Timber industry to make its case at COP26

In our latest Time for Timber podcast, Andrew Carpenter, Chief Executive of the Structural Timber Association, sat down with Paul Brannen, Director Public Affairs CEI-Bois & EOS, to discuss the most important event happening in 2021, COP26.

What is COP26?

The 26th Conference of the Parties, or COP26, will see the leaders of the world converge to decide how best to tackle the global crisis of climate change. For these leaders, whom have supreme decision-making capabilities, finding and agreeing upon the necessary solutions to combat this threat at COP26 are crucial to turning the tides back in our favour. Meetings between leaders are frequent but once every four years, one nation hosts a larger conference spanning two weeks. For COP26, this responsibility falls to the UK, with Glasgow hosting the event commencing on November 1st and finishing on November 12th. Since the previous major Conference of the Parties, hosted by France in 2016, the targets set have not been met, making it ever the more vital that solutions are found in Glasgow.

What is the Timber industry hoping to achieve at COP26?

Regarding sources of carbon emissions, the construction sector is responsible for anywhere between 40 and 50 percent. During their conversation, Paul Brannen highlights that it is therefore the duty of the construction industry to reduce that figure, whilst expressing his belief that timber provides the key means in which to do this. Paul discusses what he calls the three S’s, those being sequestrate, store and substitute. As a tree grows, carbon within the atmosphere is captured within the tree itself, this process is known as carbon sequestration. Once a tree is felled and processed into building materials, the sequestered carbon remains stored within the wood. The production of building materials such as cement and steel are particularly high emitters of carbon, by substituting them with timber, the environmental impact of construction is immediately lessened. These are the core messages that Paul wishes to present to the politicians attending COP26. As he states, utilising timber within construction is low hanging fruit.

How are those campaigning for timber planning to grab the attention?

As Paul explains in his conversation with Andrew, COP events are a political conference and a trade exhibition hybrid. An allocated area of the event known as the ‘green zone’ offers organisations and associations an opportunity to literally set up stall, and promote themselves to politicians, journalists and general visitors. Collectively the timber industry, at a global level, have placed their bid to the British Government, expressing their desire for a space at COP26. However, as Paul details, the timber industry has big plans on how they intend to showcase what they have to offer. Currently, plans for a purpose-built timber pavilion are being put together by a well-known British architect. The aim is to incorporate various engineered timber products within its design, to demonstrate the vast number of applications that timber possesses as a building material. The belief is that this visually stunning centrepiece will draw politicians and visitors in, so that they can be educated and informed about the structural solution to climate change that is timber.

As Paul draws his input to the conversation with Andrew to a close, he says: “We have to remind ourselves that everyday hundreds of people come to this issue completely new, and they’re the people we need to think about first and foremost”. COP26 presents a fantastic opportunity for the timber industry to showcase, to the leaders of the world, the vast environmental benefits it has to offer. Why wait, the time for timber is now. To hear the entirety of Paul’s and Andrew’s discussion about COP26, you can find the full podcast here.

3 – Wood for Good

“We got ourselves into this climate mess with aviation, deforestation – even too much procreation”

The punchy slogan to Tom Heap’s new BBC Radio 4 podcast, 39 Ways to Save the Planet, a bubbly and optimistic take on the climate emergency we face ahead of us. In episode 3, Wood for Good, Tom explains how timber, and in particular, CLT (cross-laminated timber) can be used and harnessed as a technology used to reduce carbon emissions.

The podcast gets going as you arrive in a room with the sound of saws cutting through planks of CLT in your vicinity. Tom describes the smell and aroma of sawdust and sap, the combination of which you can nearly smell yourself. Michael Ramage, a Reader of Architecture and Engineering at Cambridge University, describes the anatomy of a typical CLT beam whilst dissecting it with a chainsaw. He then explains his passion for the new material by describing how it is the newest construction material in the market and its importance to the environment in the future. Michael then proceeds to demonstrate the surprising strength of CLT beams by distributing a significant weight on it using a hydraulic press. The slender beam eventually breaks, but could withstand 2 metric tonnes of force upon it, a weight comparable to that of a large car. After showing the impressive strength of CLT planks, Tom then explores the wider reach of using timber as an anti-carbon tool by delivering some absorbing facts about the environmental capacity of timber.

Timber is a sustainable and renewable material. Whilst the idea of cutting down trees to use for buildings seems like it would cause widespread deforestation, a closer look into the management of timber production reveals quite the opposite. The timber that is used in construction across Europe is sourced from purpose grown trees in managed woodlands. Using these sources, the time it takes to grow enough timber for the material to house a family of four is 7 seconds. A 300m tall skyscraper takes just 4 hours and Canada has the timber resources available to sustainably house 1 billion people. Whilst the supply of timber seems readily available already, the renewability of the material is a key feature. Three or four trees are replanted for every one cut down in well managed timber production woodlands. This actually provides an opportunity for large scale reforestation and would evolve the fight against climate change further.

