Global wood consumption to grow 37% by 2050, U.N. reports

ROME – The world-wide consumption of sawn wood, veneer, plywood, particleboard, pulp, and other primary wood products is expected to increase by 37% by 2050, according to a new report published by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

The U.N. report, “The global forest sector outlook 2050: Assessing future demand and sources of timber for a sustainable economy,” predicts the annual global consumption of primary processed wood to total 3.1 billion cubic meters of roundwood equivalents based on a “business as usual” scenario.

United Nations report on wood product consumption in 2050

The report adds that the increase in consumption will be at least 8 percent higher in a bioeconomy scenario in which mass timber and manmade cellulose fibers are substituted for non-renewable materials at an accelerated pace. 

The U.N. report notes that wood is “renewable, recyclable, climate friendly and versatile and is increasingly being used to replace non-renewable materials. It is a critical material to the efforts to address the global threats to climate, biodiversity and environment caused by the excessive use of non-renewable materials.”

“The forest sector is critical for resilient and sustainable economies,” said Ewald Rametsteiner, Deputy Director of FAO’s Forestry Division. “Ensuring the sustainability of the forest sector will require innovation and investments, but also policy coherence.” 

Other highlights of the report include:

  • The forecasted consumption of wood products is greater than the projected 25 percent rise in the world’s population. Wood products consumption “will be driven by higher incomes in emerging world regions resulting in catch-up effects for consumer goods (e.g. paper, packaging, clothing and furniture) and in more construction sector activities.”
  • This demand will need to be met by increasing productivity through sustainable forest management in existing forests, and encouraging wood production as part of land restoration programs and projects. If naturally regenerated forest production remains stable, the planting of at least 33 million hectares of new forests will be needed.
  • Investments required to maintain and expand industrial roundwood production may require an estimated $40 billion per year by 2050. An additional $25 billion per annum investment in modernization and in establishing industries may be required.
  • Total employment in the forest sector in 2019 was estimated to be 33.3 million formal and informal U.N. Wood report employees. The report’s medium estimate suggests employment in 2050 will be in the range of the 2019 figures. In the future, employment might even decline. The labour requirements of future wood industries will be more sophisticated, and ensuring a sufficient number of well-trained personnel will require solid education and training.
  • Up to 1 million new jobs, many of them in developing countries, could be created by growing the market for wood as a replacement for non-renewable materials.
  • Future wood energy consumption up to 2050 will be shaped by two major trends: the traditional use of fuelwood in the two most rapidly growing world regions of sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia and the projected role of modern biomass to generate renewable energy.
  • Global consumption of fuelwood from forests in 2050 may be between 2.1 billion and 2.7 billion cubic metres, the report said in its medium outlook, compared to 1.9 billion cubic metres in 2020, a rise of between 11 and 42 percent.

Download the full report.

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Rich Christianson | President/Owner/C-Level

Rich Christianson is the owner of Richson Media LLC, a Chicago-based communications firm focused on the industrial woodworking sector. Rich is the former long-time editorial director and associate publisher of Woodworking Network. During his nearly 35-year career, Rich has toured more than 250 woodworking operations throughout North America, Europe and Asia and has written extensively on woodworking technology, design and supply trends. He has also directed and promoted dozens of woodworking trade shows, conferences and seminars including the Cabinets & Closets Conference & Expo and the Woodworking Machinery & Supply Conference & Expo, Canada’s largest woodworking show.