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Forests & Climate Change

British Columbia’s vast natural legacy of wildlife and ecosystems are under threat from climate change, including the clean water and other “life support services” they provide for us. According to conservative scientific predictions, in this century, climate change will place 20 to 30 per cent of animal species at high risk of extinction. Therefore, BC needs strong laws that both dramatically reduce our emissions of greenhouse gas pollution and help native species of plants and animals better withstand the effects of climate change.

We know that healthy, functioning ecosystems are better able to accommodate and adapt to climate change than areas that have been fragmented and degraded by human activities. Looking after these ecosystems is essential to giving species a fighting chance in the face of global warming. We also know scientifically that natural forests store more carbon than managed forests (e.g., than forests that have been logged and replanted). Our land use choices in the face of climate change should reflect this.

New and strengthened laws will be required to give species, their habitats and ultimately ourselves the best chances of survival. To start with, we need to work together to design a new legal and policy framework that sets the stage for a science-based, legally designated, and interconnected climate conservation network in BC to give our diverse and abundant landscapes a fighting chance in the face of climate change.

The provincial government can start this process by working collaboratively with groups like West Coast Environmental Law to integrate nature strategies into its climate action plan, to conduct science-based mapping of priority conservation areas for climate mitigation and adaptation, and by developing new legal designations and tenures to augment its toolbox for nature conservation in a climate change era.

Forest-related carbon offsets
The Western Climate Initiative (WCI), of which BC is a member – was launched in February 2007, and is a collaboration of 7 U.S. governors and 4 Canadian premiers. The WCI was created to identify, evaluate, and implement collective and cooperative ways to reduce greenhouse gases, focusing on a market-based cap-and-trade system. The WCI proposes that 49 per cent of total emission reductions in the 2011-2020 period may be met through the use of ‘offsets’, through which entities may offset their own emissions by purchasing ‘credits’ generated by projects such as reforestation. In BC, with our wealth of forest resources, the treatment of forest-related carbon offsets is exceptionally salient.

Handled correctly, offset trading can minimize the overall cost of action on climate change while creating incentives for projects and behaviours that have significant ecological and social benefits. For example, it could provide a revenue stream for First Nations who wish to retain forests in their territories rather than log them, or for restoration efforts. However, without due care and attention to the specifics of BC’s forestry laws and policies and legal principles arising from Aboriginal case law, a badly designed regulatory framework could end up contributing to poor environmental outcomes and the further marginalization of First Nations peoples and forest-dependent communities.

West Coast Environmental Law is committed to fostering the environmental integrity, economic feasibility and constitutional validity of British Columbia’s emerging regulatory framework for greenhouse gas reductions, including as it relates to forest protection and management.