Transitioning to such a Climate-Smart Forest Economy will require comprehensive policy change based on sound science to drive market demand and investment. The transition will require a holistic understanding of the way carbon is sequestered from the atmosphere and stored. It will require a new way of thinking and a change in the narrative about forests and our built environment.
People have traditionally relied on and depleted carbon reserves (sinks), both above and below ground, to expand our built environment. Yet, we have an opportunity to restore above ground carbon sinks (e.g., via reforestation) and, at the same time, create a carbon sink in our built environment (wood storing carbon in buildings).
Instead of regarding forests as a zero-sum game, and forestry and construction as simply extractive, forest regeneration would be driven through market demand so that all aspects of forest management and construction value chains — from sapling to finished products — are complementary, and funding is synergistic, rather than siloed.
Integrating the various aspects of the value chain—particularly when it comes to the building and construction industries — and encouraging a synergistic rather than siloed approach to forest management, material choices, policy-making, and investment could have profound results, unlocking the true value of forests in the fight to avert a climate emergency.
Why building and construction specifically? Because together they are responsible for 39% of all carbon emissions globally — more than the entire transportation sector — with operational emissions (from energy used to heat, cool, and light buildings) accounting for 28%. The remaining 11% comes from embodied carbon emissions associated with materials and construction processes throughout the whole building lifecycle. Incredibly, the world has added over 50 billion square meters of new floor area over the last decade. To put this into perspective, this is the equivalent of adding eleven Roman Colosseums every half hour. By 2050, this total floor space will increase by 70%, most of it in Asia and Africa.
To support the transition, a so-called “3-S” Framework would be a useful conceptual tool for clarifying the various aspects of the Climate-Smart Forest Economy — from the management of land to the use of products and services. The tool would provide a comprehensive and integrated way of considering the various aspects of the carbon cycle: sequestration (pulling gasses from the atmosphere), storage (the sink capacity of forests and materials), and substitution (low-impact alternative materials).
The 3-S Framework would help decision makers understand how to individually and collectively identify how to maximize the role of the forests and their associated products on climate change. For example, builders, communities, city planners, and policymakers would be better able to understand and test how their actions and decisions contributed to the protection, management, and restoration of forests. They would have more insight and access to reliable information on carbon stocks in forests and be able to estimate how an increase or decrease in demand for forest products might affect that carbon stock, as well as how the choice of materials would affect carbon storage and the emissions associated with materials production. Policymakers could confidently incentivize the use of wood because the 3-S Framework would provide clear insight into the impact of those sourcing decisions on the building site as well as the forest. End users would be able to make decisions regarding materials with a more comprehensive understanding of the carbon performance of the materials they use and of how their choices impacted land management.
To continue to develop this critical decision-making tool, we are:
Convening stakeholders and creating a dialogue with the goal of creating shared visions, ambitions, and finding the optimal balance between nature and bioeconomy.
Funding the development of the 3-S Framework as a decision-making tool that integrates forest carbon models, economic/behavioural decision-making models, and life-cycle assessments.
Funding pilot and demonstration projects to deepen an understanding of the issues underlying the 3-S Framework.
Building portfolios through venture philanthropy and incentivizing industry, governments, foresters, and financial institutions to invest in sustainable forest products.
Pushing for bold, unreasonable commitments that create additionality when engaging market drivers as incentives for natural climate solutions. Anything less will not ensure all 3-Ss are unlocked, nor offer a path towards tomorrow’s world as we want to see it.
 “Bringing Embodied Carbon Upfront.” https://www.worldgbc.org/bringing-embodied-carbon-upfront-report-webform  “Global Status Report 2017 - World Green Building Council.” Accessed January 12, 2021. https://www.worldgbc.org/sites/default/files/UNEP%20188_GABC_en%20%28web%29.pdf