Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is well on his way to missing a 2019 cabinet pledge to plant two billion trees within a decade. Environment Commissioner Jerry DeMarco said the program is “unlikely to succeed.”
“We will plant two billion trees to clean our air and protect our communities,” claimed Trudeau’s 2019 election platform. “This will help create 3,500 seasonal jobs in tree planting each year.”
After two years, Ottawa has planted only 4% of its 2 billion tree benchmark. Trudeau promised to plant 30 million trees in 2021, followed by another 60 million in 2022.
As of 2022, 94 deals with private and public partners struck out. Only 23 have reached completion as of October.
“There is no solution to climate change and terrestrial biodiversity loss that does not include forests,” said DeMarco, as reported by Blacklock’s Reporter. “It is unlikely that the two billion trees program will meet its objectives unless significant changes are made.”
The environment commissioner estimates the federal government has planted roughly 16.5 million seedlings.
“Given the number of trees planted so far, the program is unlikely to succeed unless significant changes are made,” DeMarco told reporters. He expects Ottawa will only plant 76.2 million trees (3.8%) by 2030.
By 2027, the commissioner’s audit said Canada would need to plant 350 million seedlings yearly, with the program likely to go 88% over budget.
Cabinet budgeted the cost at $3.16 billion over ten years. The Parliamentary Budget Office, in a 2021 report called Financial Support For Planting Two Billion Trees, said actual costs would nearly double to $5.94 billion.
According to Blacklock’s Reporter, the Department of Natural Resources manages the program but expects provinces to plant most trees without first finalizing contracts.
“The department designed the ‘two billion tree’ program with the expectation that provinces and territories would use 67.5% of all program funds to plant 1.34 billion trees; this constitutes a major program risk,” DeMarco wrote in Planting Two Billion Trees.
In an Inquiry Of Ministry, Cabinet tabled in the Commons on February 15 that there have been 28.9 million trees planted to date under the “two billion tree” program.
Québec planted most of them (14 million), followed by B.C. (10.5 million), Alberta (1.6 million), New Brunswick (1.1 million), Ontario (925,000), Manitoba (257,000), Saskatchewan (145,000), Newfoundland and Labrador (67,000), Nova Scotia (37,000) and Prince Edward Island (5,000).
“Natural Resources Canada had not yet signed any long-term project agreements with provinces or territories,” wrote DeMarco.
According to Blacklock’s Reporter, the commissioner noted that Canada has 895 million acres of forest, with over 600 million trees planted annually under Crown licenses with forestry companies. From 2007 to 2017, timber companies and provinces planted 5.6 billion trees, nearly triple the federal plan.