International Day of Forests — Forests and Energy

Following on the heels of the spring equinox comes the International Day of Forests. The United Nations General Assembly chose March 21st as a day to celebrate and raise awareness about the vital role that forests and trees play in our world.

Using this year’s theme of “Forests and Energy”, the UN encourages all countries to engage in local, national and international campaigns and to organize activities such as tree planting. Trees keep air and water clean, and increase biodiversity by providing wildlife habitats. In cities, urban forests can help offset the heat-island effect that heavily-populated areas tend to produce, acting like natural air-conditioners.

This year’s Day of Forests theme focuses on using wood sustainably. Before humans discovered fossil fuels, wood was the main source of energy. Today, in many developing countries, wood is still the primary source of energy for the heating and cooking needs of over 2 billion people around the world.

Even in more developed countries, wood is still an integral part of the renewable energy mix. Technological innovation means that biomass energy is becoming a more energy-efficient and viable form of alternative energy, which can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Organizations like the UN believe that biomass energy will play an important role in the future of renewable energy.

Canada is home to 10% of the world’s forests, and is the country with the most forest area per person. About 94% of Canada’s forests are publicly owned, by provincial, territorial or federal governments, which strive to uphold Canada’s commitment to sustainable forest management. This means using and caring for forests in such a way so as to maintain their environmental, social and economic value for future generations.

Sustainably managed forests can supply CO2 neutral energy. Biomass energy, or simply bioenergy, comes in many forms. For example, liquid biofuels can be used to run cars, or sawdust can be used in pulp mills and other industrial operations.

Forests provide bioenergy through wood products like pellets, sticks and sawdust. Sources for bioenergy can include trees that are ready for harvest but not suitable for lumber, leftovers from harvests like sticks and bark, and trees damaged by events such as fire, pests or disease outbreaks. In this way, bioenergy can make use of forest products that may have gone to waste.

Another way that energy producers are cutting their carbon footprint is by growing trees on plantations specifically intended for biomass conversion to bioenergy. These plantations take less time to produce trees mature enough for harvesting, and can also be planted closer to the biomass conversion facilities to reduce transportation.

Forest biomass is a renewable resource for energy production so long as the sustainably managed forest is replaced over time through new growth, so that the greenhouse gas emissions from the production of bioenergy can offset fossil fuel emissions.

This is where initiatives like the UN’s International Day of Forests comes in, to encourage people to plant more trees. Use #IntlForestDay to explore what is happening on social media, and check out these links for more information:

Great resources for learning about Canada’s forests, includes infographics and short articles:

National Resources Canada

Canadian Geographic’s map of Canada’s intact forests

Carbon Calculator for Offsetting GHG emissions through tree-planting

United Nations Forum on Forests

Natural Resources Canada – Bioenergy from Biomass