Consumption of primary wood products is expected to increase by 37% by 2050
According to a report released today by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), global consumption of primary wood products is expected to increase by 37% by 2050 under a business as usual scenario. .
Consumption of primary wood products – sawnwood, veneer/plywood, particleboard/fiberboard and wood pulp – is expected to reach 3.1 billion cubic meters of roundwood equivalents – a measure of the logs used in the manufacture of products wood-based – by 2050, according to Global Forest Sector Outlook to 2050: Assessing Future Demand and Sources of Wood for a Sustainable Economy.
The increase in consumption will be at least 8% higher in a bioeconomy scenario when two modern wood products are taken into account – solid wood and man-made cellulose fibers – replacing non-renewable materials. In a scenario of more accelerated transition to the bioeconomy with a greater participation of these two products, the increase in consumption of primary wood products could reach 23% more than in the status quo scenario.
Renewable and climate friendly
Wood is renewable, recyclable, climate-friendly and versatile and is increasingly being used to replace non-renewable materials. It is an essential material in efforts to address global threats to climate, biodiversity and the environment caused by the excessive use of non-renewable materials, according to the report.
Solid wood and engineered wood products in construction, man-made cellulose fiber for textile production and more modern forms of wood for energy are the most important wood products for the large-scale substitution of non-renewable materials.
“The forest sector is essential for resilient and sustainable economies. Ensuring the sustainability of the forestry sector will require innovation and investment, but also policy coherence,” said Ewald Rametsteiner, Deputy Director of FAO’s Forestry Division.
Jointly produced by FAO, the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO) and consultancy Unique land use GmbH, the report was launched at the 26th session of the Committee on Forestry and is relevant to the Sustainable Development Goals 12 and 15. It combines the results of a long-term outlook for the forest sector to 2050 with an assessment of the demand for wood in a sustainable economic environment.
Growth in demand and its impact on the forest sector
The growth in consumption of wood products – compared to the projected 25% increase in population – “will be driven by higher incomes in emerging regions of the world, which will lead to catch-up effects for consumer goods (e.g. paper, packaging, clothing and furniture) and in more activities in the construction sector,” the report states.
According to the report, meeting future demand for sustainable timber can be achieved through a combination of increased sustainable production in naturally regenerated temperate and boreal forests and in increasingly planted forests in the Global South. But estimates of the concrete contribution of forest types and regions to global wood supply in 2050 are highly uncertain, he added.
This demand will need to be met by increasing productivity through sustainable forest management in existing forests and encouraging timber production through land restoration programs and projects. If naturally regenerated forest production remains stable, the planting of at least 33 million hectares of new forests will be necessary, according to the report.
The investments needed to maintain and expand industrial roundwood production could require a total of about $40 billion per year by 2050, according to the Global Forest Sector Outlook 2050. Another $25 billion per year investment in modernization and the creation of industries might be necessary.
Total employment in the forestry sector in 2019 was estimated at 33.3 million formal and informal employees. The report’s average estimate suggests that employment in 2050 will be within the range of 2019 figures. Going forward, employment may even decline. The labor requirements of future woodworking industries will be more sophisticated, and ensuring sufficient numbers of well-trained staff will require solid education and training.
Up to 1 million new jobs, many of them in developing countries, could be created by developing the market for wood as a substitute for non-renewable materials.
Wood for energy
Future wood energy consumption up to 2050 will be shaped by two major trends: the traditional use of fuelwood in the two fastest growing regions of the world, sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia and the projected role of modern biomass in the production of renewable energy.
Global fuelwood consumption from forests in 2050 could be between 2.1 billion and 2.7 billion cubic meters, the report says in its medium-term outlook, up from 1.9 billion cubic meters in 2020, an increase of between 11 and 42%.
Wood will also increasingly be part of the industrial world’s renewable energy mix. In some regions and contexts, firewood restoration efforts may be needed to meet this demand.
In 2020, 2.3 billion people still used firewood as their main source of energy for cooking and heating. Firewood will remain the primary source of energy for many households in emerging economies through 2050, but many scenarios suggest consumption growth rates will slow.
“Ensuring access to sustainable firewood for private consumers who depend on this source for economic reasons is a public responsibility comparable to the provision of electricity or water,” said Thais Linhares-Juvenal, team leader sustainable forestry, value chains, innovation and investment in FAO Forestry Division.