20 October 2021

Paul Jarquin, Chairman of FIBOIS¹: “It’s time for timber construction to get ambitious!”

Paul Jarquin, elected to the FIBOIS chair last June, gives us his vision of the timber construction market with only months left until RE2020² is finally implemented. He is in no doubt the whole sector is ready to take up the challenge. Investments are already being made and production tools modernized thanks to the government’s economic restart plan. Now the sector needs to make its trades more attractive. At the core of major environmental, economic, and social issues, timber & woodworking has many assets for attracting young workers looking for direction

¹ FIBOIS: French forestry and timber confederation
² RE2020: French 2020 environmental regulations (delayed implementation)

© Julien Falsimagne Leextra 

RE 2020 comes into effect at the start of 2022. Is timber construction ready? 

First of all, it’s a logical step forward. RT2012 (thermal regulations) demanded higher performing buildings, less energy hungry and less polluting. RE 2020 now takes account of carbon sequestration and material carbon cycles. We must face up to the climate change challenge by targeting environmental performance, a fantastic challenge for timber construction.  RE2020 will affect the whole of the sector’s value chain. We will experience a period of heavy growth but not before tackling a few challenges. Covering 30% of the area of mainland France, the country’s continually expanding forest is Europe’s third largest. France is indeed a forest nation. Its 400,000 jobs feed and house more people than the automotive sector. The timber and woodworking sector is strategic, experienced, and historical, not a young upstart. Consequently, it is quite ready to take up the RE2020 challenge and be a motor in the ecological transition.

How do stakeholders prepare for this?

We need heavy investment in production tools for timber conversion stages I, II, and III. The economic restart plan provides an excellent lever for timber and woodworking stakeholders. Today’s businesses have the means to undertake medium- and long-term structural investments. The government’s many appeals for interest have led to a multiplication of projects and bred confidence at market level. 150 million euros are dedicated to timber and woodworking, in addition to the billion euros injected into industry, of which we are also a part. And on top of all these already significant amounts, investment bank BPIFrance also gives access to various timber funds. It’s clear this sector is arousing more and more interest from investors looking toward future markets. 
The second area we need to advance quickly is training. We must be effective in RE2020 projects. The better trained and prepared we are, the more effectively we perform in terms of cost. We’re going to have to show that beyond the carbon dimension of projects, we are in fact the experts. 

Quels sont les grands enjeux de cette étape de la RE 2020 ?

The sector must address the economic, ecological, and social issues. The first issue concerns fire risk regulations. The government has made progress in this field and laws are being written.  France has a history of being a country of concrete, so this change in construction paradigm can cause worries and we could see the emergence of psychological roadblocks among the safety institutions. The sector must demonstrate, as the Scandinavians did a long time ago, that appropriate regulations will limit fire risks. Right now we need to get under way quickly and the regulations had better keep up with us or there’ll be a real market risk that puts prices under pressure. 
The second issue is that of our environmental responsibility. Although timber can certainly help contain the carbon footprint of buildings, there are other, more involved issues facing the sector: how can we improve sustainable management of our forests, develop short supply circuits, and favour local French wood on the strength of the Bois de France trademark. Moreover, we must try to educate the public in order to make forest management more socially acceptable, explain that exploiting forests isn’t synonymous with destroying the planet. The forest is a carbon mine that must be optimized by managing and maintaining it. It’s a multi-dimensional feature of our landscapes, of our leisure activities, as well as having an economic function. 
Finally but no less important, the attractiveness of our trades is also an issue, sizeable but almost entirely linked to environmental responsibility. Young people are seeking direction and the timber sector can meet their expectations with exemplary behaviours and solutions at all levels. 

How do you view the pressure on sawlog prices?

Communication on the subject of logs has been greatly exaggerated this summer. It’s true that prices have been under pressure. But since the return from holidays, the market has become more relaxed. This crisis is a pure one-off caused by an explosion of prices in the USA following speculation on the price of timber. We need to sideline this crisis. We must nonetheless stay on our toes and assess risks properly. Timber resources are becoming strategic. Russia has stopped its exports, China has stopped felling trees, and France has lost its sovereignty to Europe in these matters. Protectionist issues are a real thing. Even though this crisis is limited to oak, which isn’t used in timber construction, we must question our position on a European as well as a French scale.

What are the prospects for timber construction?

There can still be tensions, linked to—among other factors—supplies for projects in the scope of the 2024 Olympic Games. But the long term impetus is there and timber construction isn’t going to stop.
We are busy compiling a plan for the 2030 horizon covering the whole sector. Construction represents 12% of the outlet for timber and it’s in a high added value market. We must now renew our production tools to remain competitive in Europe, anticipate future solutions, and develop markets. The signs are all good and it’s the right time to be ambitious. The German forest is only half as extensive as its French counterpart and yet it supports a million jobs. We therefore need a lot more added value and jobs before we can talk of an eco-assertive sector that delivers some sense. 

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