that these emissions would be ignored.  Environmental groups pushed back on the recommendation, demanding that the real emissions from all energy sources be counted. Today’s recommendations don’t resolve this question.

Proponents of producing bioenergy from wood say that the fuel does not cause pollution because trees will grow back and remove all the carbon back out of atmosphere as they grow.

“The problem is that it can take more than a hundred years for a natural forest to take the carbon back from the atmosphere, if it ever does.  In the meantime, switching to woody bionenergy would actually increase emissions in the short-term when emission reductions are most urgently needed,” says Chris Henschel, an expert on forests and climate change working for CPAWS.

In the final recommendations released today, the group of premiers and governors has said they will allow each province and state to decide whether or not to ignore these real emissions and treat them as carbon neutral.

"There is a lack of leadership from the WCI on this issue,” said Henschel.  “We need a clear signal that premiers and governors will protect our natural forests.  What we have instead is a threat that each province and state could create a perverse incentive to log and burn natural forests with no climate benefit.”

Natural forests in Canada are massive carbon stores and protecting these forests is an effective strategy to keep the carbon out of the atmosphere and help biodiversity survive in the face of climate change.  Creating a market to burn wood from natural forests for electricity could  result in much greater pressures to log these forests, hence accelerating the clear cutting front in Northern pristine boreal forests.

"At least the forest industry is only interested in trees of a certain size," said Henschel, "whereas everything from saplings to ancient forest giants could be burned to produce electricity."

The Western Climate Initiative (WCI) is the largest North American effort to cap global warming pollution from major industrial sources.  The WCI initiative is important because it could send a signal to investors that states and provinces are serious about supporting renewable energy and energy efficiency.  The design of the WCI system will be finalized in November with jurisdictions passing supporting legislation next year.

"We need the WCI," said Henschel.  "But we also need WCI to send a clear message that partners cannot ignore emissions resulting from logging and burning natural forests.” 

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For interviews, contact:

National:  Chris Henschel, 514 836-8497
British Columbia:  Chloe O’Loughlin, 604 685-7445 ext. 23
Manitoba:  Ron Thiessen, 204 453 6346, cell - 204 794 4971
Ontario: Trevor Hesselink, 416.971.9453, ext. 33
Quebec:  Nicolas Mainville, 514.278.7627, ext. 225