Last edited 16 Mar 2021

Wood and climate change in 2021


[edit] Introduction

In 2020, there was a real momentum building towards a green recovery. 2021 has the potential to turn things around, and therefore climate change is a critical focus for the timber and forestry industries this year.

Solid efforts will be made to decrease carbon emissions throughout the year, culminating with the United Nations’ Climate Conference COP26 in Glasgow. So, what are the timber and forestry industries doing in 2021 to get the UK closer to its net zero target?

[edit] 1. Planting more trees

The UK is highly dependent on importing timber, with 80% of all timber used sourced in this way. This caused supply issues for the construction industry at the onset of the pandemic, and Brexit has further hindered the supply chain.

Increased tree cover in the UK would create a natural carbon store, and if managed and harvested appropriately, trees can also be used to produce more home-grown timber.

To make it happen, there needs to be political buy-in, achievable targets and robust management and harvesting.

Scotland leads the way for timber and forestry in the UK, closely followed by Wales. The Scottish forestry sector has introduced the Growing Rural Talent initiative, in partnership with Confor, Scottish Forestry, Forestry and Land Scotland and Skills Development Scotland. This initiative will award subsidies to forestry firms who recruit young people. This will allow Scotland to keep striving towards its earlier net zero target of 2045 by planting more trees and producing more homegrown timber.

In England, tree planting has not been as successful. Despite the Government's pledge to increase tree planting, it was reported in 2020 that England has fallen short of its target. £92 million will be made available from April 2021, with the intention to plant 7,500 hectares a year to meet the 2025 target for woodland cover.

[edit] 2. Building with timber

Creating new buildings or retrofitting existing buildings with low carbon, renewable building materials is key to reducing carbon emissions in the built environment.

The construction industry must challenge the status quo if it is to reduce its carbon footprint. Innovation is increasing in construction and the tools are there for anyone who is serious about creating sustainable buildings.

The Fovernment kicked off 2021 with the early release of the Future Homes Standard. It contains some encouraging guidance around Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) and the use of timber. But scrutinous climate change group, Architects Climate Action Network (ACAN), pointed out a missing ingredient: embodied carbon.

Embodied carbon, defined by the UK Green Building Council (UKGBC) as ‘the total greenhouse gas emissions generated to produce a built asset’, was highlighted in responses to the Future Homes Standard consultation. Yet, it has been neglected from the standard.

Low carbon heating and energy systems are imperative, but it is not the only way to reduce harmful emissions. By taking a fabric first approach and choosing a natural and renewable material such as timber, embodied carbon is reduced.

Timber structural systems, such as timber frame or cross-laminated timber, not only embody carbon (at around 20 - 60% per building) but also deliver the benefits of MMC. Choosing build systems like these reduces build time, reduces waste, improves safety and causes less disruption in the local area.

[edit] 3. Talking timber in 2021

Tropical forests play a critical role in supplying timber but remain at risk from illegal logging and poor practices. Wherever unregulated logging takes place, it impacts the people, the economy and the environment.

To encourage discussion on this topic, the Conversations about Climate Change exhibition opened virtually on 12 February 2021. A collaboration between the Timber Trade Federation (TTF) and the Building Centre, it is a showcase of design objects created from tropical hardwood that highlights the urgency of the climate change debate.

From theory to practice, the Riverside Sunderland: University Design Challenge also launched in February. Quoted as “the most ambitious city centre regeneration project in the UK”, Riverside Sunderland has teamed up with MOBIE and the Confederation of Timber Industries.The collaborative challenge requires teams to design a three-bedroom family home and an indicative masterplan, including landscape and greenscape. All designs must make use of timber or timber hybrid, use MMC and exceed the RIBA 2030 challenge.

[edit] 4. Timber solutions in 2021

On the same day the Future Homes Standard was announced, so was a new national construction products regulator. One of the initiatives born out of the inquiry into the Grenfell Tower tragedy, the regulator will ensure homes are built with safe materials.

The Structural Timber Association CLT Special Interest Group continues its work in 2021 to provide guidance and evidence to support the fire safe design of mass timber High Rise Residential Buildings (HRRB) and commercial buildings.

Following a review of the ban on the use of combustible materials in and on the external walls of buildings in 2020, the construction industry is still awaiting the Government’s response. Also flying the flag for fire safety and timber is the British Woodworking Federation (BWF).

[edit] 5. Celebrating timber in 2021

Despite the challenges of 2020, the construction industry continues to produce exemplar homes and buildings using timber. In the face of COVID-19, climate change and Brexit, there is much that deserves to be celebrated.

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