For years, Canada’s forest policy has been torn between two competing priorities: one, a desire for climate leadership, the other, an unflinching fidelity to an unsustainable logging industry. The Government of Canada’s vehement opposition to proposed forest protection legislation in New York has made alarmingly clear which impulse currently has the upper hand. In aligning with short-sighted industry interests against environmentally, ethically, and economically imperative sustainability measures, the Trudeau government has pitted itself against the converging chorus of scientists, investors, NGOs, political leaders, and Canadians who have come out in support of the bill, and branded Canada as an obstructionist to global progress.
Canada has spent more than a year aggressively opposing the New York Deforestation-Free Procurement Act, groundbreaking legislation that would align the state’s purchases with the protection of climate-critical forests and internationally recognized Indigenous rights. The bill sets baseline sustainability standards for state contractors, requiring them to ensure there is no tropical or boreal deforestation or intact forest degradation or violations of Indigenous Peoples’ right to free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) in their supply chains. This legislation would allow New York to disentangle itself from supply chains driving the loss of irreplaceable forests and model the kinds of marketplace transformations essential to a safe and sustainable future.
Canada’s position focuses on one of the bill’s most groundbreaking features: its global scope. The New York bill, addresses not just the loss of forests in the tropics, but also unsustainable logging in the boreal forest, which spans Alaska, Canada, Scandinavia, Russia, and parts of China and Japan. In applying forest sourcing standards equally to the tropics and the boreal, New York is taking a significant step toward correcting a decades-long power imbalance between the Global North and the Global South—one that Canada would very much like to remain in place.
Over the last 30 years, Canada, along with the rest of the Global North, has benefitted from domestic and international laws and norms that target tropical deforestation while placing a green veneer over its stump-filled landscapes. The razing of irreplaceable, climate-critical primary forests that counts as “deforestation” in the tropics transforms into “sustainable forest management” north of the 24th parallel.
This has meant that countries like Canada, which has the world’s third-highest intact forest loss, have been able to claim zero deforestation and sustainable practices while liquidating irreplaceable, carbon-rich primary forests; driving species like boreal caribou closer to extinction; and downplaying annual emissions from the logging sector, which releases greenhouse gases roughly equivalent to Canada’s tar sands production. It has also helped to justify tropical countries’ continued inaction on deforestation, weakening the entire international framework of forest protection.
In opposing the bill, however, Canada is fighting against a rising tide of support among scientists, policymakers, the marketplace, financial sector, and the public for equal accountability for northern and tropical countries. Just a few weeks ago, Colorado’s governor issued an executive order with similar procurement sustainability measures as the New York bill, marking the first time a policy in the U.S. included protection for the boreal forest and heralding a much broader policy shift.
Widespread support for the New York bill and a global approach to forest protection over the past several weeks have now placed Canada’s obstructionism even more firmly out of step with international trends.
Last week, more than 40 international climate scientists and ecologists wrote a letter of support for the bill, articulating that “primary forests in both tropical and northern forests are a critical lifeline to a safe climate as they sequester and store massive amounts of carbon, provide essential habitats, and often have high levels of biodiversity that make them more adaptable and resilient to increased environmental stressors.”
The same day, investors representing more than $2.24 trillion in assets under management wrote to the New York legislators to convey the economic necessity of aligning New York’s purchases with the protection of climate-critical forests and human rights and increased supply chain transparency. Their letter came on the heels of a vote from nearly two-thirds of Home Depot’s shareholders in favor of a resolution calling on the company to take action to address deforestation and primary forest degradation across its supply chains, marking the financial sector’s growing expectation that companies meet ecologically essential forest protection standards.
The government’s opposition also goes against the wishes of the vast majority of Canadians. In a recent poll, 88% of Canadians stated that they are in favor of Canada leading on global forest protection through safeguarding its remaining intact forests. More than 25,000 Canadians have also submitted petitions urging U.S. lawmakers to pass legislation stopping supply chains that drive deforestation, forest degradation, and human rights violations. In addition, nine of Canada’s leading environmental NGOs have come out in support of the bill, as has Canadian Member of Parliament and former Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, who wrote that the bill “is a powerful, achievable articulation of the kinds of common-sense, scientifically essential measures governments and markets need to take to achieve our collective international climate goals.”
Canada’s opposition is not just environmentally regressive, but also economically short-sighted. In a marketplace and political arena increasingly calling for protections for climate-critical forests, Canada’s logging industry will have to embrace more sustainable practices or risk getting left behind. In humoring the industry’s worst impulses by opposing this bill, the government is designing policy that is driving the sector’s obsolescence, rather than incentivizing practices that will align with a rapidly changing world.
Canada’s stunning display of hypocrisy and doublespeak spotlights the discordance at the heart of its forest and climate policy. With growing support for the New York bill and forest protection measures more broadly, Canada will increasingly have to reckon with this longstanding conflict and make the choice: laggard or leader.