The Ontario government recently announced its cap and trade system. The system will add a little more than four cents to each litre of gasoline. Former Toronto Mayor David Miller -- now president of the World Wildlife Fund -- writes that some of that money should be used to protect Ontario's forests and wetlands:
The government can make significant advances in the fight against climate change if some of the billions in expected cap and trade revenue is also spent to support healthy forests, complex wetlands, climate-friendly agricultural practices and other large tracts of biomass-covered land.
All plants absorb and hold carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. That’s why plant-rich areas are sometimes referred to as carbon sinks. Carbon sinks are one of nature’s ways of dealing with an excess of carbon in the atmosphere by absorbing and storing it. When land is cleared and trees or vegetation removed or burnt, the carbon is released back into the atmosphere.
The United Nations has estimated that about 30 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions are the result of destruction of wetlands, forests, and plant habitat in freshwater and oceans systems.
A recent report underscores the notion that our forests are in trouble:
The report, on the state of Ontario’s forests, included the gloomy news that our Crown forests are expected to be a net source of carbon between 2010 and 2030. That’s because the forests currently include many older stands that contain high levels of carbon — and as trees die, they release carbon instead of absorbing it.
Only when the younger trees mature will the forests again become a carbon sink, which the report estimates will start happening in 2040 after a 10-year neutral period during which the forests will be neither sources of carbon nor sinks.
In the meantime, instead of helping clean carbon out of the atmosphere, as forests should do, they will be a net contributor for 20 years to the growing problem of greenhouse gas emissions.
As a result, the climate change candle is burning at both ends. At one end, we continue to emit more carbon. And at the other, we could do more to protect the plant life that absorbs that excess carbon to keep it from contributing to climate change.
And work needs to be done to rehabilitate wetlands:
Good work along these lines is already being done elsewhere. In the Greater Mekong Region of Southeast Asia, for example, the World Wildlife Fund and partners are halting deforestation and preserving species diversity in an area that covers more than 200,000 hectares of forest.
In the Southern Africa region last month, seven new wetlands areas were designated for conservation with WWF support, pushing the number of such hectares protected past the 100-million milestone.
Some will grumble about the increased cost of gasoline -- even though the cost has dropped significantly. But what will really make a difference is how the money raised under Cap and Trade is spent.