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When International Day of Forests rolls around this year, B.C. better get its forests a nice present. Or at least a card.

That’s because B.C. forests are being asked to do much of the heavy lifting in British Columbia’s Climate Leadership Plan, the sprawling document released last August aimed at keeping the province’s carbon reduction goal on track.

One of the headline-grabbing parts of the plan: planting millions of trees in forests ravaged by pine beetle and wildfire, with the ultimate goal of soaking up more carbon.

As the report states: “We can harness this opportunity to sequester atmospheric carbon dioxide in this tremendous public asset through intensive forest management practices and storing carbon in long-lived wood products.”

Nevertheless, the plan has encountered criticism. Premier Christy Clark declined to heed her Climate Leadership Team’s biggest recommendation: removing the cap on the carbon tax. The plan also calls for liquefied natural gas development, which some climate scientists say is incompatible with reducing carbon emissions.

So does the plan rely too much on forestry?

At the very least, revitalizing the province’s forests is a start. In what may seem like a paradox, B.C.’s forests are actually net carbon emitters, and have been since 2003. Deforestation, pine beetle, and increasingly intense wildfires have played a role in turning B.C.’s forests from a carbon sink to a carbon emitter.    

The goal is to replant 300,000 hectares of forest over the next five years. At this rate, the B.C. government believes the province’s forests will be sequestering 11.7 million tons of greenhouse gases by 2050. 

In an interview with the CBC, UBC dean of forestry John Innes said that revitalizing forests is a good first step.

"The idea [of the Climate Leadership Plan] is basically to switch our forests back to being a net sink for carbon dioxide, and there's absolutely no reason that shouldn't occur," said Innes. Whether there’s the capacity to actually replant those forests while dealing with the continued effects of wildfire and pine beetles remains to be seen.

Others say that carbon sequestration won’t cut it amid expanded natural gas production and a flat carbon tax.

The B.C. NDP plan calls for raising the carbon tax to meet the province’s 2050 emissions targets, which are set at 80 per cent below 2007 levels. The plan would also pursue sector-by-sector emissions reductions while blunting the impact of carbon tax hikes on low and middle income families.

March 21 is the UN’s International Day of Forests. The 2017 event focuses on the role forests play in global energy production.

By Jonny Wakefield, 9 March 2017

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This article was written for Clean Capital News a free bi-weekly publication dedicated to producing topical articles on sustainability and clean technology that advance our understanding of issues like climate change and help generate solutions for a more sustainable future.

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