Nature-based climate solutions show up at several points in this week’s federal budget, with funds set aside for emission reductions on farms, the forest-based bio-economy, and a continuing, multi-billion-dollar effort to extend Canada’s network of protected areas.
The budget identifies farmers as “major players in Canada’s fight against climate change” and offers up C$200 million over two years “to launch immediate, on-farm climate action under the Agricultural Climate Solutions program.” Targets for that activity will include “accelerating emission reductions by improving nitrogen management, increasing adoption of cover cropping, and normalizing rotational grazing.”
Also proposed: “$60 million over the next two years, from the Nature Smart Climate Solutions Fund, to target the protection of existing wetlands and trees on farms.”Farmers for Climate Solutions (FCS), a new group that had called for a two-year, $600-million federal commitment, is celebrating the announcement as “a historic win” for the sector.
“Our national and international customers want us to grow food more sustainably, and with only nine seasons left to achieve Canada’s 2030 target under the Paris Agreement, this investment will support farmers across the country to scale up practices that are proven to reduce our sector’s emissions,” said Ian McCreary, co-chair of the farmer-led task force behind the FCS recommendations. “Climate change poses the single largest threat to our sector, and this investment is an imperative for our ongoing success.”
“As the weather becomes more unpredictable because of climate change, farmers’ jobs get harder, our margins get tighter, and our livelihoods become more vulnerable,” added task force co-chair Arzeena Hamir, a British Columbia vegetable farmer. “This investment enables farmers to do our part to reduce emissions and to build resilience into our businesses.”
The budget also includes $54.8 million over two years for the forest-based bioeconomy, observing that “wood-based innovations are helping drive developments in Canada’s low-carbon economy. They can be used in biofuels, bioplastics, building materials, and other products our economy needs, and replace less sustainable products. Developing and marketing these new biomaterials will help protect good jobs in hundreds of Canadian communities,” with funding available to “municipalities and community organizations ready for new forest-based economic opportunities.”
That announcement risked colliding with continuing concerns about Canada’s creative accounting for climate impacts in the forest sector—beginning with the reality that an excessively-logged boreal forest has flipped from its previous role as a carbon sink to become a net source of carbon emissions.“
Few countries have played the international game better than Canada, a country that clearcuts over a million acres of carbon-rich boreal forest every year to feed demand for products like toilet paper, newsprint, and lumber,” writes Natural Resources Defense Council analyst Jennifer Skene, in the latest in a series of blog posts critiquing the country’s boreal forest practices.“
Canada’s evasion of accountability rests in large part around warped framing of what actually counts as forest loss—in other words, how countries define ‘deforestation’,” Skene explains. “While most people may look at a clearcut in Canada and say it’s deforested, under its narrow international meaning ‘deforestation’ only includes practices that actually convert the forest to a non-timber purpose, such as agricultural land. In Canada, even a barren stretch of stumps counts as a perfectly healthy forest.”
Elsewhere in the budget, Ottawa promises to “make sure Canada reaches its goal of conserving 25% of our lands and oceans by 2025, and create good jobs in the green economy along the way.” The budget contains $2.3 billion over five years to “conserve up to one million square kilometres more land and inland waters to achieve Canada’s 25% protected area by 2025 target, including through national wildlife areas, and Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas,” along with $976.8 million over five years for marine and coastal areas.
Critically, it also pledges expanded support for the Indigenous Guardians, a network of approximately 30 teams first formed with funding from the 2017 budget that works to preserve land, water, and ice across Canada. Details of the new funding did not appear in the budget document.
A recent study in the journal Nature stressed that such conservation efforts, especially in the marine environment, can reap huge climate benefits in terms of strengthening the oceans as carbon sinks.