The minister was in Surrey, B.C., Wednesday to tout the federal government’s pledge to plant two billion trees, saying the plan is on track and even exceeding its targets.
“We are focusing a good chunk of this program increasingly on the reforestation of areas burned by forests, but as I say, the challenge of climate change, we’ve talked a lot about the need for us to reduce carbon emissions to actually ensure that we’re not making the problem worse,” Wilkinson said. “The reality is that we are going to actually have to focus far more on adaptation.”
Wilkinson said in the first two years of the Trudeau government’s tree-planting pledge, 110 million trees have been planted, exceeding early targets of 90 million trees during that period.
The minister said in an age of record wildfires and devastating floods, tree planting is an important step in mitigating climate change-related disasters.
The commissioner of the environment said in a report earlier this year that the government is unlikely to reach the two-billion target or get the expected emission reduction targets that go with it.
“There is no solution to climate change and terrestrial biodiversity loss that does not include forests,” Environment Commissioner Jerry DeMarco’s report said. “It is unlikely that the two billion trees program will meet its objectives unless significant changes are made.”
Wilkinson said the audit didn’t cover a six-month period when a number of agreements with provinces were signed, and his government is working to include a “robust” planting monitoring program.
The minister said the first few years of the planting pledge included time to find suitable seedlings that take years to grow to planting size, and that volumes to meet the two-billion tree pledge will ramp up in the years ahead.
“The unfortunate reality is that the effects of climate change are with us, and extreme weather events are things that we should be expecting to happen more frequently going forward,” he said. “If we don’t address the climate issue in a substantive way, we are going to leave a future for our kids that is unmanageable.”
With the 2021 floods in B.C., current fires across the country and Hurricane Fiona’s devastating blow to Nova Scotia, Wilkinson said the focus on adapting to climate change is as important as attempts to mitigating its effects.
“Planting two billion trees is a marathon, it is not a sprint,” Wilkinson said. “Thoughtful planning is required to ensure that the right trees are planted in the right place at the right time.”
— With files from Mia Rabson in Ottawa
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 2, 2013.
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