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Forest Market discussions show how wildfires can spark innovation in forest management

Storms, beetle infestations, and wildfires: when reading the news about forests in the past months, it is evident that it has been a tough year for the forest sector. It is estimated that in Europe approximately 25% of the 2018 timber harvest was damaged by either storms or insects and in North America an area larger than Switzerland burned, costing $91 billion dollars in the US alone in lost homes, infrastructure and firefighting costs. As the UNECE/FAO Forest Products Annual Market Review 2018-19 and this year’s market discussions show, these challenges can also trigger innovations to salvage and utilize dead, overstocked and damaged trees. Foresters are replanting a variety of tree species, while also strategically reducing the number of trees in the forest to reduce fuels and increase forest resiliency. Resilient forests are better equipped for climate change as they are more adaptable. Creating resilient forests has been an important target for some ECE countries for decades.

Mr. Russ Vaagen, CEO of Vaagen Timbers and one of the key speakers at this year’s market discussions, highlighted that using fire-prone material from over-stocked forests to produce cross laminated timber (CLT) and glue laminated timber products (Glulam) lowers the risk of wildfires through increased spacing. These products offer sustainable and low-carbon alternatives to more carbon-intensive construction materials like steel or concrete. Through this type of strategic management, forests become more resilient and protect communities better from fire.   

Mr. Richard Steindl, Cross Laminated Timber Product Manager for StoraEnso, added that the market outlook for CLT is very good as the world demands renewable low-carbon materials and many countries are putting legislation in place to encourage buildings on the basis of wood. As of this year, the Mjøstårnet building in Brumunddal, Norway, is with a height of 85.4 metres the world’s tallest timber building. High-rise buildings made out of wood are renewable, sustainable, lighter and faster constructed.

The focus on CLT in the market discussions echoes findings of the UNECE/FAO Forest Products Annual Market Review 2018-19. According to the review, the CLT market is expected to more than double its 2017 value of 603 million dollars by 2024. Indeed, production capacity for CLT is increasing in the UNECE region and producers see great potential for the product to be used in the construction of large and tall structures. This trend is further supported by policy developments   related to responsible sourcing strategies, carbon programmes, renewable energy development and building standards:

  • In the EU, the Sustainable Biomass Program (SBP) reported an increase of 80% in 2017 in terms of certified biomass production and sale. Furthermore, SBP-certified pellets now account for 65% of the EU’s overall pellet consumption – an increase of 19% compared to 2017.
  • The Russian Federation approved mortgage-subsidies for those purchasing wooden houses to incentivize their construction.
  • In the US, the International Code Council (ICC) – the body responsible for domestic building standards – approved 14 changes to the tall mass timber code, thus advancing the possibility of using timber for the construction of taller buildings.

CLT and wood-based constructions thus is on a steady rise. This stands in contrast to the mixed development of other forest products:

  • The consumption of sawn wood (+1.5%), wood-based panels (+1.4%) and industrial roundwood (+5.8%) increased.
  • The consumption and production of sawn hardwood continued to stagnate in the UNECE region, despite relatively good economic conditions.
  • Consumption of paper and paperboard declined in the UNECE region (-1.0%), with opposite trends only in CIS-countries where consumption increased by 2.6%.

In light of trade tensions that cause uncertainty and thus dampen investment, the pace of economic activity is expected to slow down further in 2019. This waning momentum for growth throughout the region may also impact the forest sector.

The UNECE/FAO Forest Products Annual Market Review 2018-19 was launched during the joint 77th session of the ECE Committee on Forests and the Forest Industry (COFFI) and the 40th session of the FAO European Forestry Commission (EFC) from 4 to 7 November 2019 in Geneva, Switzerland.

The Market Review 2018/19 is also available on:

Additional links:
The Sustainable Biomass Program:

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