A major challenge facing policy-makers is how to maintain, and ideally increase, people’s standard of living, while simultaneously reducing the impact of climate change. The answer is development of a low-carbon economy, something that fits very well with our sector. Few industries can boast that by producing more products they are displacing more carbon.

Climate change, however, also raises challenges. While we should all benefit from the increased use of wood, government will increasingly target businesses’ own energy use. It wants to reduce the use of carbon emitting transport fuels, and arising markets such as renewable energy will impact on timber flows. In the UK, governments operate interventionist forestry policies and there will be pressure to adapt forest management in ways that could reduce future supplies of timber.

It is vital that we understand the complex range of current and future impacts on the sector. With that in mind, ConFor commissioned an independent report, which identifies 42 opportunities and 30 challenges.

From the report (available at www.confor.org.uk) it is clear that all woods and businesses will be affected, positively and negatively. The sector has the chance to help shape developments and to maximise opportunities and minimise impacts, but there will also be an onus on businesses to reduce their carbon footprint. Putting aside the bottom line benefits of doing so, simply exploiting opportunities will quickly be exposed as opportunistic.

From an upstream perspective it is clear that the real contribution our sector can make is not just in the trees themselves. It is in the carbon benefits of harvested wood and in the jobs that are provided from managing the woodland and working with timber.

With climate change, influencing public policy and effective communication and promotion will become even more important for our sector. Forward thinking and co-ordinated action are vital to ensure the sector delivers on its low carbon potential.