Climate talks yield new opportunities

19 November 2014

Dave Hopkins, executive director of Wood for Good, says the EU’s targets for emissions reduction and energy efficiency should be welcomed by the timber industry.

The central message of the Stern Review in 2006 was that making relatively modest investments in energy efficiency and low-carbon adjustment now would not only reduce emissions but kick-start a market revolution, enabling huge opportunities for future growth.

With this in mind, the emissions reduction and energy efficiency targets agreed in October as part of the EU's climate package should be welcomed by the timber industry as a huge opportunity for future market growth.

The agreement will mean achieving a 40% reduction in emissions across the EU and up to 30% energy efficiency improvements. The latter of these targets is likely to be measured in terms of energy use across a range of industrial and domestic sectors.

As a result, manufacturing and housebuilding are likely to be in for extra scrutiny. With an election looming in May, all parties have said they would like to help turn the UK into "an economy of makers" and all have said that housebuilding is a key priority.

However, both sectors are also major sources of energy use and emissions. This represents a significant opportunity for timber to prove its worth.

The life cycle assessment (LCA) data we published earlier this year comprehensively proves that timber products use far less energy during the manufacturing process than other competing products and materials. In fact, it shows that timber products have absorbed and stored more carbon dioxide than is emitted as a result of their entire manufacturing process - arriving on site with a carbon negative footprint.

This immediately sets the manufacturing side of the timber industry apart from all other competing sectors in the construction products sector.

KD Energy use
Although overall the timber supply chain emissions production is low, the main source of energy use - and therefore emissions - is kiln drying. Yet here we also have a positive story to tell. Confor has negotiated a Climate Change Agreement for the sawmill sector with the DECC, under which mills commit to reduce energy consumption in return for a rebate on green energy taxes. In some cases this has included making major investment in on-site biomass facilities to use their own co-products as fuel for their operations. Reductions are also made on electricity consumption.

So, a programme to tackle the main source of emissions is already in place.

At the building level, timber frame not only requires far less energy to manufacture, but timber's natural insulation properties make it ideal for energy-efficient construction. The innovation in the sector, along with the pro active approach of the Structural Timber Association, has seen timber frame grow to become recognised as the only practical way to achieve the most binding low-carbon standards.

It not only reduces emissions in the here and now, but will help future proof our housing stock - and its residents - against inevitable energy price rises.

The Timber Accord recently launched the "Growing our Low Carbon Economy" report, which provides details on many of these points and highlights a range of areas where the timber supply chain can bring benefits to the economy, society and the environment. Like the Build with Carbon animations we produced last month, it has been written so that everyone in the timber industry can make use of it and we urge you to do so.

Meeting politicians
Last month a delegation from the timber industry met Labour's housing minister and advisers to discuss these topics, in the first of a series of meetings organised by Wood for Good to engage with politicians across the political spectrum. They were impressed with the sector's credentials and the answers it can give to several policy questions.

Ultimately, none of the rhetoric about targets is likely to come to fruition for another year or more.

However, we need to start collectively making the investments now to ensure we maximise this opportunity for the future - investments in data production and full building level LCA studies to ensure we have the evidence base we need, and investment in strong communication programmes to ensure the policy-making audience is well aware that the solutions exist before they start down a policy-making path.

As Stern and many other writers have stated, these small investments now will bring huge rewards in the future.

The physical volume of carbon dioxide that could be sequestered and stored if the target of 200,000 homes were built in timber each year is just less than 4 million tonnes. Each sphere represents one kg of CO2 at normal atmospheric pressure. (One tonne of CO2 at normal atmosphere = sphere 33ft across)