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Groups say BC’s bioenergy plan will worsen global warming

A UBCM workshop that purported to present the province’s new “Bioenergy Strategy” devolved into a sales pitch for wood-burning electrical generation – a strategy that B.C.’s leading environmental groups say contributes to global warming.

“Of our land base of 95 million hectares, about two thirds of it is covered in trees... and we actually only harvest a very small percentage of that,” Janice Larson told a Thursday morning workshop at the UBCM convention in Penticton.

“We need to look at that forest in a different way,” continued Larson, who directs a bioenergy branch within the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources. “Instead of looking at it as just cubic meters, which has historically been the way we tend to look at the forest, we need to start thinking about it in terms of megawatts or gigajoules.”

Larson suggested B.C.’s struggling timber communities might find a salve for their economic woes by burning wood that can not currently be sold in the depressed North American lumber market. She added that such plants are “deemed to be clean power production.”

Her comments echoed themes presented in a new booklet produced by the Forest Products Association of Canada and released Thursday by the Ministry of Forests and Range. The booklet, entitled “Tackle Climate Change, Use Wood,” promotes cutting trees – and the production of bioenergy – as solutions to global warming.

“Climate change is the biggest challenge of our generation,” Minister Pat Bell said in a release. “But it is also the biggest opportunity our forest sector has ever seen." Bell listed bioenergy among the strategies that make B.C.’s forest sector "an integral part of solving this global challenge.”

But those claims brought swift and sharp criticism from a coalition of B.C.’s leading environmental groups. The David Suzuki Foundation, ForestEthics, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, Pembina Institute and B.C. Spaces jointly attacked the idea that cutting down trees would help fight climate change.

"The government should be promoting forest protection to tackle climate change, not logging," said CPAWS’ Chris Henschel in a release.

Logging results in a sixth of Canada's annual greenhouse gas emissions, according to the environmental groups.

"The world's expert authority on climate change, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change . . . has prioritized protection of forests as the most effective and cost efficient thing we can do with our standing forests to fight Global Warming," said Merran Smith of ForestEthics in the release.

The groups were particularly critical of the claim – made by Larson and Bell in separate presentations at UBCM, and repeated in the booklet – that “bioenergy has no net greenhouse gas emissions.” Larson, Bell and other proponents argue that trees grow back and remove all the carbon that was originally released.

The environmental groups counter that wood is a low-quality fuel that results in significant carbon dioxide emissions.

"The problem is that it can take more than a hundred years for a natural forest to take the carbon back from the atmosphere, if it ever does," said Dave Neads with B.C. Spaces. "In the meantime, switching to woody bioenergy could actually increase emissions."

Monte Paulsen is editor of The Hook.

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