Call for Evidence
Sustainable timber and deforestation
The Environmental Audit Committee is launching a new inquiry into sustainable timber in the UK and the UK’s contribution to global deforestation. The inquiry will investigate:
- how the UK, which imports most of its timber, can best scale up a sustainable, resilient domestic timber sector and reduce its reliance on imports;
- the degree to which UK supply chains contribute to deforestation overseas and the effectiveness of the government’s efforts to curb this; and
- how the UK works with international partners to tackle deforestation.
Growing the UK’s sustainable timber industry
Tree planting is an important part of the UK Government’s plans to achieve net zero and meet its wider environmental objectives for biodiversity and nature recovery. There are opportunities for the commercial sale of UK timber to contribute to the delivery of the UK’s Net Zero Strategy through the use of timber products for construction and as biomass for energy generation (bioenergy)[i].
The UK Government has set a UK-wide target to create 30,000 hectares of new woodland every year by 2025, including planting at least 7,500 hectares per year in England by 2024-25. The Devolved Nations have set their own targets: Scotland committed to plant 18,000 hectares a year by 2024–25, Wales to plant 2,000 hectares a year from 2020 onwards, and Northern Ireland to plant 900 hectares a year from 2020 to 2030[ii].
The World Bank estimates that global timber demand will quadruple by 2050, which may create challenges for sustainable timber production and biodiversity loss[iii]. It is against this backdrop that demand for timber in the UK is likely to increase due to the UK’s Net Zero plans. However, the UK is the second highest importer of wood in the world, importing 82% of all the wood it used in 2020.[iv] It’s estimated by WWF and RSPB that around one fifth of the UK’s imported timber footprint is from high risk countries, including Brazil, China and Russia. In addition, there are concerns about the ability of domestic supplies to meet future demand. For example, forecasts for 2030–50 predict that there will be a decline in softwood availability within Scotland, mainly due to the decline in productive planting since the 1980s[v].
The UK has committed to promoting the use of timber in construction in its Net Zero Strategy. Felled trees store carbon within them unless burnt or in decay, and so the use of timber as a building material in place of concrete, masonry and steel can reduce carbon emissions in construction. The Committee previously investigated the use of timber in construction in its inquiry into the Sustainability of the built environment and recommended that the UK Government develop a coherent, joined-up policy to meet afforestation commitments and the need for sustainable commercial plantations to meet the demand for domestic timber in construction.
Biomass (organic material from crops, short rotation forestry and other sources) can be used to generate bioenergy as a renewable alternative to fossil fuels for energy. Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) can provide net negative emissions because the carbon stored by the plant during its lifetime and released when used as a fuel is stored and removed from the atmosphere[vi]. The Net Zero Strategy has outlined that greenhouse gas removals, which include BECCS, are essential to compensate for residual emissions from the hardest to decarbonise sectors[vii]. Fuelwood imports account for 32% of the UK’s total timber imports and these have doubled since 2015[viii].
Proposals for bioenergy generation in the Net Zero Strategy will likely require an increase in the supply of sustainable biomass feedstocks by 2050[ix]. Government have committed to publishing a Biomass Strategy in 2022[x]. Around a third of existing bioenergy feedstock in the UK is imported, the majority of which is produced from forestry products[xi]. Analysis by the Climate Change Committee suggests that there is potential to increase the current levels of imported biomass by threefold by 2050 depending on demand: this would require strong global sustainability governance.
Some sector bodies claim that commercial forests can have wider ecological benefits as a biodiversity-supporting habitat[xii], however some ecologists argue that this is not adequately supported by a full appraisal of scientific evidence.[xiii] The need to achieve the right balance between meeting timber demands and securing environmental benefits was highlighted by the Committee’s recent inquiry into Biodiversity and ecosystems. The Committee cautioned that the Government must not try to meet its tree planting target solely through commercial timber plantations using non-native species, as this could lead to biodiversity loss.
Crucial to meeting forestry targets and safeguarding the benefits of forests in the long-term is the need to ensure that they are resilient to the future impacts of climate change, as well as to pests and diseases. Defra’s Tree health resilience strategy sets out the government’s strategy to 2033 for enhancing the protection and building the resilience of trees, woods and forests.
The UK’s contribution to global deforestation
Whilst afforestation is a priority at home, the UK has committed to preventing global deforestation as a signatory to the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use, which commits to halting and reverse forest loss by 2030. This was accompanied by a commitment by 12 developed countries to provide $12 billion (£8.75 billion) in climate finance to the Global Forest Finance Pledge. This includes £1.5 billion from the UK[xiv].
Forests cover 31% of the global land area and provide important services, such as storing carbon, protecting biodiversity and regulating the water cycle[xv]. Despite past global agreements on halting deforestation such as the 2014 New York Declaration on Forests and 2015 UN Sustainable Development Goals, forest cover continues to decline at alarming rates – in 2019, Global Forest Watch estimated that 10 football pitches of primary tropical forest were lost per minute[xvi].
Deforestation is now one of the largest sources of greenhouse-gas emissions and threatens global efforts to tackle climate change[xvii]. Protecting old growth tropical forests is especially important, as they are the most biodiverse habitats on the planet, are essential carbon stores and support the livelihoods of millions of indigenous people. Loss of tropical primary forest in 2021 resulted in carbon dioxide emissions equivalent to the annual fossil fuel emissions of India (2.5 Gt)[xviii].
