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Wood in construction can reduce carbon emissions, say reports

It’s Earth Day again, and as usual, its arrival rouses mixed feelings in many. On the one hand, we have children in many parts of the world (though mostly in the developed world), cleaning up rivers, planting trees turning off lights and thinking about what they can do to help, while conscientious adults make a donation to a “green” cause  or ride their bicycle to work: on the other, the unchecked industrial despoliation of the oceans and the earth for the profit of global business. Is there any doubt as to the outcome?

There is reason for hope, however, even after the most pessimistic report ever from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, released last week. This latest report on climate change, how it is affecting the planet, what measures have been taken to mitigate its effects, and what needs to be done, shows that despite numerous inter-state conferences and agreements on reducing greenhouse gas emissions over the past two decades or so, these emissions have not been reduced but have instead increased. In a now-or-never warning, the IPCC report speaks of impending catastrophe, unless governments act seriously, and soon.

John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, said that the grim report from the IPCC presented a challenge to business, an opportunity waiting to be exploited, if they will only seize it. “Many of the technologies that will help us fight climate change are far cheaper, more readily available, and better performing than they were when the last IPCC assessment was released,” he said. The report makes clear that “what we face is an issue of global willpower, not capacity.”

Climate-change adaptation is not an exotic agenda that has never been tried. Governments, firms, and communities around the world are building experience with adaptation. This experience forms a starting point for bolder, more ambitious adaptations that will be important as climate and society continue to change.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Working Group II

Carbon capture and sequestration the natural way

One of the many “mitigating scenarios” the IPCC report proposes for consideration is carbon capture and sequestration. This is not a new concept, nor does it need to be costly, according to some. In fact, we need look no further than the trees. Trees are nature’s own highly efficient carbon capture and sequestration mechanism. A group of researchers at Yale University School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, and the University of Washington’s College of the Environment, said in a report that using more carbon-sequestering wood in construction, and less carbon-releasing steel and concrete, could reduce carbon emissions by 14–31 per cent.

Using wood in building and bridge construction would require a completely new approach to sustainable forest management, one that would preserve biodiversity and maintain the carbon storage capacity of existing forests, while allowing the harvesting of greater numbers of trees. The current annual global harvest of wood could be increased by about 15 per cent, the Yale researchers say. Using the prime wood for construction and burning the scrap wood for energy would reduce CO2 emissions. Worldwide construction of bridges, other infrastructure and buildings will triple by 2050, the Yale report claims. This means more emissions.

Michael-Green-architect-tall-wood-Vancouver-greenhouse-emissions-carbon-sequestration-Condo.ca
Vancouver architect Michael Green is an advocate for “tall wood,” the use of wood in the construction of tall buildings. Climate change demands that we do so, he argues. Shown is a concept for tall wood buildings.

The production and transportation of steel, concrete and brick, the study claims, currently accounts for as much as 30 per cent of fossil fuel consumption globally. Fossil fuel burning is by far the largest source of CO2 emissions, amounting to about 60 per cent of the global output in 2010. Their reduction is essential, the IPCC report insists, in order to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions at levels that are not dangerous. As the IPCC report starkly puts it, “At present, emissions are not on track for stabilization let alone deep cuts.”

The “deep cuts” that are needed will require a seemingly impossible mix including “a diverse portfolio of policies, institutions, and technologies as well as changes in human behaviour and consumption patterns.” Complicating the picture even further is the fact that in most countries where the need for controlling emissions is greatest, “the actors that are relevant to controlling emissions aren’t just national governments.” Big business, in short.

As depressing as that may be, a readily available solution like using more wood for construction is one potential bright light on Earth Day.

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Auberge on the Park-Tridel
Bianca-Tridel-Annex

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