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Timber buildings key to cutting global emissions, new study finds

31 August 2022

A landmark global study has found that building new urban homes from wood instead of more energy-intensive materials could cut greenhouse gas emissions by about 10% of what is needed to limit global heating to 2 degrees this century.

The study, Land use change and carbon emissions of a transformation to timber cities by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and published in the Nature Communications journal, found that housing 90% of the world’s growing urban population in mid-rise timber buildings could avoid 106 billion tons of carbon emissions by 2100.

Australian Forest Products Association of NSW CEO Victor Violante said NSW can be a world leader on sustainable, low-emission timber construction, as we have an innovative local timber manufacturing industry and potential to grow the timber plantation estate.

“This study confirms that building with sustainably-sourced timber delivers the best climate mitigation outcome, and will become increasingly important if NSW, Australia and the world are to meet our ambitious emissions reduction goals,” Mr Violante said.

“NSW is well placed to be a leader in mid and high-rise timber construction. Across the cityscape we already have several mass timber buildings, with many more in the pipeline. We also have a strong timber house frame manufacturing sector experiencing high demand.

“We need to urgently grow the plantation estate and maintain the modest levels of timber production in our multi-use forests so we can maintain and boost our manufacturing capacity instead of relying on imports to meet future growth in demand.”

NSW already has more than 400,000 hectares of plantations across the state which are replanted after harvest to provide a perpetual carbon sink that is already making an enormous contribution to NSW’s net zero emissions goal.

“Furthermore, half the weight of timber is stored carbon, so every time we build with timber that has been grown, manufactured and replanted in NSW we get an even better climate change mitigation benefit.

“The good news is that in Australia we have ample under-utilised rural land that is suitable for growing the plantation estate without replacing native forest or productive farmland.

“The reality is that the world needs more wood fibre. In Australia, we have the land, the industry and the expertise to boost our timber production and do more with wood – the ultimate renewable,” Mr Violante concluded.

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