- Journal Article
Summary: To meet the long-term goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change—keeping global warming well below 2°C and ideally capping it at 1.5°C—humanity will ultimately need to achieve net zero emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) into the atmosphere. To date emissions reduction efforts have largely focused on decarbonizing the two economic sectors responsible for the most emissions, electric power and transportation. Other approaches aim to remove carbon from the atmosphere and store it through carbon capture technology, biofuel cultivation and massive tree planting.
As it turns out, planting trees is not the only way forestry can help in climate mitigation; how we use wood harvested from trees may also make a difference. Recent studies have shown that engineered wood products—composed of wood and various types of adhesive to enhance physical strength—involve far fewer carbon dioxide emissions than mineral-based building materials, and at lower cost. Now new research explores the potential environmental and economic impact in the U.S. of substituting lumber for energy-intensive building products such as cement and steel, which account for nearly 10 percent of human-made GHG emissions and are among the hardest to reduce.
Comparing the economic and emissions impacts of replacing CO2-intensive building materials (e.g. steel and concrete) with lumber products in the U.S. under an economy-wide cap-and-trade policy consistent with the nation’s Paris Agreement GHG emissions reduction pledge, the study found that the CO2-intensity (tons of CO2 emissions per dollar of output) of lumber production is about 20 percent less than that of fabricated metal products, under 50 percent that of iron and steel, and under 25 percent that of cement. In addition, shifting construction toward lumber products lowers the GDP cost of meeting the emissions cap by approximately $500 million and reduces the carbon price.