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Understanding bamboo’s climate change potential

INBAR News
5Jun

A new INBAR report analyses the carbon emissions saved by substituting emissions-intensive materials for bamboo

This World Environment Day, INBAR has released a new report on bamboo’s carbon storage potential. In particular, the report shows how bamboo products can ‘save’ carbon by replacing cement, plastics and other more emissions-intensive materials. As per the theme of World Environment Day 2018 (“Beat plastic pollution”), this report shows how bamboo can produce more sustainable, low-carbon goods.

The report, published on INBAR’s website, analyses bamboo’s effectiveness as a means to store carbon, compared to other types of tree. As well as assessing the carbon sequestration rate of some living bamboo species, the report also looks at the carbon stored in products made with bamboo, as well as charcoal.

Because of their fast growth rates, giant woody bamboos “are already considered effective CO2 absorbers.” As the report shows, living bamboo stores a similar amount of carbon to tree plantations: from around 100 to 400 tonnes of carbon per hectare. (Tree plantations store between 90 to 420 tonnes.)

Fast-growing Moso bamboo – one of the two species covered in the new INBAR report – covers some 6 million hectares in China.

Bamboo’s impressive carbon storage rate, as a plant and product, is already known, and has been covered in previous INBAR publications. What is new, however, is an analysis of the carbon which is saved by substituting more emissions-intensive products for bamboo. When this is taken into account, “the carbon emissions reduction potential of a managed giant bamboo species forest… can be significantly higher than for a Chinese fir growing under the same conditions.” When you combine bamboo’s potential displacement factor with bamboo’s carbon storage rate, bamboo can sequester enormous sums – from 200 to almost 400 tonnes of carbon per hectare.

Although carbon emissions reduction through product displacement – by replacing carbon-intensive materials with low carbon alternatives – is currently not considered in mechanisms approved under the Paris Agreement for climate change, this aspect “is particularly relevant where bamboo products are used, and may be included in future greenhouse gas reduction protocols.”

Bamboo can be used for a number of durable products, including furniture, flooring, housing and pipes, and can replace emissions-intensive materials including timber, plastics, cement and metals. Interestingly, bamboo could also substitute high-carbon intensity energy, such as fossil fuel-based energy sources. For example, the report estimates that substituting electricity from the Chinese grid with electricity from bamboo gasification would reduce CO2 emissions by almost 7 tonnes of CO2 per year. Over 30 years, the CO2 emissions reduction would be 55 tonnes of carbon per hectare.

Bamboo can be a durable alternative to many traditional materials. Credit: MOSO Bamboo Products by AWood.

More research is needed. For one thing, there are over 1600 known species of bamboo in the world, but existing literature on their properties and usefulness is surprisingly sparse. This report looked at two giant bamboo species which are most popular for use as engineered bamboo products: ‘Moso’ bamboo, which grows mainly in China, and ‘Guadua’ bamboo, native to countries in Latin America. The application potential of both these species is huge, as can be seen from looking at the bamboo flooring in Bordeaux train station, France, or the fifteen thousand solid bamboo blocks which make up the interior of Wuxi Grand Theatre in China.

This report provides a welcome discussion point for the Global Bamboo and Rattan Congress (BARC 2018), starting on 25 June in Beijing. Climate change is a key focus of the Congress, which will include speeches and video messages from Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change; Xie Zhenhua, China’s lead Climate Change Negotiator; and Pablo van der Lugt, a TED speaker and expert on bamboo’s role in climate change mitigation. Aside from a plenary session devoted to bamboo and climate change, a number of BARC’s 50+ side sessions will discuss bamboo and rattan’s innovative, low-carbon applications, and how bamboo has supported climate-smart strategies in farming and job creation.

The report can be cited as: Van der Lugt P., ThangLong T., King C. 2018. Carbon sequestration and carbon emissions reduction through bamboo forests and products. INBAR Working Paper. INBAR: Beijing, China.

For more information about the Global Bamboo and Rattan Congress, click here.