However, the main selling point of using timber in construction is carbon capture. As a tree grows it sequesters carbon in the air and turns it into oxygen. Even when the tree is cut down, the carbon stored within remains in the timber. So effectively, Greensted Church in Essex, the oldest timber church in the world, has been storing carbon emissions within its oak walls from the 11th Century. That’s nearly an entire millennium of carbon storage. It is therefore key to build with timber long term. If timber was used to build our housing, schools and even more of our infrastructure in the future it really would just be a question of how much carbon we can store. We need to plan for buildings that will last not just the next 20 or 30 years, but the next few hundred and beyond.

If you enjoyed learning about timber in construction head to https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m000qy43 to listen to the full podcast of Wood for Good, as well as the rest of Tom Heap’s series of 39 Ways to Save the Planet.

In recent times, we have been conditioned to follow the science, not least in the field of CO2 emissions. As a campaign that is dedicated to promoting timber as the net zero hero, we welcome the release of a paper that focusses on carbon capture in timber construction, Cities as carbon sinks—classification of wooden buildings. Its publication could not have been better timed. With the announcement by the government of its 10-point plan to reach net zero by 2050, the construction industry has come into focus on the part it needs to play to help the country hit its target. With the construction sector contributing anything up to 39% of global carbon emissions, it is clear that something has to change.

The research was funded by the Ministry of the Environment of Finland and sets out to estimate the carbon storage potential of new European buildings between 2020 and 2040. It is acknowledged that studies into carbon storage already exist, but these are based on rough estimations and feature a limited number of case studies. This paper expanded on this by studying 50 different case buildings, to give a more reliable estimation. The study also highlighted that the carbon storage capacity of buildings is not significantly influenced by the type of building, the type of wood or the size of the building but rather by the number and the volume of wooden elements used in the structural and non-structural components of the building.

In doing this, the study looks to report real life scenarios of how much carbon would be stored in the timber used in buildings, over time.

The published results reveal that by investing in the use of timber in construction to a point where 80% of new residential buildings in Europe were made of wood, and wood was used in the structures, cladding, surfaces, and furnishings of houses, the buildings would store 55m tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, which is equivalent to about 47% of the annual emissions of Europe’s cement industry.

Added to this, the researchers were able to project that to store 55m tonnes of carbon dioxide per year by 2040, the share of buildings will need to grow steadily to 80% increased use of timber in construction. This is why it’s so important that we consider the increased use of structural timber and timber frame as the main building process for house building.

With the government talking of the need for carbon storage and a circular economy to reach its targets, then the more trees that are planted to fulfil the needs of more buildings being built, then the use of more timber in construction can be seen to tick the box for a circular economy, and a carbon store, as the net zero hero.

For full access to the report: https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/aba134

“The construction sector can even be turned from a carbon source into a carbon sink, if organic materials like wood and smart technologies like AI are being used”.

This undeniable support for the increased use of timber came as part of a speech from European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen in announcing plans to create a new Bauhaus modelled on the influential design school as part of the European Union’s €750 billion coronavirus recovery plan.

The statement is applauded by the Time For Timber campaign as the use timber as a carbon sink is a vital tool in hitting net zero by 2050. A single cubic metre of timber will save around 0.8 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions, as more of this greenhouse gas is absorbed and stored within timber products than is emitted during its harvesting process, manufacturing and transportation combined.

This setting of a new agenda was followed up by her call,

“We need to change how we treat nature”.

“Our current levels of consumption of raw materials, energy, water, food and land use are not sustainable,” she added. “We need to change how we treat nature, how we produce and consume, live and work, eat and heat, travel and transport.”

The EU’s State of the Union address went on to propose an EU-wide net greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction target of at least 55% by 2030, compared to 1990 levels. This target puts the EU on a balanced pathway to reaching climate neutrality by 2050. The Commission’s proposal is based on a thorough impact assessment and confirms that reducing emissions by at least 55% by 2030 is a realistic and feasible course of action.

Achieving this increased climate ambition will require an investment boost, which will contribute to a green recovery from the current COVID-19 crisis.

We applaud this clear pathway and commitment to reduce carbon, as timber will play a key role in enabling the construction sector to meet its targets.

Barratt Developments has announced it has become a founding member of The One Planet Pledge, a campaign devised to encourage organisations to support the UK’s commitment to net zero carbon by 2050.

Under The One Planet Pledge, launched by former cabinet minister Justine Greening, companies set their own target date for reaching net zero, Barratt explained.

The pledge aims to encourage businesses and universities to get on board with the government’s net zero carbon target to which it made a legal commitment last year.

Bukky Bird, Barratt’s group sustainability director, said:

“We are very pleased to be a founding member of the One Planet Pledge. As the UK’s leading national sustainable housebuilder we recently announced our own science based carbon reduction targets and pledged to become a net zero greenhouse gas emissions (in our operations) business by 2040. Every company needs to take responsibility to tackle climate change and the One Planet Pledge helps us to do that.”

Greening said:

“Hitting the UK’s 2050 target will need a country-wide effort and the role of business as a force for good is essential. Unarguably economic growth has been responsible for lifting large numbers out of poverty in the last twenty years. But unless we take action, climate change will have a devastating impact that pushes those gains back and risks devastating consequences.”

