The potential of trees in realising UK carbon abatement

Earlier this year, the Committee for Climate Change (CCC) commissioned a research project into the possible reduction of greenhouse gases, by increasing the use of timber in UK construction.*

Here, our CEO Dougal Driver, looks at how the potential abatement of carbon could be turned into reality, by encouraging and implementing a new ethos around the management and use of UK woodlands.

With all the progress we are making across other sectors, it remains disappointing that we are yet to implement particular changes in our use of UK timber, which could make massive contributions to the possibilities outlined in the new CCC report.

It’s a little known fact – and one that we at Grown in Britain are working hard to highlight – that the UK imports more than £7.8 billion worth of timber from around the globe, every year. In our consumption of foreign timber, we are second only to China; with imports accounting for 81% of all wood (production and imports) in the UK in 2018.**

This is highly relevant to a particular finding of the report which states that currently, over 50% of a building’s carbon footprint is embodied, i.e., comes as a result of the extraction, manufacture, transportation, demolition and disposal of its core materials. Concrete and brick, are widely acknowledged as being intensive in their embodied carbon rates, whilst the levels of sequestered (stored) carbon they offer are very low.

So with that in mind, what difference would a high growth in timber use, across the UK construction sector, actually make? Well, according to the findings, the figures are substantial. In the UK residential building sector alone, an increase in timber use has the potential for an 18-19% reduction in embodied carbon, and most importantly, a huge 59-64% increase in sequestered carbon.

Chance to change

From the way we manage our woodlands, right through the various stages of the supply chain, this area of the UK construction industry presents numerous possibilities for change; change which not only promises significant benefits to the global climate, but which would also result in positive knock-on effects for local economies, immediate surroundings and nationwide flora and fauna. An increase in managed UK woodlands would not only mean less imports, it would also provide cleaner air, reduce flooding and enhance our wildlife habitats. Not to mention the long-term financial stability it would bring to UK industry, both in terms of local jobs and the wider economy.

One of the most immediate ways we can start embracing the potential of our own woodlands, is to look for the Grown in Britain logo on our forest products. Any timber or timber product displaying the logo, brings the assurance that relevant checks have been made into its origins, and the processes used in its production.

We are all responsible for the safeguarding of our planet and its resources. Whilst some hugely intricate changes may be required in certain areas of climate control, this certification scheme is already available and straight-forward to implement – we just need to re-think our existing attitudes towards the use of forest timber as a construction material.

* The report is entitled ‘Wood in Construction in the UK: An Analysis of Carbon Abatement Potential’ and is available from the CCC.

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