VANCOUVER -- For a little bug, the pine beetle has an enormous carbon footprint.
The pine beetle, the size of a grain of rice, has already destroyed British Columbia's forests and devastated the logging industry. Now, the insect threatens to upend the province's push to curb its greenhouse gases. At a minimum, it intensifies the uncertainty about how B.C. will slash its emissions by a third by 2020, and what the rules will be for the cap-and-trade system still being hashed out.
A pine beetle study released this week by Natural Resources Canada contains the eye-popping revelation that B.C.'s forests - far from being a weapon in the fight against carbon dioxide - have been spewing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere for six years. The culprit is the pine beetle, which has turned vast swaths of forest into rotting stands of punky wood.
Next year, those decaying logs will emit 73 megatonnes of carbon dioxide - more than the entire economy of British Columbia, which is likely to clock in at something just over 70 megatonnes. Werner Kurz, senior research scientist with Canadian Forest Service at Natural Resources Canada, says the carbon output from forests will fall through the next decade; by 2020 it should only be only 37 megatonnes.