Overall consumption of primary processed wood products is expected to grow by 37% by 2050, according to the global forest sector outlook 2050 published by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO).

Demand for wood products, including sawnwood, plywood, fibreboard and wood pulp is predicted to reach 3.1 billion cubic metres of roundwood equivalents – a measure of logs used in the making of wood-based products – by 2050.

However, the rise in consumption will be at least 8% higher in a bioeconomy, where mass timber and manmade cellulose fibres substitute non-renewable materials in construction and textile production respectively.

In a scenario of a more accelerated transition to a bioeconomy with a stronger participation of these two products, the rise in consumption of primary wood products could be 23% higher.

Renewable material

Wood is recyclable and increasingly used to replace non-renewable materials. Therefore, it is a critical material to address the global threats to climate, biodiversity and the environment, the FAO said.

Commenting on the launch of the Global forest sector outlook 2050: Assessing future demand and sources of timber for a sustainable economy, deputy director of FAO’s forestry division, Ewald Rametsteiner said:

“The forest sector is critical for resilient and sustainable economies. Ensuring the sustainability of the forest sector will require innovation and investments, but also policy coherence.”

Higher demand must be met by increasing productivity through sustainable forest management in existing forests, and encouraging wood production as part of land restoration programmes and projects, according to the report.

If naturally regenerated forest production remains stable, the planting of at least 33 million hectares of new forests will be needed, as well as $40 billion investment per annum by 2050 to maintain and expand industrial roundwood production

Additionally, $25 billion investment per annum in modernization and in establishing industries may be required, while up to 1 million new jobs could be created by growing the market for wood as a replacement for non-renewable materials, the report stated.

Wood for energy

Future wood energy consumption up to 2050 will be shaped by the traditional use of fuelwood in the two most rapidly growing regions of sub-saharan Africa and southern Asia, and the projected role of modern biomass to generate renewable energy.

Wood will also increasingly be part of the renewable energy mix in the industrial world, while in some regions and contexts restoration efforts for fuel wood may be needed to meet this demand, the FAO said.

Global consumption of fuelwood from forests in 2050 may be between 2.1 billion and 2.7 billion cubic metres, compared to 1.9 billion cubic metres in 2020, according to the report by the FAO, the International Tropical Timber Organisation (ITTO), and Unique land use GmbH.

Team leader of sustainable forestry, value chains, innovation and investment in FAO’s forestry division, Thais Linhares-Juvenal commented:

“Ensuring access to sustainable wood fuel to private consumers who rely on this source due to economic reasons is a public responsibility comparable to supplying electricity or water.”

In 2020, there were still 2.3 billion people relying on wood fuel as their primary source of energy for cooking and heating, which will remain the case for many households in emerging economies until 2050, the report stated.