The One Planet Pledge has been created by the team behind the national Social Mobility Pledge, which was founded by Greening and entrepreneur David Harrison in 2018. More than 450 businesses and 60 universities have now committed to the Social Mobility Pledge.

One of the key contributors to climate change is the ‘greenhouse effect’, a phenomena caused by rising levels of gases like carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere. Upon entering the atmosphere, these gases trap the sun’s energy and reflect it back onto the earth, akin to a greenhouse.

As such, the greenhouse effect causes the temperature of the earth’s surface, particularly its oceans to rise. Scientists, who have known about the process since the 19th Century, believe the greenhouse effect has directed over nine-tenths of trapped energy from the sun towards the earth’s oceans.

Since the industrial revolution, carbon dioxide levels have increased by about 45% globally. During that same period, other harmful greenhouse gases have also increased by a similarly large amount. Unfortunately, all the evidence shows that this rise is almost entirely due to human activity. In particular, the three main causes are:

  • burning of fossil fuels for energy
  • agriculture and deforestation
  • the manufacture of cement, chemicals and metals

Currently, the global construction and building sector accounts for:

  • 42% of total energy consumption
  • 35% of total greenhouse gas emissions
  • 50% of extracted materials
  • 30% of water consumption*

Upon emission, around 43% of carbon dioxide produced goes into the atmosphere, with the rest absorbed by plants and the oceans. Therefore, in looking to solve the world’s greenhouse effect problem, we must also address the important role that deforestation plays. The harmful endeavour reduces the number of carbon dioxide absorbing trees, whilst also releasing the carbon contained in those trees back into the atmosphere.

* EC 2011. Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe, European Commission, COM/2011/571.

 

Timber as part of the circular economy; the safest and most effective carbon store.

Currently, the construction industry represents around 10% of total UK carbon emissions and directly contributes to a further 47%. As a result, the industry finds itself in a position of great responsibility and influence with regards to the nation’s climate change efforts.

As timber trees grow, they naturally absorb carbon, which continues to be stored when the material is transformed into structural timber products. Timber absorbs and stores more carbon than it emits during processing and installation. These engineered solutions act as an effective carbon store when used as part of a building. When the building has reached the end of its use, this stored carbon can either be re-used as fuel, or will naturally filter back into the soil. By comparison, the use of concrete and steel within construction leads to considerably more energy and carbon usage. To this end, a report published by Chatham House (Making Concrete Change: June 2018) show that cement is the source of 4-8% of total global carbon dioxide emissions. Conversely, more carbon dioxide is absorbed and stored within timber products than is emitted during its harvesting process, manufacturing and transportation combined.

In fact, when used instead of other building materials, a single cubic metre of timber will save around 0.8 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions. With such strong green credentials, it’s clear to see why so many organisations are embracing timber. Not only does the material provide strength and aesthetic beauty, but offers an effective solution in battling climate change. In fact, boroughs like Hackney in East London are now demanding a ‘timber first’ policy when it comes to building specifications. Similarly, the French government recently announced new sustainability legislation to help make the country carbon-neutral by 2050. The new law, which becomes enforceable in 2022, will mandate that all new public buildings in France are built from at least 50% timber, or other natural materials.

In June 2019, the UK became the first major economy in the world to pass laws to end its contribution to global warming by 2050.

The target requires the UK to bring all greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050, compared with its previous target of an 80% reduction from 1990 levels. The UK has already reduced its emissions by 42%, whilst growing the economy by 72% and putting clean growth at the heart of its modern Industrial Strategy.

As well as appreciating the financial benefits involved in supporting sustainable projects, banks and insurers must begin to assess the future costs they’ll be liable to, should extreme weather and rising oceans become more common. Ultimately, these companies hold their own destiny, as well as their future profitability in their own hands. Therefore, as the UK and the rest of the world begins to recover from the shock of COVID-19, it’s possible that the next global shock could have much more catastrophic and irreversible implications.

There is clear evidence to show that climate change is happening!

Since the pre-industrial period, the average temperature of the Earth’s surface has risen by about 1°C. Similarly, 17 of the 18 warmest years on record have occurred in the 21st century, with each of the last three decades hotter than the one that came before.

Although we’re all getting warmer, some areas have experienced the effects of this change more greatly than others. For example, the temperature rise is particularly noticeable when assessing the shrinkage of ice caps and ice sheets in the Arctic region.

In the UK, the problem is also worsening year-on-year. The average day between 2008 and 2017 was 0.8°C warmer than an average day between 1961 and 1990. Additionally, the top ten warmest years in British history have all occurred since 1990, with the nine warmest occurring since 2002.

Whilst we may struggle to notice this change on a day-to-day basis, the ramifications of a further increase to global temperature will affect everyday life. As the planet gets warmer, more ice melts, which leads to sea level rises and increases the likelihood of flooding in coastal areas. In fact, should sea levels rise a further six and a half feet, nearly 190 million people would be under direct threat of displacement.

Therefore, without serious intervention, it’s clear to see that the world is on course for an impending ecological, humanitarian and financial crisis, which will alter how it functions forever.

CLIMATE CHANGE IS NOW. THE TIME FOR ACTION IS NOW.