CSFEP was created in 2020 as a collaborative enquiry into a theory that forests were being underutilized as a climate solution. We believed that collective intent by many actors would be required to unlock the opportunity to use forest products to decarbonize industries that interface with forests in their value chains, while driving greater investment into forests and sustainable forest management. At the start of the program, we believed we needed a combination of global solutions (science, dialogues, community building), and local demonstration projects (breakthrough initiatives) to gain greater clarity on forest and forest products contribution to responsible climate change mitigation, as well as a step-change in the market adoption of sustainable forest products.
Over the past 2+ years, we have proven that climate smart forest value chains are a viable climate opportunity, and have developed a portfolio of breakthrough initiatives (BIs) around the world that are demonstrating this potential opportunity.
Through our work, we have validated our ingoing hypotheses, and believe climate smart forest economies (CSFEs) are a viable climate solution that are being underutilized globally. As we reflect on our learnings from the past 2+ years, some common themes have emerged:
All “climate smart” interventions need to be proven, measured, and assessed to maximize the opportunity and avoid any environmental and social risks.
CSFEs should be considered regionally, given the large geographic differences between regions that impact the viability of a CSFE.
Use of sustainably sourced forest products will not scale unless it is a viable economic alternative to existing materials.
Many inter-connected value chains need to be developed in parallel for timber-based construction to be an economically viable and climate-smart solution.
Negative perceptions surrounding the use of timber for construction continue to be a key barrier for the uptake of CSFEs – albeit for different reasons in the different locations.
A key enabler for the success of CSFEs is the public sector, as they can act as a catalyst to create CSFEs, building incentive structures and creating demand to encourage investment.
1. Assessing if it is climate smart
Although many interventions claim to be climate smart or have a beneficial carbon outcome, many only consider one element of the value chain (the building), so only consider a very small piece of the overall story. A building might appear climate smart, but its value chain may have problematic carbon components that negate the benefits of the building itself. It is essential to measure and assess the entirety of the value chain, using a holistic approach, to understand if an intervention is climate smart. Doing this not only avoids any unintended consequences, but also supports in maximizing the climate benefits.
All of our BIs showed a climate positive outcome (actually storing more carbon than was released throughout the entirety of the process), with an average benefit of 22 339 tCO2 (equivalent to the annual emissions savings of taking 15 637 cars off the road). However, we estimate that initiatives could further increase their climate outcomes by 24-56% by making different decisions across the value chains, equating to an estimated average increase in climate benefits of 8 936 tCO2 (equivalent to the annual emissions savings of taking a further 6 255 cars off the road).
For our larger scale initiatives (moving beyond a single building or community housing), the carbon benefit is substantially higher, of between 100 000 and 644 000 tCO2, or the equivalent to an annual emissions savings of taking 70 000 – 235 000 cars off the road.
Opportunities to maximize the climate outcomes occur across the entirety of the forest-to-frame value chain, with notable opportunities including:
Increasing the volume of biobased materials used in construction to maximize the substitution benefit
Increasing the efficiency of the manufacturing process, including using latest technologies to ensure the highest value timber product can be created from relatively lower value inputs (such as smaller diameter logs)
Increasing the amount of timber that goes into long-life wood products in the manufacturing process, particularly in related value chains
Decreasing the transportation needs between the forest, manufacturing, and construction sites, ensuring sourcing occurs as close as possible to the demand
Optimizing the forest management regime and tree planting to ensure the potential of the carbon sink is always balanced and maximized, and the right tree species are planted for the right purposes