Clear-cutting in Borneo. Timber demand is expected to grow.
Photo: ©Shutterstock/Jonathan Yee

On the way to a deforested planet

There is a huge demand for timber, and it is steadily growing, especially for packaging, the construction industry, bioplastics and bioenergy. But already now, the demand for timber cannot be met sustainably according to a new study.

The results of a study conducted by the World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF) and the University of Kassel/ Germany, and published in July 2022, show that global timber consumption is clearly in excess of what can be sustainably harvested. And the study suggests that the demand for timber is set to grow further. Wood product markets, in particular, are expected to grow. However, this growth will probably not occur equally across the world. One model showed a seven-fold gap between per capita consumption levels in the tropical countries of sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia and the temperate countries of Europe and North America in 2050.

Forests cover 30.8 per cent of the global land area, which is an area of 4.06 billion hectares. Half of world’s forests lie in Russia, Brazil, Canada, the USA and China. More than one-third of the world’s forests are primary forests, more than 60 per cent of them are found in Brazil, Canada and Russia.

Demand for timber cannot be sustainably met

Wood has many uses: as a substitute for concrete in building, for plastic in packaging and for coal and gas in heating. In a large number of areas, it is regarded as a panacea for more sustainability. However, the survey by WWF Deutschland and the University of Kassel shows that already today, there is not enough wood to sustainably cover the demand for timber. The WWF calls on politicians to reduce wood consumption and not automatically assess wood as sustainable, especially regarding its use for energy purposes.

For at 4.3 to 5 billion cubic metres (2020), the amount of timber logged world-wide is larger than what can sustainably be taken from the forests without jeopardising their biodiversity (3 to 4.2 billion cubic metres). Accordingly, up to two billion cubic metres of timber too much is taken from the forests each year. 

Wood consumption varies considerably globally

Total removals have grown by nearly 60 per cent over the last six decades. Around half of the wood removed from forests globally is used for energy (cooking and heating) while the other half is used for industrial purposes (turned, for example, into pulp, sawnwood, wood composites, chemicals, etc. for manufacturing wood-based products and direct use in construction).

How much wood is used and what it is used for varies considerably across the world. Europeans, for example, consume on average nearly twice as much as global citizens. The vast majority of removals in Africa, Asia and South America are for wood-fuel, whereas nearly 90 per cent of removals in North America and 80 per cent in Europe are for industrial purposes.

The authors of the study have developed five key messages for policy makers to foster sustainable forest management:
1. Prioritise how wood is used
2. Stop environmental and forest crime
3. Prioritise healthy forests
4. Monitor consumption and set benchmarks
5. Invest in research

(WWF/University of Kassel/ile)

Read the study Everything from wood - The resource of the future or the next crisis? at WWF website 

Rural 21, Issue 4/2019: Forests under threat

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  • user
    Etim Omini Eteng August 2, 2022 At 5:57 pm
    Indeed the report is incisive and calls to attention the need for policy makers, researchers and stakeholders in forest resources conservation as well as consumers of forest products to synergize..Taking into consideration diverse and conflicting perspectives with a view to finding a common ground for collaboration. The resources and global development expectations as captured in the SDG. requires urgent ätention to enable present and future generations address the declining rate of bio-diversity loss, deforestation, environmental degradation as well the increasing adverse impact of climate change, the covid pandemic backlash to livelihoods across the globe.

    Etim Eteng is presently a Lecturer at the University of Càlabar, Nigeria and holds a PhD in Geography and Environmental Sciences with specialization in Population and Environment. Eteng looks out for research collaborations in the area of Environmental Policy and Management.