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Building with timber could store millions of tons of carbon

March 31, 2020

Macquarie 'Q' Simon

New research into the benefits of timber as a construction material has once again revealed it should be a priority for sustainable development initiatives.

New research into the benefits of timber as a construction material has once again revealed it should be a priority for sustainable development initiatives.

While requirements such as sustainable forest management are critical to this strategy, experts at Germany’s Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research estimate new wood buildings can store up to 700 million tons of carbon annually. As global population and urban living both continue to rise – to 9.5 billion and 70-percent, respectively – undertaking development in urban areas in a sustainable matter will only become more important in the context of climate change.

At present, the global building and construction sector is responsible for almost 40% of energy- and process-related carbon emissions, but transitioning away from cement and steel building materials towards timber has the potential to reduce this substantially. It’s long been known trees also store the carbon they absorb from the atmosphere through photosynthesis with this new research revealing just how substantial that impact could be.

In order to substantially reduce global carbon emissions, we must both lower our carbon output and create carbon sinks to counteract the unavoidable emissions we produce and those we have already emitted. Experts explain that there is an enormous, though untapped, potential of long-term carbon storage from buildings because most construction materials, such as steel and concrete, store little to no carbon and are emission-intensive to create. 

“There’s no safer way of storing carbon I can think of… Societies have made good use of wood for buildings for many centuries, yet now the challenge of climate stabilization calls for a very serious upscaling,” said Hans Joachim Schellnhuber of the Potsdam Institute in a statement.

“If we engineer the wood into modern building materials and smartly manage harvest and construction, we humans can build ourselves a safe home on Earth.”

Of course, the timber must be responsibly sourced and properly recycled at its end-of-life to achieve these environmental benefits. Whilst the movement towards building projects incorporating timber construction materials such as cross-laminated timber (CLT) is still young, early evidence suggests the trend is likely to continue.


Positive Action

  • To find out more about the benefits of responsibly sourced wood as a building material and why Planet Ark promotes it’s use, visit Make It Wood.


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Positive Environment News has been compiled using publicly available information. Planet Ark does not take responsibility for the accuracy of the original information and encourages readers to check the references before using this information for their own purposes.

Macquarie 'Q' Simon

Macquarie "Q" Simon has joined the Planet Ark team this fall while studying abroad in Sydney. Q is a junior at Lafayette College, pursuing an Environmental Studies and Social Justice double major.