Timber Construction as a Potential Significant Carbon Sink?

The United Nations climate change conference — COP26 — is scheduled to begin in Glasgow Scotland on Sunday, October 31, 2021. There will be much to discuss, most notably the findings recently released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC) in its Sixth Assessment Report. The “most up-to-date physical understanding of the climate system and climate change” delivers the most defensible and incriminating evidence yet about humanity’s adverse influence on the planet,” according to the IPCC.

Nearly 4,000 pages of data reinforce what has become familiar bad news: global surface temperature has increased by 1.09°C, sea level rise has tripled, the last five years were the hottest on record, and heat waves are certain to increase. The need for rapid and consequential change is clear.

While IPCC AR6 does not address in-depth building strategies for greenhouse gas mitigation, it does reference the April 2020 Nature Sustainability article “Buildings as a Global Carbon Sink.” Written by faculty at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, among other institutions, the study advances analysis of the use of timber in building construction as a carbon sequestration strategy on a planetary scale. Prior research has highlighted wood’s capacity to store carbon and, in most cases, outperform steel and concrete in terms of environmental performance. The authors of this article broaden this consideration to address far-reaching hypothetical implications and ask, “Might it be possible to transform this potential threat to the global climate system into a powerful means to mitigate climate change?”

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