Research led by The Nature Conservancy (TNC) shows that when conserved, restored and managed effectively, forests offer the largest natural climate solution available. If effective safeguards are in place, increasing demand for timber products could mobilize private investments in sustainable timberland and make sustainable sourced timber competitive with other forest-risk commodities such as soy, palm oil or beef. It is estimated that a 1% incremental annual growth in wood demand could drive 20 million ha of reforestation through 2030. Additionally, carbon can be stored in forest products for years, and these products, such as Cross Laminated Timber (CLT), can be a substitute for carbon-intensive materials such as concrete and steel, thus reducing greenhouse emissions in the building sector.

China has been actively engaged in international cooperation and dialogue to build an equitable global climate governance regime. The country has been making significant efforts in reforestation, and China’s important role in the international timber trade and wood products consumption has also created a shared responsibility in global forest governance. China has a long history of using wood structures. However, in the  late 1980s and early 1990s, when timber was not easily available due to the newly enacted logging ban, concrete and steel began to rule the building industry. In recent years, wood structures have been used mostly on a small scale for tourist destinations, hotels and exhibitions.

Considering that China accounts for 37% of global construction, the potential impact of interventions that enable mass timber use through CLT penetration of mid-rise buildings could be huge. TNC in partnership with the Chinese Academy of Forestry’s (CAF) Research Institute of Wood Industry, have been invested in understanding the opportunities and obstacles for moving forward in using mass timber in mid-to-high rise buildings.

On 17th January 2019, 30 professionals and experts participated in a Workshop on Mass Timber Use in Mid-to-High Rise Buildings, which was held in Beijing. Participants represented 20 organizations including National Forestry and Grassland Administration, Beijing and Nanjing Forestry Universities, Canada Wood , Shanghai JuanZhi Architectural Technology Company, and a few Chinese CLT manufacturers. The workshop reviewed existing policies and standards related to wood structural buildings, shared current development of China’s mass timber industry, as well as opportunities and challenges for mass timber use in mid-to-high rise buildings.

Enhancing green wood construction has been included in China’s 13th five-year plan for economic and social development and forestry development from 2016-2020 to meet the government’s emission reduction commitment. As part of this workshop, participants also had an opportunity to discuss recommendations for further promoting use of sustainably sourced CLT in mid-to-high rise buildings in China on a larger scale as a means to mitigate climate change.

The general consensus during the workshop was that governments need to play a more active role in promoting development of wood structures, for example, through government sponsored projects, providing financial incentives, and developing related standards and certification systems. Experts suggested the need for different agencies to work together, and for China to exchange experiences and lessons learned from existing mass timber use in mid-to-high rise buildings in Europe and North America. Understanding of environmental safeguards, including potential wood sourcing and available species must also be strengthened if the country decides to promote CLT buildings at a larger scale.

Better science-based communication on the climate benefits of using sustainable sourced wood in construction is also needed to help demystify the commonly shared belief that more trees left in the ground is always the “greener” choice.

This workshop was made possible through the generous support of The Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF), COmON Foundation and Good Energies Foundation.

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