On August 30, the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research published a study in the journal The nature of communication it claims that building future cities from man-made wood products could prevent 106 billion tons of carbon dioxide from entering the Earth’s atmosphere by 2100. As the world’s population increases, more people will gravitate to cities. Low-rise wooden buildings of 4 to 12 stories could provide shelter for all these people and places for community enterprises without the carbon emissions associated with the construction of concrete and steel buildings. Here is an introduction to the study:
“Here we assess the global and regional impacts of increased demand for engineered wood on land use and associated CO2 emissions by 2100 using an open source land system model. We show that if 90% of the new urban population were housed in newly constructed urban mid-rise buildings with timber structures, an additional 106 gigatonnes of CO2 could be saved by 2100. Forest plantations would have to expand by up to 149 million hectares by 2100, and harvests from unprotected natural forests would increase. Our results show that the expansion of timber buildings for timber buildings is possible without major impacts on agricultural production. Strong governance and careful planning is needed to ensure a sustainable transition to forest cities, even as frontier forests and biodiversity hotspots are protected.
“In 2020, more than half of the world’s population lived in cities. According to the Shared Socioeconomic Pathway 2 scenario, the global share of the population living in urban areas could increase to 80% by 2100. By the middle of this century, newly built infrastructure (including new urban housing) may exceed built infrastructure. since the beginning of industrialization. Common buildings today are mostly constructed of steel and cement. The production of traditional building materials causes significant anthropogenic CO2 emissions (e.g. due to carbonate calcination, electricity consumption and fuel consumption in cement and steel production).
“In 2020, the production of raw materials for conventional buildings accounted for about 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions from cement production (1.48 gigatons) and also iron and steel (3.55 gigatons). The continued use of conventional building materials for future infrastructure development could require 35-60% of the remaining carbon budget associated with limiting global temperature rise to below 2°C.
“Using artificial wood for building construction can help avoid emissions associated with conventional building materials. Wood is a renewable resource that typically carries the lowest carbon footprint of all comparable first-time construction materials. In addition, the carbon stored in wood that has been absorbed from atmospheric CO2 through photosynthesis is partially preserved when wood is used as a building material, making it a long-term carbon sink.
Abhijeet Mishra, lead author of the paper, says Guardian“More than half of the world’s population currently lives in cities, and by 2100 this number will increase significantly. This means more homes will be built from steel and concrete, most of which have a serious carbon footprint. But we have an alternative. We can accommodate the new urban population in medium-sized buildings – that’s four to 12 stories – made of wood.”
Alexander Popp, co-author of the study, said that preventing logging in virgin forests and biodiversity conservation areas was central to their calculations. “The explicit protection of these protected areas is crucial, but nevertheless the establishment of forest plantations at the expense of other unprotected natural areas could further increase future biodiversity loss.” About 15 billion trees are harvested worldwide each year.
Not everyone agrees
Sini Eräjää, head of the European campaign for food and forests for Greenpeace, says Guardian that cutting down natural forests and replacing them with forest plantations would be “a terrible idea. It would be a disaster for nature and the climate,” she said. “Natural, biodiverse forests are more resistant to drought, fire and disease, making them a much safer carbon sink than the tree plantations we saw in smoke from Portugal to California this summer. Wood can play a bigger role in construction, but doubling the world’s tree plantations at the expense of priceless nature is just stupid, when a slight reduction in meat and dairy farming would free up the necessary land.”
Abhilash Panda, Deputy Head of Partnerships at the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction in Geneva, said guardian, “Wood brings benefits. It provides carbon storage, reduces emissions and provides a way to address unmanaged forests. On the other hand, it is flammable. However, what matters most when determining fire risk is what type of housing is being considered, who is the target and what the location is. Risk is site-specific and any design must build resilience into it.”
What about fires and earthquakes?
The idea of wooden buildings gets on some people’s nerves. Will they not collapse in an earthquake or catch fire easily? The answer is no, they won’t. Modern engineered woods are as strong as steel and nearly fireproof.
“Future construction of engineered wood buildings is typically touted as a new option to mitigate climate change,” the study said. “It could reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the construction sector while reducing overall construction costs. The use of engineered wood in buildings is already associated with fire and earthquake resistance, shorter construction times, and less waste during construction. The construction industry offers a unique opportunity for decarbonisation. Replacing much of the raw material needed to build residential buildings for the new urban population with synthetic wood provides a lucrative option for long-term carbon storage in buildings.
Takeaway Food On Wooden Buildings
The Potsdam study recognizes that there are opportunities for further research into the use of more timber buildings for domestic and medium-sized commercial buildings. It also recognizes the challenges of deciding how to manage the world’s forests to preserve biodiversity. There is no single answer to these questions. But the study paves the way for further investigation into how best to provide shelter for a growing global population without disrupting the Earth’s carbon budget.
New technologies allow for low- or zero-carbon steel and cement, two promising advances that will reduce the carbon footprint of new buildings, and of course the new progress study does not consider how these advances may affect carbon emissions from the construction industry. What it does is show how wood products could benefit the environment if used to build low and mid-rise structures.
Timber buildings are another available tool for significantly reducing carbon emissions. They should be properly considered along with all other available strategies to tame the rampant increase in carbon emissions that threatens us all with an environment that no longer supports human life.
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