Timber construction can help reduce CO2 emissions

A debate organised by the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) revealed how useful wood construction can be in enabling the EU to achieve the objective of carbon neutrality by 2050.

With the objective of more sustainable and less polluting buildings in mind, the hearing organised by the Section for Transport, Energy, Infrastructure and the Information Society (TEN) on 13 February 2023 explored the potential of wood construction in reducing CO2 emissions and thus in contributing to the EU's goal of climate neutrality.

The event brought together representatives of European institutions, civil society organisations and other stakeholders. The Committee is contributing to the debate with its exploratory opinion on Wooden construction for CO2 reduction in building sector, requested by the Swedish Presidency of the Council of the EU, which is currently being drawn up.

Commenting on this work in progress, TEN president Baiba Miltoviča said: We are pleased to work on an exploratory opinion requested by the Swedish Presidency. Wood is a versatile, flexible and aesthetic building material that can store large quantities of atmospheric CO2.

Against the background of the energy supply crisis triggered by the war in Ukraine and the unprecedented increase in energy prices, the EESC has been working on providing sensible advice on building sustainable, energy-efficient and affordable housing, including social housing, in line with the Renovation Wave Strategy and the New European Bauhaus, in order to deliver the Green Deal.

The question now is how can EU proposals such as sustainable carbon cycles, the EU's bioeconomy strategy and the New European Bauhaus be used to drastically reduce the large volume of construction-related CO2 emissions, to store CO2 and to make construction more efficient?

The rapporteur of the opinion, Rudolf Kolbe, pointed out that, with the Green Deal and the use of wood as a building material, the EU could create a sustainable and climate-friendly future because, as co-rapporteur Sam Hägglund stressed, increasing the share of renewable resources, and in particular the proportion of wood used in building materials, were key factors in reducing carbon emissions.

MEP Henna Virkkunen highlighted the positive climate impact of wood construction, adding that EU forests absorbed around 10% of the EU's annual emissions and that Finland and Sweden were the EU's most forested countries, with 76.2% of Finland and 74.5% of Sweden covered by forests. The greenhouse gas substitution effect created by wood construction was well known in Finland, providing a solid knowledge base for new and multidisciplinary activities in the interest of both the climate and the economy.

Andrew Norton, from the European Confederation of the Woodworking Industry, stressed that wood was the material not only of the future but also of the present because current technology and resources made it possible to make better use of it now by emitting less and storing more CO2.

Bruno Bothua, representing France's National Federation of Employees in Construction, Wood and Furniture, talked about the environmental and social aspects, underlining that the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions opened up many job and business opportunities in the wood sector, and drawing attention to the need to protect the health and safety of those workers.

All these contributions will now feed into the EESC's opinion, which is scheduled to be adopted at the March plenary session.

A follow-up event on sustainable timber construction is also planned to take place at the beginning of May in Stockholm.