Thursday May 4 was an important day for China’s wood construction community, as Minister Chen Zheng Gao of MOHURD (Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development) publically championed for wood construction in a speech to a gathering of senior officials in Beijing. The full speech was posted on the China Network Television homepage (www.CNTV.cn), China’s 16th most visited website with approximately five million weekly visits.
During his speech, Minister Chen highlighted the environmental benefits of building with wood compared to steel and concrete and discussed the need to promote wood construction in China, to correct prevailing misconceptions about deforestation, and to continue to develop favorable conditions for wood construction.
The message signals a new, more positive tone from the central government and marks the first time that a senior government leader has become an advocate of wood construction. Contents of the speech have also been included in training materials for the National State Council’s Chinese Academy of Governance, which is the highest level organization offering political training in China.
Minister Chen discussed a wide range of topics in addressing an audience of approximately 800 officials and members of academia. Topics ranged from urban planning and construction strategies to wood construction as a viable solution for construction industrialization (prefabrication). During this speech, the Minister recognized new opportunities to use wood, including a reference to the 18-storey “wood building” under construction in Canada.
According to FII China General Manager Lisa Dou, “Public support of a high-ranking government official will help strengthen the profile of wood with different levels of government and within the construction industry. We are also hopeful that the Minster’s support will help drive forward policy development work and draw the construction industry’s attention to wood. However, we still have a lot of work to do in order to bridge the gap between government recognition of wood and commercial activity”.
When market development efforts began in China over a decade ago, there were no policies that favored wood. In fact, public perception of wood construction was generally negative and official endorsement of wood was non-existent. This speech reflects the valuable work carried out by market development agencies including FII China and Canada Wood China. Ongoing activities include technical transfer, government relations, education and training, as well as marketing and promotion.
Minister Chen’s speech was part of the “Reports of the prospects of the 13th Five-Year Plan” held at the Great Hall of People. During the session, each of China’s ministers detailed how the latest 5-year plan will impact the direction of their respective ministry. MOHURD is one of China’s 20 ministries under the State Council and is responsible for providing housing and regulating construction, including policy development and establishing codes and standards.
TRANSLATION OF THE SPEECH
Link to the video (in Chinese). The Minister discusses wood at 1 hour 33 minutes to 1 hour 38 minutes.
I believe that it is important for China to create favorable conditions for modern wood construction. Why do I say “favorable conditions”? When MOHURD drafted the proposal of promoting wood construction to the State Council some people expressed concern regarding deforestation. However, it is incorrect to assume that building wood structures will lead to deforestation.
It has surprised me that the State Forestry Council has been our greatest supporter in promoting wood construction – I wouldn’t have expected this. I myself am a long-time supporter of wood construction; I believe we owe this to our future generations. When we look at Japan, more than half of their residential buildings are built with wood; in rural areas this figure is almost 100%.
The benefits of wood are manifold. First of all, wood is renewable, recyclable and biodegradable. Wood can grow from the earth – concrete and steel can’t. We have to damage our environment to produce both. We will see how many years we have left until there is nothing left to extract.
Secondly, wood structures have several advantages. They are low-carbon, environmentally friendly, energy-efficient and better insulated. They are also suitable for high seismic areas and are fast to construct. According to our study, a wood frame building uses 45% less energy during the construction phase and 50% – 70% during the usage phase compared to a concrete structure.
Moreover, we can build both low and high-rise wood structures. In Canada the highest wood buildings are up-to 18 stories. Wood is also suitable for both residential and public buildings. I have a photo of the waiting room of a foreign airport where the long-span beam was made from manufactured glulam.
However, China lacks localized codes for both construction and building materials industry that relate to wood. Therefore, we have applied North American and Northern European standards. We are far behind – if China would promote wood structures to even half of the extent of Japan, we would dramatically improve the construction industry’s environmental footprint and building energy-efficiency. We would also give birth to a new industry that would need lots of manpower to plant trees and to manufacture materials. Wood needs to be treated and fabricated, this is a huge industry. Therefore, we need to collaborate and do our best to promote wood structures in China.