Canada accused of putting its timber trade ahead of the global environment

The Canadian government has been accused of putting its domestic timber industry ahead of the global environment, following a leak aimed at watering down the world’s most ambitious zero-deforestation trade regulations.

Weeks before the UN Biodiversity Conference, Cop15 in Montreal, the host country sent a letter to the European Commission asking for a review of “heavy traceability requirements” under a draft EU program to eradicate unsustainably sourced wood products from the world’s largest market. .

The letter from Canada’s ambassador to the EU, Ailish Campbell, also called for a “step-by-step” approach that would slow implementation, and a review of plans to include “degraded” forests among the areas considered at risk.

Green MPs and conservation groups said the lobbying effort showed Justin Trudeau’s government valued its paper, wood and wood products industry more than the international commitment that he had taken at the Glasgow climate conference last year to ‘stop and reverse’ forest loss and land degradation by 2030.

“In this letter, we can clearly see that Canada wanted to protect its economic interests rather than the forest,” said French MEP Marie Toussaint, one of the initiators of the new regulations. “For a country that is supposed to be in favor of the conservation of natural resources, saying ‘don’t go so fast’ is surprising, especially when it will be at the forefront of the issue of biodiversity in Montreal in a few weeks. .

Toussaint, who is a deputy leader of the Greens group in parliament, said the proposed new regulations, which are in the final stage of negotiations this week between the European Commission, Council and Parliament, are designed to tighten controls and future checks on forest products in the EU. This would include geolocation requirements so buyers can know the exact origin of wood for decking, furniture or paper. Unlike previous measures, the project does not only focus on illegal deforestation, but also on legal and unsustainable practices.

This is an important step that shows the EU takes the 2030 target seriously, Toussaint said. “The EU can be proud. We are doing this ambitiously,” she said. “It is long overdue. For decades we have tried to rely on voluntary declarations and pledges, but we find that it does not work.

US-based environmental group Mighty Earth said the proposed regulations were a potential turning point for forest protection because they would set a new global standard. “This legislation could be a game-changer. It’s a shame that Canada is trying to squeeze out the most important forest legislation we’ve seen in the last decade,” said the group’s founder and chief executive, Glenn Hurowitz.

Negotiations are at a critical stage. After talks this week, a deal is expected to be reached by the end of the year, but the level of ambition is disputed. Sweden, another supposedly green nation with a major forestry industry, reportedly raised concerns about some human rights clauses. Poland and Italy would be reluctant to include rubber among the products covered. Others, such as Germany, Belgium and Slovenia, are strong supporters of strict regulation.

Canada’s lobbying efforts are under particular scrutiny ahead of the Montreal conference, which will highlight the country’s green reputation as well as a darker environmental side. Canada is a base for some of the biggest mining companies in the world, including Belo Sun, which aims to open a huge gold mine in the Amazon rainforest. Canadian oil sands development in Alberta has also been widely criticized as being out of step with efforts to keep global warming to between 1.5°C and 2°C above pre-industrial levels. The sustainability of the country’s forest products companies, such as Paper Excellence and Resolute, has also come into question.

Campbell’s letter notes that the country’s annual deforestation rate is less than 0.2%, so Canada should receive special attention as a “low risk” country.

But reports indicate that some of the country’s exports come from ancient forests, which are far more important than secondary forests for biodiversity protection and carbon sequestration.

Environmental groups say the logging industry often cuts below the canopy, which is referred to as “degradation” rather than “deforestation.” He identified the fragmentation of remaining natural forests as a major threat to biodiversity, including the nutritional intake of caribou, which must now receive additional food from humans in an area because the lichen they usually depend on is rarer, partly due to industrial logging. The situation is worse in British Columbia, where the caribou population has fallen from about 40,000 to 17,000 over the past century, the steepest drop in decades.

In the letter, Campbell insists that there is no agreed definition of degradation, so it should not be included in new EU regulations. But scientists insist that degraded lands must be included and that industrial logging of ancient forests must be stopped to align with a climate-safe world.

Campbell, who has more industry experience than the environment, prioritized trade in his letter. “We are very concerned that some elements of the proposed EU Deforestation Free Products Regulations will result in significant trade barriers for Canadian exporters to the EU. In particular, the requirements of the regulations will increase costs, add burdensome traceability requirements (e.g. geolocation requirements) and risk negatively affecting trade, including well over C$1 billion worth of products. forestry and agricultural products exported from Canada to the EU,” she wrote. .

Hurowitz said Canada should accept tougher controls and higher standards if it wants to live up to its green reputation, otherwise its call for special ‘low-risk’ treatment will feel like a double standard for countries rich in the North compared to poorer tropical countries.

“Developed countries know how to speak the language of sustainability. Even when they’re bulldozing old-growth forests, they’re good at sticking green veneer on it,” he said. “Trudeau presents himself as green, but in pushing to weaken EU forest protection rules he is aligning himself with people like [former president] Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil. Canada must decide which side it is on.

More trade-focused MEPs involved in the negotiations expressed hope that Canada would live up to its green reputation. Christophe Hansen, secretary general of the Luxembourg Social Christian People’s Party, said the letter should not harm the Montreal cop. “Canada’s hosting of the UN Biodiversity Conference does not prevent it from having its own concerns, but I am confident that it will fulfill its role as an honest broker and neutral host, as it has done many times before.

The Canadian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Embassy to the EU have been approached for comments.

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