By Dale Prest
Community Forests International
Early in October, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau finally revealed the biggest part of his climate change strategy: If there are provinces or territories that have not priced carbon emissions by 2018, the federal government will impose a carbon tax on them.
The tax was set at $10 per tonne of carbon dioxide emissions in 2018, increasing $10 each year until 2022, when it reaches $50 per tonne. This taxation level would serve as the minimum standard for Canada, with all provinces expected to enforce regulations at least as strong, if not stronger.
What does this mean for woodlot owners?
Some of you may know that we at Community Forests International (
have been working to position private woodlot owners and our forests at the forefront of the fight against climate change. Trees are powerful tools in the effort to reduce the amount of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere, and forests should factor into our government's policies to reduce carbon emissions.
Well-designed climate change policy would give forest owners and managers incentives to manage their lands specifically to store more carbon, and compensate those landowners for their efforts. For example, CFI has already been paid slightly more than $300,000 for the carbon stored on our 705-acre woodlot over a 100-year contract. Put another way, we have been paid $3,000 per year for 100 years to keep our average stocking above 20 cords to the acre. We can still cut every tree on that woodlot, just not all at once.
Our sales have been to customers who want to voluntarily offset their carbon emissions. Unfortunately, this "voluntary market" is limited in size. The premier's October announcement, however, could create a much larger market for carbon credits (also referred to as carbon offsets) from well-managed woodlots.
I say "could" because Mr. Trudeau has put the carbon pricing ball back in the provinces' courts, at least until 2018. Provincial governments will make the final decisions on which pricing system we get.
(Photo courtesy of Dan Hutt)
Not All Carbon Pricing Systems Created Equal
People usually talk about two carbon pricing options: Carbon Tax or Cap-and-Trade. While in reality we can have any hybrid of the two, a Cap-and-Trade is a much better option for woodlot owners.
Cap-and-Trade systems usually only apply to the biggest emitters in a given province. The emissions of these polluters are capped at a given level, which is reduced year after year. If they can't reduce emissions below their caps, they can purchase qualified carbon offsets from people who undertake activities that pull carbon back out of the atmosphere.
If Nova Scotia were to institute a Cap-and-Trade system, woodlot owners would be able to manage their lands specifically to store more carbon and receive payments from a regulated market for doing so.
Better yet, our government has the option - today - to adopt the same system, tweaked to our particular circumstances, that is currently operating in larger North American jurisdictions. In so doing, woodlot owners would gain access to the Cap-and-Trade markets of California, Ontario and Quebec. Known collectively as the Western Climate Initiative, these markets are 10 to 50 times the size of what Nova Scotia's would be on its own. All of the carbon offsets that private woodlot owners in Nova Scotia could generate would be a drop in the bucket.
It gets better. Beginning in 2018, exporting carbon offsets to places like California could sustainably bring $50 million per year into rural, forest-based communities in this province. That amount increases to $100 million by 2030. All from private woodlots, in Nova Scotia alone. This is a big rural economic development opportunity.
Maybe best of all, we will still continue to cut wood. As I said earlier, we can cut every single tree we have, just not all at once. The Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources has become increasingly worried about "disengaged" woodlot owners who are not managing their lands, taking that timber out of the provincial wood basket. Well, to sell carbon offsets you need to manage your lands, meaning that disengaged woodlot owners will become re-engaged, increasing the size of Nova Scotia's working forest. A Cap-and-Trade program would help our forest products sector.
So to summarise, Cap-and-Trade is the best, and if it's linked to the Western Climate Initiative, its even better.
How you can help
This is an important message to get through to politicians over the next few months. Because of the federal government's timeline, our province is looking today at what type of system we will have in place in 2018. We need to let the government know that we want a Cap-and-Trade system linked to the Western Climate Initiative.
Everyone has a role to play in getting this across the finish line. Call your local councillor, MLA and MP. Let them know that we need a Cap-and-Trade program, and that we should be a part of the Western Climate Initiative. This will help to keep the costs of the program down and create a new export opportunity for rural communities.
Using our woodlots in the global fight against climate change is something we as woodlot owners can feel proud of. It's something to tell our grandchildren that we did to prevent a real catastrophe.
At CFI, we've been sorting out the details for the past six years. We now know what needs to be done, and know how to do it. It's a win-win for us all, so let's get on with it.