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Published on 19 December 2014 12:20

Growing Our Low-Carbon Economy

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Key Learning outcomes
  • Expand use of wood-based products to grow a low carbon economy
  • A source of sustainable jobs and growth - vocational training; reward low-energy manufacturing; keep costs competitive
  • A vital role in building homes - zero carbon solutions; build more homes; clearer regulation and enforcement; consider full carbon impact
  • The natural choice for health and wellbeing
  • Reward management and expansion of woodlands
  • Ensure National Curriculum drives understanding of the importance forests play in society
Published date: 19/11/2014


By expanding the use of wood-based products, and boosting forestry and timber sectors, collectively the UK’s low-carbon economy can grow. The forest and timber industry is a key part of environmental and industrial heritage and a vital part of a low-carbon future.

Valued by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) at over £8.5 billion, the forestry and timber products sector is in the top 20 major industries in the UK. The industry provides significant employment opportunity across all regions and for all levels of skill and qualification – from forestry, land and habitat management, to joinery and manufacturing, engineering, and architectural design. In the construction sector alone, wood related trades account for around 10% of all jobs.

The Climate Change Act 2008 established a framework to develop an economically credible path to carbon emissions reduction. This commits the UK to reducing emissions by at least 80% in 2050 from their 1990 levels, which highlights the role the UK will take in tackling climate change under the Kyoto Protocol.

Timber is one of the safest and cheapest forms of carbon capture; the sector employs 150,000 people in wood related trades and has the lowest embodied carbon of any mainstream building material.

1.0 Growing our low-carbon economy

90% of timber used in the UK comes from certified sustainable sources – FSC and PEFC – as outlined in the Government’s Central Point of Expertise on Timber (CPET). The rest comes from managed sources in countries which do not practice certification. This minimises the risk of illegal material entering the supply chain and ensures ‘no net losses’ of forest cover. The EU Timber Regulation (EUTR) 2013 supported by the National Measurement Office (NMO) identifies that the UK leads the world in responsible trading.

Growing trees absorb and store carbon dioxide through life to harvest at roughly one tonne of carbon per m3. Carbon is locked in timber products including windows and doors. More emissions are absorbed than emitted during harvesting and processing which provides a net emissions reduction.

Low-carbon timber products require far less electricity and can outperform high-carbon competing materials. Timber has great insulating properties, providing natural warmth and achieving energy efficiency targets. Timber products are readily reused and recycled and are increasingly used as a low-carbon fuel. It provides low-carbon benefits throughout its life-cycle without subsidies or incentives.

What to do?

Encourage more planting. The Confederation of Forest Industries (Confor) reports that wood supplies are set to peak around 2025 challenging future supply and loss of a valuable carbon bank. Increasing the UK’s forest cover from 13 to 16% could reduce around 10% of national CO2 emissions by 2050 and provide the feedstock for a vibrant manufacturing industry.

Ensure uniform enforcement of the EUTR across Europe. Government purchase policy has made the UK a world leader in the development of legal and sustainable timber. The Government must use its resources and influence in Europe to ensure uniform regulation.

Set and enforce strong carbon reduction targets. Financial institutions call for strong policies to drive action on climate change suggesting putting a ‘stable, reliable and economically meaningful’ price that polluters have to pay for their carbon emissions. Governments should eliminate subsidies for fossil fuels - around £370bn worldwide a year – as this is neither sustainable environmentally nor economic.

Promote local wood energy. Large scale use of virgin timber for subsidised biomass electricity distorts the price of timber and is a threat to jobs. Timber loss cuts carbon reductions. However, local use of wood for heat and good quality CHP is far more carbon efficient and can stimulate the responsible management of woodland.
The forestry and timber industry plays a vital part of a low-carbon future.  Wood is the most technologically advanced material to build with.
The forestry and timber industry plays a vital part of a low-carbon future. Wood is the most technologically advanced material to build with.
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