BC Introduces Zero Net Deforestation Act to Encourage Carbon Storage Offsets

Climate Change Law Practice Group Blog

March 24, 2010

The BC Minister of Forests and Range, Pat Bell, has introduced Bill 5 – the Zero Net Deforestation Act – to assist the government's climate change objectives (see the June 2008 BC Climate Action Plan). The purpose of the Act is to enshrine in legislation the govenrment's goal of zero net deforestation (ZND) in BC by December 31, 2015 to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. (The government passed the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Targets Act (GGRTA) in November 2007, legislating its target to reduce GHG emissions by at least 33 percent by 2020. Subsequently, in December 2008 it brought into force the Emissions Offets Regulation, which sets out requirements for GHGG reductions and removals from projects or actions to be recognized as emission offsets).

The Act defines deforestation, provides for reporting on net deforestation and allows for regulations establishing: the timing, form and content of reports and records; scientifically-based methodology for calculating deforestation and afforestation and other matters.

According to a Ministry news release, dated March 22, 2010 the focus of the proposed Act is on future forests and the afforestation of suitable non-forest land. It "meets government's commitment in the 2008 speech from the throne to pursue the goal of zero net deforestation , which will be achieved when the area of newly created forest land in BC is equal to or greater than the area of deforestation." The three keys to achieving zero net deforestation are: "avoid, minimize and mitigate deforestation."

While BC's forests and forest land are recognized as "important allies" in absorbing and storing carbon and fighting climate change, the definition of deforestation in the Act does not include timber harvesting. The reason stated is that "Timber harvesting in B.C. is sustainably managed, and not considered to be deforestation." Arguably, under the province's current GHGRTA initiative, the principle of additionality would oust many existing reforestation projects or actions on forested land as they are already required and managed under stringent regulations.

The intent behind the legislation is to encourage the reforestion of approximately 6,200 hectares of land that was deforested in BC in 2007 by various industrial activities. Its meant to address some of the cummulative impacts from these activities and to encourage voluntary action to help achieve ZND. Existing incentives such as business expense deductions, charitable donations and revitalization tax exemptions may be used to help to achieve emissions targets and, provide for carbon storage offsets.

Current issues affecting BC's forests and forest industry such as MPB recovery, restocking NSR areas, carbon sequestration (and associated carbon credits) and, encouraging investment in BC's forest industry are to be addressed by other government initiatives. Its expected however, that reforestation as described under the Act, will generate approximately 75 silviculture jobs per year.