New ISO will capture ‘overall GHG dynamics of wood-based products’

Wood and wood-based products are essential to the net zero transition. In particular we need to transition away from the use of energy intensive construction materials such as concrete and steel, and towards timber-based building materials.

However, current structures in climate policy make it difficult to scale the use of timber. The IPCC common reporting framework (CRF), which informs reporting and policy models, includes ‘forestry’ as part of the Agriculture, Forestry, and Other Land Use sector, where only sink/carbon storage is counted. Emission reductions linked to wood-based products happen in other sectors in the reporting framework so these reductions are not visible within the forestry sector footprint. Consequently forest-climate policy only considers sink/storage and this is only part of the picture (including the storage in products).

According to Peter Holmgren, the founder of FutureVistas, “This is about to change.”

Writing on LinkedIn, Holmgren said, “A new international ISO standard aims to lay out how to calculate the overall greenhouse gas dynamics of wood and wood-based products.”

The new ISO will include:

  • Carbon storage both in the forest and in products
  • GHG emissions in the wood value chain
  • And emissions that are prevented as need for fossil-based products and concrete is reduced

Holmgren said, “The main purpose [of the new ISO standard] is to enhance how corporations in the forest-based sector report their climate impact,” continued Holmgren. “This can lead to better understanding of advantages of wood-based products in other sectors. It can also support investments and innovation towards even more climate-smart products.

“Land Use, Land-use Change and Forestry is an extreme and counterproductive example which overall is negative for the climate. The new standard will make the emission reductions visible by including the displacement (potential) which represents the increased fossil emissions should the wood-based products not exist. The displacement effect is much larger than the effect of storing carbon in wood products, although both are of course important.

“The standard is on public review until 7th July. Experts from 14 countries around the world have worked for two years to tease out the details in the standard. Following the review, comments will be worked into the documents and the standard will be up for approval by ISO member countries.”

The topic is complex and it is important to have a rounded understanding of the emissions dynamics of timber products to help sustain a transition away from more energy-intensive materials.

Holmgren explained that, “Measuring carbon dynamics of forests is not trivial. As wood is harvested from well-managed growing forests, the remaining carbon stock still increases steadily. Sophisticated forest inventory and growth measurements are required to verify the development.

“Wood-based products prevent massive quantities of GHG emissions – fossils stay in the ground where they belong. Quantifying those prevented emissions is a challenge and requires detailed knowledge about alternative products. Further, our society and markets may or may not be ready to make use of this massive potential for climate change mitigation.”

He said, “Understanding and reporting the full climate benefits of wood and wood-based products is important in several ways. On a policy level we may see an enhanced focus on promoting wood solutions for the transition, although this is as such not a focus for the standard. Conclusively, the new ISO standard, will help enhance the role of forests and wood in the necessary transition to a low-emission society.”

Paul Brannen, author of Timber! and Director Public Affairs at the European Woodworking Industry Confederation (CEIBois) was pleased to see the new ISO standard published.

Brannen said, “The European Commission has proposed an ambitious GHG emissions target of 90 per cent by 2040. To achieve this target will involve a combination of emission reductions, achieved by burning less fossil fuel, and an increase in removals, involving storing more carbon. The only up and running, tried and tested, affordable and scalable ‘technology’ to do this by 2040 is via growing nature-based construction materials such as timber that can safely store colossal amounts of carbon in the built environment.”

Holmgren concluded that, “The main climate contribution of trees is outside the forest through wood-based products.”

Read more abut the draft international standard, ISO/DIS 13391-1 – Wood and wood-based products – Greenhouse gas dynamics

Image: Mjøstårnet The Tower of Lake Mjøsa/Voll Arkitekter

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