Canada must stop subsidizing wood pellet industry that logs whole trees for energy burned abroad, urge experts ahead of COP28
November 15, 2023
səl̓ílwətaʔɬ (Tsleil-Waututh), xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), and Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish) Territories (Vancouver, B.C.) – Leading environmental organizations, community groups, and climate advocates from across Canada call for an end to government subsidies for the forest biomass export industry in an open letter published today.
Ahead of COP28 climate talks beginning later this month in Dubai, the letter urges Minister Steven Guilbeault and Minister Jonathan Wilkinson to show international leadership by ending Canada’s support for utility-scale energy generation from forest-based biomass. Together with provinces where wood pellet mills are operating or proposed, the federal government should instead support an economy that will align with a climate-safe future. The 27 signatories to the letter include Stand.earth, David Suzuki Foundation, Nature Canada, Wildlands League, and Wilderness Committee.
The forest biomass industry depends on millions of dollars in public subsidies from Canadian and foreign government bodies to fund their operations. Members of the industry like international energy giant Drax, which owns the majority of facilities in British Columbia, produce wood pellets that power utilities burn for energy in the United Kingdom, Japan, and other countries in Europe and Asia. Industry executives argue that burning wood pellets is a carbon-neutral alternative to coal, but climate experts worldwide have repeatedly disproved this claim, noting that burning wood pellets for energy is a false climate solution that emits more CO2 at the smokestack than coal. Canada is currently the third-largest exporter of forest biomass in the world.
In the open letter, advocates emphasize that support for the biomass industry is at odds with the federal government’s commitment to phase-out subsidies that harm biodiversity and to halt and reverse nature loss.
Despite industry claims to the contrary, there is clear evidence that wood pellets are increasingly produced from logged whole trees from primary forests in British Columbia, when the world is already losing forests at a catastrophic rate. Investigative reports, documentaries and shareholder reports all confirm that forest biomass companies are turning to logging whole trees and primary forests to supply pellet plants, depleting some of the most carbon-rich, species-critical forests that are left and further weakening one of our best defences against climate change.
Letter signatories recommend several concrete actions the federal government should urgently take to demonstrate climate leadership and advance truly renewable energy solutions. At home, this includes redirecting funding to Indigenous land use, stewardship, or restoration projects, and wind and solar energy; and revising national carbon accounting methods in line with recommendations from leading scientists. On the international stage at COP28 and beyond, Canada should advocate for an update to global carbon accounting mechanisms to close loopholes that falsely represent industrial logging and utility-scale exported biomass as carbon neutral.
“In their efforts to transition away from coal, power utilities overseas are simply replacing one polluting fuel with another and benefitting from public funds meant to support renewable energy industries that are proven to curb carbon emissions,” said Richard Robertson, Forest Campaigner at Stand.earth. “A diverse group of voices are sounding the alarm that continuing to subsidize the forest biomass industry will only worsen the climate crisis and push biodiversity thresholds past the point of no return.”
“We need to protect and restore Canada’s forest ecosystems in order to reverse the loss of nature and fight climate change. Forest products are not a renewable source of energy. The carbon emitted will make the climate crisis worse and will put even more pressure on forests in Canada. We need the federal government to back real climate solutions and not fund industry-led practices,” said Rachel Plotkin, Boreal Project Manager at David Suzuki Foundation.
“If we are to meaningfully fight the climate crisis and ensure an abundant future for forest communities and workers, Canada must reverse course and reject forest biomass as a source of renewable energy,” said Jan Sumner, Executive Director of Wildlands League. “The export of wood pellets on a global scale will worsen the impacts of climate change, including for Canadians who have already been hit so acutely.”
“The Government of Canada should heed calls from the Auditor General’s Office and start counting the full climate costs of industrial logging. Doing so would make it clear that burning wood from carbon-rich, biodiverse primary and old-growth forests is not a climate solution, but a polluting form of energy that puts Canada’s irreplaceable intact forests at risk,” said Michael Polanyi, Policy and Campaign Manager at Nature Canada.
Kathryn Semogas, Canada Forests Communications Specialist, Stand.earth: +1-778-653-2303; email@example.com (Eastern Time)
Richard Robertson, Forest Campaigner, Stand.earth: +1-604-331-6201 ext 231; firstname.lastname@example.org (Pacific Time)
Kate Kourtsidis, Communications Specialist, David Suzuki Foundation: +1-613-806-8184; email@example.com (Eastern Time)