Leaked letter puts focus on Canada's forestry trade priorities ahead of COP15

Canada supports the goals of the European Union's forestry trade rules, Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault says, after a leaked letter recently revealed the country's efforts to water down proposed EU regulations right before the United Nations' global biodiversity conference kicks off in Montreal.

“What I can tell you is that we agree with what the EU is trying to do,” Guilbeault told Canada’s National Observer in an interview. “And we want to work with them.”

The leaked letter, first reported by the Guardian last week, was penned by Canada’s ambassador to the EU, Ailish Campbell. It called for a “phased” approach that would slow down the push to halt deforestation and asked the European Commission to reconsider “burdensome traceability requirements” meant to ensure unsustainably sourced wood products have no place in the market, according to the Guardian.

The federal government is working with provinces and territories to “define pathways” to protect areas with large, intact old-growth forests, said Guilbeault. Ottawa is prepared to give B.C. a “down payment” of $50 million to help protect old-growth forest, he said, but as the Narwhal recently reported, B.C. has yet to accept the funds.

“There's very significant financial commitments by the federal government to bring provinces and territories to the table when it comes to nature protection,” he added.

The federal government invested $2.3 billion over five years in Budget 2021 to support work with other governments, Indigenous groups and non-profit organizations that furthers the national goal to conserve 30 per cent of land and oceans by 2030 and improve the country’s natural environment.

“We're working to undermine and erode regulations and standards that we simply wish not to comply with in order to be able to continue to extract natural resources ... in an unsustainable way,” BC Green MLA Adam Olsen told Canada’s National Observer in an interview. Olsen regularly pushes the provincial government on deforestation and old-growth logging and the resulting biodiversity loss.

The federal NDP is so far silent on the issue, declining to answer questions posed by Canada’s National Observer. Conservative environment critic Gérard Deltell’s office staff told Canada’s National Observer the Quebec MP was not available to comment.

Olsen said he is “entirely uninspired” by the federal NDP and the party’s relationship to both the BC NDP and federal government.

“We've got a federal NDP that's entirely unwilling to hold their provincial counterparts accountable,” said Olsen. “They'll stand up in the House of Commons and say one thing about fossil fuels or about forestry or about some environmental issue, and yet, they'll completely let their provincial counterparts off the hook on it.”

Last November, the BC NDP launched a process to defer logging in the province’s old-growth forests at risk of permanent biodiversity loss by giving 204 First Nations the option to defer logging on their territories, but the government has yet to announce funding to support that process, leaving Nations reliant on forestry revenues between a rock and a hard place. The result: old-growth trees continue to be logged.

The proposed EU regulations are very ambitious but the letter reveals Canada is out of step with those ambitions, environmental groups say.

“Canada is really sending a message that it's continuing to prioritize its logging industry over the health of its species, the health of its communities and the health of the world,” said Jennifer Skene, natural climate solutions policy manager at Natural Resources Defense Council.

By taking this stance, Canada “has basically removed itself from a leadership position on (forestry) issues,” said Skene. This is a very alarming move as a precursor to the negotiations in Montreal, which begin Wednesday and aim to create an international plan for protecting biodiversity, she added, but the country has an opportunity to change course and embrace the kinds of ambition and leadership that are essential to protecting these really essential forest areas.

“Unfortunately, this is not the first time that Canada has intervened internationally to obstruct really critical and cutting-edge forest policy,” said Skene.

Canada has “vigorously opposed” legislation in California and New York that would help to remedy the states’ impacts on driving forest degradation in both the boreal and the tropical forests, she said.

“The world needs to see our forestry practices for what they are,” said Olsen, the B.C. MLA. “I hope that while the world is here, that they fully understand ... because only then ... will our government be forced to change forestry practices.”

Natasha Bulowski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Canada's National Observer