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The 21st Century will be the century of wood

Published: 21 October 2016

"Wood construction of the WIPO conference hall. Photograph: Theresa Loeffler, UNECE/FAO"

How will the world look 50 years from now? Visions of life in the future often show shiny cityscapes of glass and steel. Cities with tall buildings of flowing shapes. It would seem that wood is not what we associate with our future yet “the 21st Century will be seen as the century of wood” said Peter Wilson, Managing Director of Timber Design Initiatives. He is confident that given the amazing qualities of wood, it will soon be the material of choice for buildings.

Wood as the material of the future was a common consensus at the 74th session of the UNECE Committee on Forests and the Forest Industry held in Geneva, Switzerland, on 18 - 20 October 2016. Mr. Hans-Joachim Danzer, head of his family timber business, stated that if consumers had to pay the real cost of carbon emissions and waste disposal in the price of goods made from most other materials, they would choose wood. The building industry currently accounts for 40% of global resource consumption and CO2 emissions, according to Mr. Harald Professner of the Rhomberg Group. He pointed out that using wood for construction can reduce CO2 emissions contained in buildings by more than 90% and has many other advantages such as quick construction time, ease of use and cost competiveness. These qualities have motivated his company to embrace wood for their projects, as a result of the new generation of mass timber products, such as cross laminated timber panels and laminated beams.

In the UNECE region the share of wooden construction in residential buildings varies considerably- from 90% in North America to 8-10% in Europe, according to Mr. Maurizio Follesa from dedaLEGNO, and it is mostly confined to single family – low rise buildings. The misconceptions on the performance of wood leads to its underutilization, especially in cities. This prompted unanimous agreement to invest in training architects, city planners and researchers on the performance qualities of wood, as an engineering material, and on its environmental credentials.  

A panel of high level representatives from private forest products companies came to the same conclusion that wood plays a key role in addressing climate change and sustainable development. Contrary to commonly held beliefs, top managers explained that profits do not conflict with the concept of a green economy; they are necessary to guarantee sustainable forest management practices and innovation. A thriving forest industry will not only provide materials for wood products companies like construction, but also guarantees employment and income for rural areas and keep forests healthy. Similarly, in poorer countries, it is important to maintain adequate returns from the forest, lest they be converted to other unsustainable land uses.

During the panel discussion, the certification of sustainable forest products was cited as a useful tool for gaining consumer confidence and promoting wood products.  Trade and economic facilitation on the one side and education on wood usage on the other side will pave the way to increased wood use in the region. In fact, the private sector representatives embrace free trade, as long as the playing field is level. They called for a prompt resolution to a number of pending agreements such as the Softwood Lumber Agreement between Canada and the US and the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement between Canada the EU.

Building resilient infrastructure, making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe and sustainable and sustainable consumption and production will support the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

For further information: www.unece.org/forests/coffi74

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