B.C. Forests Feel the Burn: Japan's Biomass Demand Raises Sustainability Concerns

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British Columbia's once plentiful forests are facing a new threat: the booming biomass industry in Japan.

Following the 2011 earthquake, Japan shut down nuclear reactors and ramped up burning wood pellets for electricity. This created a surge in demand for wood pellets, and unfortunately, B.C.'s pristine primary forests became a prime target.

While Japan seeks a renewable energy source, environmentalists argue that burning wood pellets from old-growth forests might be worse for the climate than coal. The logging of these irreplaceable ecosystems also threatens biodiversity and contributes to a potential timber supply crisis in B.C.

The article "How a Japanese Earthquake Shook BC's Forest Future" by Ben Parfitt* explores this complex issue. It highlights how B.C. exported a staggering 1.7 million tonnes of wood pellets to Japan in 2023, most of it originating from primary forests. This rapid increase raises concerns about the sustainability of logging practices in the province.

Parfitt proposes several solutions. The B.C. government must prioritize protecting old-growth forests and implement stricter zoning regulations for different forest uses, including conservation and sustainable timber production. Additionally, wood pellet mills should be restricted from using whole trees logged from primary forests and instead rely on sawmill waste or other verified sustainable sources.

The financial sector could also play a crucial role. Japan's SMBC Financial Group recently updated its policy to avoid financing biomass projects that rely on primary forests. This sets a positive precedent and could force the industry to adopt more sustainable practices.

The future of B.C.'s forests hangs in the balance. Balancing economic needs with environmental protection requires immediate action. By implementing stricter regulations and promoting sustainable practices, B.C. can ensure a healthy forest future while navigating the global demand for renewable energy.

* Ben Parfitt is a resource policy analyst for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives B.C. office.