Concerns about climate change are encouraging decarbonization of the building sector, including the use of construction materials responsible for fewer greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and improvements in operational performance over the life cycle of buildings. Accounting for over 10 percent of total GHG emissions in Canada, the building sector plays an important role in climate change mitigation and adaptation. Decreasing the climate change impacts of buildings offers high environmental returns for relatively low economic investment.
The Government of Canada, as a signatory to the Paris Agreement, has committed to reducing Canada’s GHG emissions by 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. In addition, the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change acknowledges that forest and wood products have the ability to contribute to the national emissions reductions strategy through:
- enhancing carbon storage in forests;
- increasing the use of wood for construction;
- generating fuel from bioenergy and bioproducts; and
- advancing innovation in bio-based product development and forest management practices.
The importance of the forestry and wood products sector as a critical component toward mitigating the effects of climate change is also echoed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC); stating that a sustainable forest management strategy aimed at maintaining or increasing forest carbon stocks while producing timber, fibre, or energy, generates the largest sustained benefit to mitigate climate change. In addition, the IPCC proclaims that “mitigating options by the forest sector include extending carbon retention in HWP [harvested wood products], product substitution, and producing biomass for bioenergy.”
The Canadian forest industry is pledging to remove 30 megatons of carbon dioxide (CO2) a year by 2030, equivalent to 13 percent of Canada’s national commitments under the Paris Agreement. Several mechanisms will be employed to meet this challenge, including:
- product displacement, using bio-based products in place of fossil fuel-derived products and energy sources;
- forest management practices, including increased utilization, improved residue use and land use planning, and better growth and yields;
- accounting for long-lived bio-based product carbon pools; and
- higher efficiencies in wood product manufacturing processes
Canada is home to 9 percent of the world’s forests, which have the ability to act as enormous carbon sinks by absorbing and storing carbon. Annually, Canada harvests less than one-half of one percent of its forest land, allowing for the forest cover in Canada to remain constant for last century. Sustainable forest management and legal requirements for reforestation continue to maintain this vast carbon reservoir. A forest is a natural system that is considered carbon neutral as long as it is managed sustainably, which means it must be reforested after harvest and not converted to other land uses. Canada has some of the strictest forest management regulations in the world, requiring successful regeneration after public forests are harvested. When managed with stewardship, forests are a renewable resource that will be available for future generations.
Canada is also a world leader in voluntary third-party forest certification, adding further assurance of sustainable forest management. Sustainable forest management programs and certification schemes strive to preserve the quantity and quality of forests for future generations, respect the biological diversity of the forests and the ecology of the species living within it, and respect the communities affected by the forests. Canadian companies have achieved third-party certification on over 150 million hectares (370 million acres) of forests, the largest area of certified forests in the world.
The forest represents one carbon pool, storing biogenic carbon in soils and trees. The carbon remains stored until the trees die and decay or burn. When a tree is cut, 40 to 60 percent of the biogenic carbon remains in the forest; the rest is removed as logs and much of it is transferred to the wood products carbon pool within the built environment. Wood products continue to store this biogenic carbon, often for decades in the case of wood buildings, delaying or preventing the release of CO2 emissions.
Wood products and building systems have ability to store large amounts of carbon; 1 m3 of S-P-F lumber stores approximately 1 tonne of CO2 equivalent. The amount of carbon stored within a wood product is directly proportional the density of the wood. The average single-family home in Canada stores almost 30 tonnes of CO2 equivalent within the wood products used for its construction. Most bio-based construction products actually store more carbon in the wood fibre than is released during the harvesting, manufacturing and transportation stages of their life cycle.
In general, bio-based products like wood that are naturally grown with help from the sun have lower embodied emissions. The embodied emissions arise through the production processes of building materials, starting with resource extraction or harvesting through manufacturing, transportation, construction, and end-of-life. Bioenergy produced from bio-based residuals, such as tree bark and sawdust, is primarily used to generate energy for the manufacture of wood products in North America. Wood construction products have low embodied GHG emissions because they are grown using renewable solar energy, use little fossil fuel energy during manufacturing, and have many end-of-life options (reuse, recycle, energy recovery).
Wood products have the ability to substitute for other more carbon-intensive building materials and energy sources. GHG emissions are thereby avoided by using wood products instead of other more GHG-intensive building products. Displacement factors (kg CO2 avoided per kg wood used) have been estimated to calculate the amount of carbon avoided through the use of wood products in building construction.
For further information, refer to the following resources:
Addressing Climate Change in the Building Sector – Carbon Emissions Reductions (Canadian Wood Council)
Resilient and Adaptive Design Using Wood (Canadian Wood Council)
CWC Carbon Calculator
Canada’s Forest Products Industry “30 by 30” Climate Change Challenge (Forest Products Association of Canada)
Building with wood = Proactive climate protection (Binational Softwood Lumber Council and State University of New York)
Natural Resources Canada
Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change (Government of Canada)
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change