Opposition to Forest Bills Risks Canada’s Global Reputation

“As these bills move forward, Canada will have to reckon with the precarious position in which it has found itself–a country that claims leadership on natural climate solutions but is undermining other governments’ actions to ensure sustainable supply chains.”

Away from the fanfare and promises of Earth Day press conferences, Canada is showing the shallowness of its commitment to natural climate solutions when it comes to forests in its own backyard. Over the past few weeks, in a stark reversal from the government’s recent support for the protection of climate-critical forests, Canadian federal and provincial officials have been waging a quiet campaign to stop bills in California and New York that would stem intact forest loss and Indigenous rights violations in both the tropics and the boreal. It’s a dangerous gambit that not only threatens Canada’s ambitions as a global leader on climate, conservation, and Indigenous rights, but also risks leaving its forest products industry as a relic out of step with marketplace demands for more sustainable materials. 

In the face of growing alarm over the climate impacts of the continued loss of carbon-dense forests, legislators in California and New York introduced groundbreaking measures to curb the states’ roles in driving these impacts. These two bills, which would require state contractors to adopt policies preventing tropical and boreal deforestation and intact forest degradation and violations of Indigenous rights to free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) in their supply chains, reflect the scientific consensus that protecting forests, just like ending fossil fuel extraction, is vital to avoiding catastrophic climate change. 

Just a few weeks ago during the Biden Earth Day Summit, Canada’s Minister of the Environment Jonathan Wilkinson urged the global community to “ensure our financial system has incentives to protect intact carbon and biodiversity-rich natural areas.” He stated, “Protecting carbon-rich natural systems is certainly good for nature, for the climate and for people. It is the first, most effective and lowest-cost Nature-Based Solution.”

But instead of backing up words with action by supporting these bills, Canada is instead amplifying industry-created misinformation and alarmist claims in an attempt to stop this important legislation. Through letters, meetings alongside the Forest Products Association of Canada (FPAC), and hearing statements, Canadian officials have opposed and attacked these measures, aligning the country with regressive industry actors over its commitments to Indigenous rights and natural climate solutions. 

In waging its campaign against these bills, the country has taken a page out of the forest industry’s well-documented misinformation tactics, resorting to internally incoherent and misleading arguments and unabashed greenwashing.  

Canada’s vocal opposition summons stark scrutiny of why, if Canada has the stringent standards it claims, it opposes a bill that would simply make baseline climate and Indigenous rights protections a universal requirement across the states’ supply chains. In fact, to the extent that Canada does live up to its own commitments on natural climate solutions and Indigenous rights, this bill would position Canada’s forestry industry as a leading supplier to state contractors. If, as Canada claims, its forestry practices are “world class” and in alignment with a climate-safe future, it should actually benefit from a bill that holds all countries to the same sustainability standards and requires sourcing from responsible jurisdictions. 

The truth is that logging in Canada is not world-class, and that Northern forests, no less than tropical forests, are facing a steady, but overlooked, extinction. Russia and Canada globally rank first and third, respectively, in intact forest loss, while boreal countries like Sweden, Norway, Canada, and Russia have among the highest tree loss per capita in the world. As a recent NRDC report showed, some of Canada’s largest logging companies continue to operate in threatened species’ habitat and operate without guaranteeing FPIC. While global attention has focused on the tropics, species like the boreal caribou have dwindled in Canada; logging infrastructure has left indelible scars on the boreal landscape; and some of the world’s most carbon-dense forests have been turned into toilet paper, newsprint, and 2×4’s. 

Canada, with its opposition to the inclusion of the boreal in the bills, perpetuates this same colonialist paradigm that gives Northern countries a free pass for their own destructive activities. In fact, Canada is not asking the states to completely jettison the bills–just to make sure they only apply in the Global South. 

The marketplace isn’t buying it, and neither should California and New York policymakers. 

Boreal Forest in Ontario

River Jordan for NRDC

As these bills move forward, Canada will have to reckon with the precarious position in which it has found itself–a country that claims leadership on natural climate solutions but is undermining other governments’ actions to ensure sustainable supply chains. Canada cannot call on countries like Brazil to adhere to these standards while undermining them when they hit closer to home, and it certainly will not be able to maintain its marketplace reputation while working to exempt itself from globally recognized climate and Indigenous rights standards. 

Ultimately, Canada cannot be an environmental leader as long as it actively lobbies against strong supply chain protections for forests and Indigenous rights. World-class environmental leadership comes from living up to strong commitments, encouraging the leadership of others, and embracing protections for forests and Indigenous rights. To truly lead–and carry its logging sector into a climate-safe future, Canada must acknowledge where it is out of step with just and sustainable practices and direct its calls for climate leadership not just outward on the global stage, but within its own borders.