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"The facts speak for themselves": Wood must be part of the conversation at COP27

Credit: Adobe

Stuart Goodall, Chief Executive

Stuart Goodall, Chief Executive | Confor

4 min read Partner content

COP27 provides an opportunity for global leaders to protect our forests and accelerate tree planting.

Now that Rishi Sunak will be in Egypt for COP27, I have a suggestion for a good read on the flight back.

A new report, being prepared by South African based consultancy Dalberg and to be launched at COP27, will highlight a key global challenge in the fight against climate change - ensuring we have the wood fibre we need to achieve net zero without exacerbating the global loss of biodiversity.

A big part of the climate challenge is being caused by the global growth of cities. They already account for more than 80% of global economic output, consume close to two-thirds of the world’s energy, and account for more than 70% of global greenhouse gas emissions. The global urban population is expected to rise by 18% and 52% by 2030 and 2050 respectively and this will drive an increase in housing, manufacturing, and energy needs.

Forests, and the wood they produce, can provide emission reduction benefits through carbon sequestration in trees and storage in wood products, especially if that is combined with the substitution of higher embodied energy products like steel and concrete. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has recognised the benefits of trees and timber - “in the long term, a sustainable forest management strategy aimed at maintaining or increasing forest carbon stocks, while producing an annual sustained yield of timber, fibre or energy from the forest, will generate the largest sustained mitigation benefit.”.

The OECD, WWF and others have estimated that global demand for wood will increase by between 200% and 400% by 2050, while Confor has calculated that if UK consumption increases at the rate it has over the last ten years, consumption will rise here by 78% by 2050. Big numbers.

The Dalberg report will highlight a wood ‘supply gap’, by 2050, in the range of 3.1-4.1 billion cubic metres. This equates to 44% of global consumption of small roundwood – a standard unit in the timber sector. More big numbers.

In the UK, the forestry and wood industry is beginning to look at how circular economy principles –moving away from society’s focus on “take, make, throw away” and maximising the reuse of products – can drive more efficient use of wood fibre and help fill the supply gap. However, that can only be part of the solution, both here and abroad.

And we need to find solutions. A recent report by the government’s forest research advisers shows that the UK’s future availability of wood, while growing over the next 10-15 years, will then fall back to current levels by the early 2040s and then fall below that by 2050 – the opposite trend from what we and the world needs.

Tree planting had been the obvious saviour, with the Conservative party committing in its 2019 manifesto to plant 30,000 hectares a year across the UK by 2024. Unfortunately, we are yet to hit even half that target with two years to go and in England there has been a clear policy signal from the previous forestry minister that wood production wasn’t a priority and indeed wood producing forests should be removed.

The UK has been a global leader in legislating and introducing public procurement policies that seek to ensure that imported wood products come from legal and sustainably managed sources, but while we can buy wood with confidence in the UK we should also be aware that there are many other countries that either lack the political will or the means to do the same.

The facts speak for themselves. Achieving net zero means using more wood, planting more trees and protecting existing forests. Tackling biodiversity loss means we need to protect forests and establish new ones that can buffer valuable older forests and create new habitats.

The intersection between trees, net zero, biodiversity and meeting our global responsibilities means we have to increase our tree planting and that has to include an expansion of wood producing forests established in accordance with the highest standards for sustainability – which we have in the UK.

The Environmental Audit Committee is currently undertaking an inquiry into this very matter. Both they and the new forestry Minister have a big responsibility on their hands and a big opportunity to be grasped.

This key issue and much more will be discussed at Confor’s conference at the QEII Centre on Thursday, 8th December – tickets are still available.

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