Forestry: an emissions “source” rather than sink

29 October 2020 

Ireland’s forestry sector is now a source of greenhouse gas emissions rather than a sink, a Department of Agriculture report has found. 

The report is set to be approved by the European Commission tomorrow and concludes that Ireland’s forest estate made the transition from sink to source by 2012 – 2017.

The development, Friends of the Irish Environment points out, is a contradiction to the Government’s position on Ireland’s forestry being a significant sink and carbon store. 

According to the report, the transition from sink to source has been fuelled by deforestation, legacy-planting induced harvesting, fire emissions, younger stands and drainage. 

Current forestry model “grows the wrong trees” 

Commenting on the report, IPCC scientist and Maynooth Emeritus Professor John Sweeney said that hope placed on new afforestation miraculously allowing us to meet short term carbon budgets is “misplaced”. 

“The present forestry model grows the wrong trees in the wrong places. 

We must not sacrifice biodiversity in western Ireland to provide Sitka Spruce plantations to enable biodiversity destruction on intensive dairy farms in eastern Ireland,” he added. 

Ireland has one of the lowest levels of forest cover in Europe at just 11 per cent, yet also has one of the highest rates of plantation forestry across the bloc. 

Only roughly two per cent of the country is covered by what is termed native or semi-natural woodland. 

In 2017, Sitka Spruce accounted for just over half of all trees planted in Ireland – a total of 343,310 hectares.

Between 2004 and 2018, the total area of grant-aided afforestation for Sitka and lodgepole pine increased from 48 per cent to 74

In light of the report, the Government must move from plantation forestry to “continuous cover forestry and agri-forestry schemes that enhance biodiversity and sequester carbon,” according to Tony Lowes of Friends of the Irish Environment. 

Earlier this month, the Dáil passed a Forestry Bill that came under heavy scrutiny from environmental organisations. 

At the time of its draft publication, The Environmental Pillar warned the Bill would restrict the right to appeal forestry decisions and that it would create significant financial barriers for those looking to appeal. 

NGOs urged Minister Pippa Hackett to reconsider her approach, which would include “developing a new overall programme for forestry, with a reformed grant system to support that, and a compliant and effective decision-making system”, Environmental Pillar spokesperson Andrew St Ledger said at the time. 

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