Housing 90% of the world's population in timber buildings by 2100 could cut additional carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by the equivalent of roughly 20 times U.S. annual emissions from energy use, according to German researchers. To achieve that reduction however, tree plantations covering an area as big as Alaska would have to be created.
Continuing conventional construction could "claim 35–60% of the remaining carbon budget associated with limiting the global temperature increase to below 2°C", according to a paper by Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, published in Nature Communications.
Global construction in 2020 caused roughly 10% of the global greenhouse gas emissions, including 1.6 billion tons of CO2 from cement production and 3.9 billion tons from iron and steel, according to the researchers.
With strong governance and careful planning, "expansion of timber plantations for wooden buildings is possible without major repercussions on agricultural production," conclude the researchers. Plantations would need to expand from 510,000 sq mi in 2020 by up to 575,000 sq mi by this century's end.
UK Alone in Reducing Timber Use
While countries around the world are embracing the use of structural timber, "the U.K. is alone ... in changing to reduce the amount of timber we can use," says Andrew Waugh of Waugh Thistleton Architects. The firm specializes in mass timber construction, including a residential block in London's Dalston area, with a structure almost entirely of cross laminated timer.
The U.K.'s changing attitude to timber construction followed the fire that destroyed London's Grenfell residential building in 2017, causing 72 deaths, believes Waugh.
Judith Hackitt, chair of the post Grenfell Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety, agrees that wooden building are more sustainable "but that doesn't mean we can compromise on safety". As long as standards are met "we should not rule put innovation."
Global cross-laminated timber production is set to double from nearly 67 million cu ft last year by 2027, according the India-based research company IMARC. European production over the same period is forecast to grow by nearly 90% to 91.8 million cu ft.