New research by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research said that future wooden cities could help eliminate 106 billion carbon emissions by the end of the century if 90% of the urban population lives in such constructions. Increasing tinder plantations to build such cities would not bring significant consequences to agricultural production, the research concluded, adding that “strong governance and careful planning” would be needed to make sure humanity transitions to wooden cities in a sustainable way that protects forests and biodiversity.
In comparison to other building materials such as steel and concrete, wood has the lowest CO2 footprint as it is a renewable source. Additionally, the CO2 stored in wood is partly preserved when the material is used for buildings, turning timber into a long-term carbon sink.
Over half the global population currently lives in cities, and by 2100 the number will go up significantly, Abhijeet Mishra, the paper’s lead author, told The Guardian. And since homes are usually built with steel and concrete, that could have a significant CO2 footprint. The alternative, Mishra said, is to house most people in mid-rise wooden buildings.
Opponents of the proposed measure say that it can have significant repercussions on nature.
It would be a “terrible idea,” Sini Eräjää, leader of the European food and forests campaign for Greenpeace, told The Guardian. “It would be a disaster for nature and for the climate. Natural, biodiverse forests are more resilient to drought, fires and disease, so are a much safer carbon store than the tree plantations we’ve seen go up in smoke this summer from Portugal to California.”
Others also raise concerns that wood is a flammable material and that wooden buildings may collapse in case of an earthquake. However, modern engineered timbers are in fact as strong as steel and almost as fireproof.