Canada’s environmental watchdog says Ottawa is using “creative accounting” to support claims that its program to plant two billion trees is exceeding targets.
Environment and Sustainable Development Commissioner Jerry DeMarco told Breaking: that Natural Resources Canada (NRCAN) is using trees planted under a different program, and a different department, to increase their numbers.
“It’s creative accounting,” DeMarco told CBC. “It’s certainly within your prerogative to do that.
“But to achieve the benefits for climate, biodiversity and human health, you need to add trees. Not just find trees and other programs that have already been planted and say, ‘Oh, this counts now, we have more than anyone “. expected.'”
In August, Natural Resources Canada revised provisional figures on its progress toward the goal of planting two billion trees by 2030-31.
By 2022, NRCAN was supposed to have planted 90 million trees. NRCAN says that, to date, it has planted approximately 110 million trees.
The department initially said it had planted 29 million trees in 2021. It now says it planted 83 million trees that year.
The French website and the newspaper Le Devoir first wrote about change in the way the government reports the number of trees planted.
In a statement, NRCAN said it revised its 2021 figure by adding millions of trees planted through partner programs such as Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Low Carbon Economy Fund (LCEF).
“LCEF program data…was received and validated against program targets of two billion trees this summer,” said Keean Nembhard, press secretary to Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson.
In 2022, the department said it had planted 28 million trees through its partners, missing its tentative goal for that year of 60 million.
Conservative MP Greg McLean, a member of the House of Commons environment committee, said the Liberals were not being honest with their math.
“Let’s admit to Canadians what this is. This show was kind of a virtue sign in the first place,” McLean told CBC.
Wilkinson said in an interview with CBC Power and Politics that when the government announced its two billion tree initiative, it confirmed that it would rely on other programs.
“I mean, at the end of the day, I’m not sure Canadians care if some of the trees come from the Low Carbon Economy or some come from other programs,” Wilkinson said.
Wilkinson said that what matters to Canadians is that the government achieves the goals behind its program: improving biodiversity and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
But environmental advocacy organization Nature Canada said if the government is counting existing trees that have already been planted, it cannot claim that its two billion tree program offers any additional value.
“This, to me, is very disappointing,” said David Wallis, reforestation policy and campaign director for Nature Canada. “It seems to indicate that NRCAN is moving away from its commitment to plant an additional 2 billion trees.
“They seem to realize they are missing the mark. Instead of coming clean with the Canadians and fixing their program, they choose to deceive and make it look like they are planting more than they are actually planting.”
Ottawa is investing up to $3.2 billion over 10 years (2021-2031) in its tree planting program.
The Canadian government is planting only a few of those trees. Ottawa relies on indigenous communities, provinces, territories, businesses, and non-profit organizations to do most of the planting.
The federal government provides half of the money needed to plant trees through cost-sharing agreements.
The federal government has said it expects the provinces and territories to plant the most trees: 1.35 billion.
As of March, I had agreements signed with five of 10 provinces and two of three territories to meet the goal.