The international trade in agricultural and timber products is a key driver of deforestation[xix]. Agriculture is estimated to be responsible for 88% of deforestation globally[xx]. 50% of food consumed within the UK comes from overseas[xxi]. A study by the WWF and RSPB estimated that UK imports of just 7 ‘forest risk’ commodities— soy, cocoa, palm oil, beef and leather, paper, rubber, and timber—account for a land footprint equivalent to 88% of the UK in size every year. The same study found that over 40% of the UK’s overseas land footprint was in countries with high or very high risk of deforestation, weak governance arrangements and poor labour standards. The Climate Change Committee has recommended that the UK Government strengthens its governance over forest risk commodities, to manage land use and deforestation risks.
The Committee investigated the impacts of UK consumption patterns in its inquiry into Biodiversity and ecosystems and recommended that the Government urgently prioritises the development of its indicator on overseas environmental impacts of UK consumption of key commodities, to better understand the impacts of imported products.
The Environment Act 2021 bans illegally grown products and requires businesses to establish a due diligence system to ensure that their supply chains do not include illegal deforestation. Some have argued that the Environment Act could have gone further, so as to include all products of deforestation, and to require the financial sector to exercise due diligence in its investments[xxii]. The Government also established the Global Resource Initiative (GRI) Taskforce in 2019 to provide recommendations on how to tackle the UK’s deforestation footprint.
Call for evidence
The Committee will be focusing its inquiry on three areas and would welcome submissions that address any or all of the following questions by midday on Thursday 8 September:
Growing the UK timber industry
- Does the UK Government have an adequate understanding of the future demand for timber, including what tree species should be grown?
- Does the UK government, working with the devolved administrations, have an effective, joined-up plan with appropriate incentives to increase the production and use of sustainable, domestically grown timber in the UK to reduce its reliance on imports?
- Are there sustainable sources of biomass for UK energy generation either from imported or domestically grown wood for pellet or woodchip? And how can future demand be met from sustainable sources?
- How well is the UK Government managing its plans for the domestic timber industry in tandem with meeting its woodland creation targets and related climate change, biodiversity and other environmental goals?
- How effectively is the UK strengthening the resilience of its tree stock to ensure it is resilient to the future impacts of climate change, as well as to pests and diseases?
The effectiveness of UK efforts to reduce global deforestation
- In what ways and to what extent are UK value chains (in the form of public procurement, goods, services, or the private sector) contributing to global deforestation?
- How effectively is the Government monitoring the UK’s contribution to global deforestation and its progress in tackling the issue? And what progress has been made by Government to develop an indicator on overseas environmental impacts of UK consumption of key commodities?
- How effective are the measures to improve due diligence and ban imported products of illegal deforestation in the Environment Act 2021? Do these measures target the right sectors? Given that they do not extend to all products of deforestation, are they adequate?
- To what extent have the Global Resource Initiative (GRI) Taskforce’s recommendations on deforestation and land conversion been met by the Government?
- What role can sustainable certification and Government Buying Standards (GBS), have in tackling deforestation? How can the UK Government support the private sector to reduce its contribution to furthering deforestation?
Working with international partners to tackle deforestation
- How effectively is the UK engaging with international partners to tackle deforestation? Is the Glasgow Leaders Declaration on Forests and Land Use an effective mechanism for halting and reversing forest loss? How can the UK ensure its £1.5bn commitment to the Global Forest Finance Pledge is used to best effect?
- What impact will the UK’s measures to tackle deforestation have on producer countries, indigenous peoples and local communities?
The Committee encourage members of underrepresented groups to submit written evidence. It aims to have diverse panels of Select Committee witnesses, and asks organisations to bear this in mind when we ask them to choose a representative. It is currently monitoring the diversity of its witnesses.
Written evidence should be submitted through the Committee’s web portal. It is recommended that all submitters familiarise themselves with the Guidance on giving evidence to a Select Committee of the House of Commons which outlines word count, format, document size, and content restrictions.
[iii] Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, Reducing the whole life carbon impact of buildings, POSTbrief 44, November 2021
[v] Scottish Government, Forestry Strategy 2019-2029.pdf
[viii] WWF & RSPB, Riskier Business: the UK’s overseas land footprint, July 2020
[xiii] British Ecological Society, Biodiversity, Forestry and Wood: Reflecting on the Evidence, September 2020
[xiv] International Development Committee, International climate finance: UK aid for halting deforestation and preventing irreversible biodiversity loss: report from the Sub-Committee on the Work of ICAI, February 2022
[xv] FAO and UNEP, The State of the World’s Forests 2020. Forests, biodiversity and people, 2020
[xvii] Feng et al. (2022), Doubling of annual forest carbon loss over the tropics during the early twenty-first century, Nature Sustainability, 5, pages 444–451.
[xviii] Global Forest Watch, The Latest Analysis on Global Forests & Tree Cover Loss, 2021
[xix] Pendrill et al. (2020), Agricultural and forestry trade drives large share of tropical deforestation emissions, Global Environmental Change, 63, pages 102-103
[xxi] Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Food Statistics in your pocket 2017 - Global and UK supply, October 2018
[xxii] Global Resource Initiative, Final Recommendations Report: Report Executive summary, March 2022 and Retail Soy Group, Letter on due diligence, September 2021
This call for written evidence has now closed.Go back to Sustainable timber and deforestation Inquiry