The Honourable Jim Carr, Minister of Natural Resources, speaks about the importance of Canada’s Sustainable Forests. 


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Thank you * * * and good morning everyone.  Welcome to Ottawa.

You’ve chosen a great time to be here.  2017 marks Canada’s 150th anniversary, so it’s a special year for us and a special year to host the SFI.   

It’s also appropriate that we should meet here in Ottawa, not only because it’s our capital city, but because of its roots as a lumber town.  The shores of the Ottawa River were once a popular meeting place for traders.  In fact, the name “Ottawa” comes from the Algonquin word for “trade.”

Today, we meet on those traditional Algonquin lands.  And as we discuss forests as a way of life, we honour that history and the values the Indigenous peoples embodied as first stewards of this territory.

The SFI understands the importance of stewardship.  So thank you for the work you do and the difference you make. 

Under Kathy’s (Abusow, President and CEO) remarkable leadership, the number of hectares of forests certified to the SFI Standard has grown from 56 million to more than a quarter billion, stretching from Canada to the southern U.S.

That’s not just an impressive record — it’s an indication of where the world is going — with an increasing appreciation of the importance of forests to the strength of our economies and the enrichment of our lives. 

Just a few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of meeting with all of Canada’s forest ministers and among the things we discussed was managing the habitat of species at risk — especially the caribou.

The night before that meeting, I turned on the TV and the first story was, guess what?  The caribou and other endangered species in Canada.  It struck me then how forest management has really moved to the forefront of the global agenda. 

Sustainable forestry is something Canadians understand.  We have almost 347 million hectares — about one and a half million square miles — of forestlands.  That’s nine percent of the world’s total.

About half of our forestland has been independently certified as sustainably managed, which is 37 per cent of all the certified forests on the globe.

Canadian forest practices are recognized as being among the very best.  Grounded in conservation and driven by science.

Our sustainable forest management system is based on a range of scientific indicators — from regeneration to forest disturbances — from carbon emissions to volumes harvested.

Canada has also developed a carbon budget model that simulates forest carbon conditions.  It forms the basis of our carbon monitoring and accounting system used in international reporting.  More than 25 countries are now using it.  

Canada is unique in that 93 percent of our forests are publicly owned. So it’s important for governments to be transparent and accountable about how they’re being managed.

Every year, our government reports to Parliament on The State of Canada’s Forests, outlining their economic, social and environmental status. In fact, this year’s report was just tabled yesterday.

What’s clear from that report is that the forest industry is changing.  Fundamentally. 

Today’s forestry worker is as likely to be wearing a white lab coat as a red plaid shirt.  She might be a genomics researcher, investigating ways to make trees more resistant to disease.  Or a biologist, helping companies plan their harvesting in the most sustainable way.  Or even an economist, working to optimize supply chains.

From car parts to clothing, cosmetics to chemicals, forestry is on the leading edge of technology and setting the pace on environmental performance.

To paraphrase that classic Oldsmobile commercial, “this isn’t your father’s forest industry.”

Forestry has transformed itself into one of the most innovative parts of our economy.  By investing in research. Developing new products. And cracking new offshore markets. 

Creating not just a new image, but a new vision of what forestry was — and could be.

Our government applauds those efforts and shares that vision — a vision that sees forestry as a high-value, high-tech industry leading the way in innovation. 

The result?  Forestry is poised to help address three of the biggest challenges facing our countries: combatting climate change, driving innovation and creating economic opportunities for Indigenous and rural communities.

Let me just touch on each of these.

First, climate change. 

It would be hard to overstate the importance of the forest sector to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  In fact, I would even go so far as to say that there can be no global solution to climate change without the forest sector.

It’s that important. 

Why? Because, as you know, forestry is unique among resource sectors in that it actually takes carbon out of the air.  Most of us will remember enough of our high-school science to know that trees absorb vast amounts of carbon from the atmosphere and store it for decades. But forestry’s contribution goes far beyond that.

It’s developing clean technologies, producing green energy, reducing its need for energy and water and lowering both emissions and waste.

But impressive as the industry’s green transformation has been, I believe it’s just getting started. 

Lignin, a material found in trees, could become the crude oil of the future, with biofuels substituting for fossil fuels in the production of plastics, pharmaceuticals and chemicals.

Then there’s wood as a building material, which is enjoying a renaissance as new, stronger and more environmentally friendly products come to market.  Pound for pound, engineered wood can be as strong as steel, making it safe and practical — not only in buildings, but also in infrastructure such as bridges. 

In Vancouver, my department teamed up with the University of British Columbia and the provincial government to build a new, 18-storey student residence — the tallest wood building in the world.

It’s not only an engineering and architectural showpiece, it is an environmental game-changer — storing over 1,700 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide and avoiding more than 650 metric tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions.

That’s like taking 500 cars off the road for a year.

And even in more modest structures, wood is far better for the environment because building with lumber can result in 86 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than using traditional building materials such as concrete and steel. 

So the forest sector has a central role to play in combatting climate change.

Second, it’s helping to drive innovation.

For decades, the forest industry has been developing and investing in new products and new ways of operating.  Creating new nanomaterials, biofuels such as biomethanol, and value-added wood products that would have been unimaginable only a few years ago.

Together with government support, there has also been ground-breaking research into the use of cellulose nanocrystals — the basic building block of trees.  This work has opened the door to using this light, strong and bio-degradable material in everything from bone replacement and tooth repair to airplane parts.

There’s also the remarkable rise of bioenergy — a renewable energy source derived from things like wood, residues from wood and straw. An increasing number of remote and Indigenous communities are now using bioenergy to end their dependence on high-emission diesel generators for their electricity.

Here in Canada, we understand that the economy of tomorrow will be a bioeconomy.  Canada’s forest ministers have just endorsed a Forest Bioeconomy Framework, aimed at making Canada a global leader.

Third, forestry is a dynamic engine of growth, creating economic opportunities across the country, including in Indigenous and remote communities.

It employs over 200,000 Canadians and contributes over to $23 billion a year to our GDP. In fact, it provides more jobs per dollar than any other resource sector.  And we export more than $34 billion worth of forest products to 180 countries around the world.

While its reach is global, the forest industry’s impact remains local — the lifeblood of rural Canada and a major source of income for about one in seven municipalities across the country. 

The forest industry has reinvented itself by demonstrating what can be achieved through collaboration and engagement. 

Nowhere have those efforts been greater than with Indigenous communities, 70 percent of which are in forested regions.  No surprise, then, that forestry is one of the leading employers of Indigenous people — providing some 9,700 well-paying jobs across the country. These jobs are creating the potential for enduring prosperity, bringing hope to communities for lasting change.

Today, governments, Indigenous communities, forest companies and environmentalists are all working together to preserve the sustainable forest industry we need while protecting the environment we cherish.

Of course, forests are important not only for the material they produce, but for the species they support.  As I mentioned, we’re particularly concerned with the caribou and, in July, our government released an action plan to protect it.

We’re also establishing a National Boreal Caribou Knowledge Consortium, a broad-based science advisory committee with the goal of restoring this iconic species and ensuring its preservation for generations to come.

Whether it’s combating climate change, driving innovation, working with Indigenous communities on economic opportunities or protecting species at risk, sustainable forests are essential to the quality of our lives and the health of our planet.

As your theme captures so well, forests are a way of life.  Preserving them through sustainable practices is the work not just of our time, but of generations.  

The Nobel winning poet, Rabindranath Tagore, once wrote that, “trees are the Earth’s endless effort to speak to the listening heaven.”

I wish you well as you continue your vital work to sustain that connection for generations to come.

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