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North American forests in 20 years: Growing markets for conflicting interests

Published: 27 March 2012


The United States and Canada have experienced large changes in their forest sectors over the past 50 years. The UNECE/FAO North American Forest Sector Outlook Study (NAFSOS) looks at these changes and projects possible futures for the forest sector in 2030. This study is a companion to the European Forest Sector Outlook Study II (EFSOS II) launched in September 2011. The study concludes that over the next decades North American forests are expected to meet increasing and sometimes conflicting environmental, social and economic demands: issues that warrant policymakers' attention.

Economic and demographic growth combine with technology changes lead to global losses in forest area but smaller losses in the volumes of standing timber inventory. The U.S. is projected to lose an average of about 0.2% of its forests each year mainly due to expansion of urban areas, while Canada is not projected to lose any forest. Stock levels (standing timber inventory volumes) are projected to increase in North America under all scenarios. 

Markets for wood products, which mainly are destined for the construction sector in North America, are projected to recover from the housing market contraction by 2015 under all three scenarios examined. Sawnwood production is then projected to continue to grow in the United States. In Canada, all scenarios project a decline in lumber output following an initial recovery. In wood panels, technology is leading to projected shifts in shares devoted to engineered products such as glulam beams, at the expense of plywood and lumber.

The pulp and paper sector is projected to continue to face an onslaught of changes in the coming decades: new and quickly growing production capacity outside of North America, rapid consumption growth in Asia, declining uses of newsprint and printing and writing paper in communications in many countries, and continued growth in the use of recycled fibre in manufacture. These changes have put downward pressure on pulpwood use in the United States. But Canada’s continuing globally superior position in the paper market is projected to continue into the future, with more product directed to rapidly growing countries in Asia.

A large wood-based bioenergy sector, the study finds, would divert increasing amounts of industrial wood away from the manufacture of many categories of wood and paper products. Such diversion would push up wood input prices paid by wood and paper product manufacturers in North America and reduce supplies. Because this would occur globally, the United States would remain a net importer of forest products and there would be little effect on Canada’s historically strong trade position. The effects of a wood-based bioenergy sector are contingent on the emergence of enabling policies or technology advances in wood energy conversion, which in North America are so far largely absent. Targeted government incentives, renewable energy mandates, or the establishment of a robust carbon trading system that included wood or forests could lead to rapid growth of a wood-based bioenergy sector. On the other hand, it could also occur through introduction of game-changing energy conversion methods or rapid energy price increases for fossil fuels.

Further Info:

The publication is available online at http://www.unece.org/forests/outlook/outputs/mop1.html

For any additional comments or questions kindly contact

David Ellul
Economic Affairs Officer
UNECE/FAO Forestry and Timber Section
Tel: +41 (0)22 917 1390
E-mail: david.ellul@unece.org
Website: http://www.unece.org/forests


Note to editors:

NAFSOS projections for the United States and Canada to 2030 have been made with a global forest sector model to account for concurrent changes in other countries. Three future scenarios, based on Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Scenarios identified in its Third Assessment Report, A1B and B2, were investigated: two scenarios assuming the rapid growth of wood use by the energy sector, and one scenario without this assumption.

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