Land Use, Land-Use Change and Forestry

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4.5.6. Forest Products

This section presents the opportunities offered by forest products as a recyclable store of carbon and a renewable source of fibers for the mitigation of climate change. Policy options to account for these wood product pools are discussed in Section 6.2.2.

In 1996, the world's forests produced 3.4 billion m3 of harvested roundwood. About 1.9 billion m3 (56 percent) of this harvest was fuelwood; the remainder (1.5 billion m3) was industrial roundwood (e.g., sawlogs and pulpwood). The industrial roundwood corresponds to a harvesting flux of about 0.3 Gt C yr-1. Developed countries account for 70 percent of total world production and consumption of industrial wood products (FAO, 1999).

The timber that is harvested is converted into a wide variety of wood products (Skog and Nicholson, 1998). The carbon in the wood is fixed in products until they decay or are burned (i.e., for energy production) and the carbon is subsequently released back into the atmosphere. Models are available to assist in developing estimates of carbon fate in wood products, depending on their initial size, quality, and industrial utilization (Row and Phelps, 1996; Apps et al., 1999b). With increasing industrial use of wood, the amount of carbon fixed in wood products will raise proportionally. There are several ways to positively influence the carbon balance:

  • Shifting the product mix to a greater proportion of wood products. Manufacturing and transport of wood products requires less fossil fuel than energy-intensive construction materials such as aluminum, steel, and concrete (Matthews et al., 1996). Recent comparisons show that the production of steel and concrete as building material requires up to two times more energy than wood-based product-with concomitant greater generation of GHGs. Increased use of solid timber, engineered wood and wood-based panels, paper, and fuels displaces energy-intensive materials (cement, steel, bricks, and plastics) in two main ways. On one hand, it increases the amount of carbon stored in wood products, particularly those with long life spans. On the other hand, it reduces emissions during production processes. The use of by-products (wood fuels) for energy generation in production processes has an additional positive impact on the overall carbon balance.
  • Increasing the useful life of products. Extending the life of wood products implies not only a longer service life but a longer carbon sequestration period and less energy consumption for their replacement through other new materials. The service life of wood products can be extended by using the appropriate timber species for particular end uses, applying constructive or chemical wood protection against fungi and insect attack, and wise use of the products themselves.
  • Increasing product recycling. Wood and paper products are among the most commonly used materials for recycling into new products and fuels. Utilization of recovered wood in the paper industry and power plants is a good example. In Europe, for example, recovered paper accounts for 40 percent of annual paper production and is predicted to increase to 45 percent in the future. An increase in the number of times a material is recycled and the recycling of more wood and paper products will enhance the storage of carbon and reduce emissions.

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