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Forest Products Association of Canada said its companies aim to remove 30 megatonnes a year of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by 2030.

Ben Nelms/Bloomberg

Canada's forest products industry is aiming to be a major contributor to Canada's 2030 climate goal, but is touting better forest management and increased use of wood products – rather than emissions reductions at its operations – as the key strategies.

In a statement Monday, the Forest Products Association of Canada said its companies aim to remove 30 megatonnes (MT) a year of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, representing 13 per cent of the country's overall commitment to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 225 MT between 2005 and 2030.

Half of the promised reductions will come from improved forest practices, including the use of the entire harvested tree rather than burning the brush or letting it rot and emit methane. The industry is also targeting expanded use of wood products – which sequester carbon and can displace high-carbon materials – to account for most of the rest of the reductions. It is urging provincial governments to change building codes to allow more wood construction, including in high-rise structures.

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The association endorsed the adoption of carbon pricing – either taxes or cap-and-trade systems – to help drive down emissions, and encouraged the use of lower-carbon materials such as wood. Chief executive officer Derek Nighbor said it is important that the revenue generated by the pricing be recycled to support innovation in the industry. He added that provinces need to be careful not to place an onerous burden on Canadian mills when U.S. and other competitors don't face carbon levies.

"The number one thing we're asking for in the broader climate change space is co-ordination," he said. "We don't want to see a patchwork of regulations and standards from province to province; we're quite happy with the current pan-Canadian arrangement" being worked out by Ottawa and the provinces.

Mr. Nighbor said the industry slashed its GHG emissions from mill operations by 65 per cent since the early 1990s through a combination of plant closings and new technology, such as the use of biofuels. It now accounts for only nine megatonnes a year.

However, some critics question whether the use of sustainable forestry practices actually represents additional emissions reductions, or whether it is merely business as usual in the industry. The former Conservative government indicated last year that it will change its emission accounting practices to claim a greater role for Canadian forests in sequestering carbon and achieving the 2030 goal.

Environmental economist Nic Rivers of the University of Ottawa said the industry has already been proceeding with many of the forest management practices that are being touted for their emissions reductions, and that therefore it may be misleading to count them as additional efforts toward the 2030 targets.

"I feel like the [emissions] accounting in the sector is very opaque.It is very difficult to know what is additional and what is business as usual," he said.

However, Glenn Mason, assistant deputy minister at National Resources Canada, said the association's pledge will require concerted new action and "as such is consistent with our views on [the] mitigation potential."

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