BACKGROUNDER: Minister Wilkinson Updates Canadians on Progress Under the 2 Billion Trees Program
Forests, wetlands, grasslands and farmland can capture and store large amounts of carbon (CO2) and are vital components of nature-based climate solutions that can reduce emissions, increase human well-being and protect biodiversity.
In the fall of 2020, the Government of Canada introduced Canada’s strengthened climate plan: A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy. The plan lays out a detailed pathway with a series of initiatives that will enable Canada to meet its international climate goals for the first time in Canadian history. One of the key pillars of this plan involves using nature-based climate solutions, such as planting trees and restoring grasslands, croplands and peatlands, to reduce emissions. The government’s commitment to plant two billion trees is one of three nature-based climate solutions programs within Canada’s strengthened climate plan. Specifically, the 2 Billion Trees (2BT) program committed up to $3.2 billion over 10 years to support provinces, territories, non-government organizations, Indigenous communities, municipalities, private landowners and others to plant two billion trees on provincial and federal Crown lands, in cities and communities, on farms and on private rural and urban lands.
At the launch of the program, estimates for annual tree-planting outcomes were developed using the best available information. The rate at which funding would be available to stakeholders for tree-planting activities was used to estimate the number of trees that could be planted year after year through the program’s five streams.
The supply chain for tree planting is complex. Ramping up the supply chain to meet the two billion tree-goal involves many stakeholders, such as landowners, seed collectors, nurseries, silviculture workers and experts who understand how to grow and plant the right trees in the right place and for the right reasons. Just like building a house, planning, securing financing and laying the foundation are some of the most important steps in good construction. Aligning supply chain business models and ensuring that the supply chain understands the program well enough to enable its meaningful participation are crucial to the success of the 2BT program. The government therefore committed to spending the early years of the program building a foundation for its long-term success.
During the first year of the program (the 2021 planting season), the government therefore had a goal of planting 30 million trees across the country. Over the course of the year, the program reviewed, approved and funded 72 projects, which led to the planting of over 150 species at more than 500 sites across Canada. Over 85 percent of these projects planted two or more types of trees, and nearly one-third of all hectares planted restored habitats, including for species at risk and species of interest.
Once the 2021 planting season came to an end and NRCan received information from 2BT program recipients on the final number of trees planted over the course of the first year of the program, the Government of Canada announced in June 2022 that it had planted 28.9 million trees through program partners, nearly meeting (about 97 percent) its projected planting goal for that year.
The first year of the 2BT program was instrumental. Through it, the program heard from existing and prospective partners on their needs and concerns about the program, including the importance of providing greater clarity on the program, its objectives and its monitoring requirements, so that applicants can meaningfully participate. The government also established an external advisory committee of experts on nature-based climate solutions to provide advice on program delivery in order to maximize emissions reductions through the program, and on its potential biodiversity and human well-being co-benefits. Planting a tree is one thing, but planting the right trees, in the right place, for the right reasons, requires purposeful planning. Using the lessons learned from the first year of the program and in concert with advice received from experts, the program has been taking steps to adjust program design to ensure its long-term success. For example, the program:
Shifted from an annual request-for-proposals model to a continuous-intake model for 2BT program funding applicants to align the timing of proposals with the supply chain seasons and to provide applicants with longer timelines to submit their proposals for consideration. Since December 2022, proposals are now being accepted, reviewed and approved on an ongoing basis, positioning applicants to apply at any time for funding through the program.
Hosts bi-monthly informational webinars for existing and prospective applicants and will continue to do so on an ongoing basis.
Receives project summaries from 2BT funding recipients that describe how they will ensure the long-term maintenance of planted trees and how they will manage trees post-planting. This is in line with our established guidelines for monitoring during the 10-year duration of the program. The program is also continuing to develop a long-term monitoring plan that leverages the site information collected from recipients as well as science that supports 2BT to ensure that long-term outcomes can be monitored beyond the lifetime of the program. We expect this plan to be completed by early next year.
Provinces and territories are key participants in the 2BT program as Crown landowners and public land managers and supporting biodiversity benefits is a key co-benefit of the 2BT program that can be maximized if done right.
Therefore, the program offers a higher cost-share to provinces (60%) and territories (80%) to support habitat restoration projects for species at risk and species of interest. Working with Environment and Climate Change Canada, the 2BT program developed materials for provinces and territories on where tree planting could have a strong impact on advancing biodiversity (e.g. species-at-risk maps) and is continuing to develop further guidance for all planting activities in this area to enhance reporting on biodiversity benefits.
To maximize these benefits, the program decided in December 2021 that provinces and territories needed to sign Agreements in Principle (AiPs) with the Government of Canada before submitting projects through the provincial and territorial stream. While signing the AiPs has led to some provincial and territorial proposals being put on hold for the 2022 planting year, these AiPs set a robust framework that outline a shared commitment for permanently increasing the amount of forest that is covered through the planting of trees, as well as the enhancement of biodiversity, habitat restoration, carbon sequestration and monitoring for projects taking place on provincial and territorial Crown lands.
As of March 2023, the program has received over 400 applications and provided over $120 million in grants and contributions funding to support organizations planting trees across the country and in all types of environments – remote, rural and urban, benefiting not only Canadians but also supporting biodiversity and restoration efforts from coast to coast. Overall, agreements are signed and under negotiation to support organizations and governments in planting over 260 million trees under all five program streams. This includes dozens of signed contribution agreements with organizations and Indigenous communities, seven AiPs with provinces and territories, and six long-term Contribution Agreements with provinces and territories. The government remains confident in and is committed to meeting its goal of planting two billion trees over the next decade.
Looking at the success of the 2BT program by funding stream, both the Federal Land and Urban Land streams are already expected to exceed their planting projections. The Indigenous stream and the Private Land stream are already 20-percent and 25-percent subscribed respectively, showing that they are well on their way to meeting their planting projections. And, as the remaining provinces and territories sign Agreements in Principle, accelerated progress will continue to be realized under the Provinces and Territories stream.
Provinces and territories are key partners in large-scale tree planting. The seven AiPs with British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, Northwest Territories, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and the Yukon, as well as six initial contribution agreements with provinces and territories, represent a significant first step and serve as a strong foundation for future agreements and discussions. This includes Minister Wilkinson’s forthcoming meeting with his provincial and territorial counterparts in May 2023.
As was undertaken last year, the program intends to provide a complete and full update to Canadians in summer 2023 on the progress made during the 2022 planting season once the final number of trees planted during the second year of the program from our partners have been received.
Relatedly, ECCC, NRCan and other responsible departments are concurrently conducting a review of Canada’s Land Use, Land-use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) accounting emissions approach, including the reference-level approach used to account for emissions and removals from the managed forests and harvested wood products. Working with ECCC, NRCan began engagement with stakeholders on this review on April 14, 2023. While we continually review our science and modelling tools, with the implementation of planned improvements once they mature and are peer-reviewed, we remain confident that the 2BT program will reduce emissions and meaningfully contribute to Canada’s 2030 and 2050 climate targets and that the nature-based climate solutions programs within Canada’s strengthened climate plan more broadly will reduce 30 MTs of GHG emissions by 2030.
Natural Resources Canada
Office of the Minister of Natural Resources
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