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Statement from Department of Agriculture Food and the Marine Ireland’s Forest a source or sink of carbon dioxide?

Ireland’s forests are not a net emitter of greenhouse gasses.  They are and remain a substantial and growing store for carbon dioxide, and recent suggestions which claim otherwise,  are misleading insofar as they are looking only at one subset of the estate.

 

The suggestions and follow up commentary discuss ‘FRL 2021-2015:  Ireland, a National Forestry Accounting Plan.’ This is a report which was prepared by the Department to inform our inventory of national greenhouse gases for the next five years.

 

Ireland’s forests are categorised as two different types for this exercise - either ‘Afforested land’ or ‘Managed Forest Land’.  While the Managed Forest Lands (MFL) area,  because of particular circumstances and timing, will be a small emitter over the upcoming period, the amount in question will be far outweighed by what the rest of the estate is storing and sequestering.

 

To explain: the “Afforested Land” category includes all forests that will be 30 years of age or less during the accounting period 2021-2030, ie any new forests planted since 1991 and all new forests planted over the next 10 years.  Over that period they will be a significant sink for carbon dioxide, sequestering well over 1 million tonnes of CO2 per year, when harvested wood products are included, over the period 2021-2025.

 

Forests managed in the “Managed Forest Land” category include all forests that are older than 30 years of age during the period 2021-2030. It is estimated that over the period 2021-2025, when harvested wood products are included, these forests will be a small net source of approximately 0.1 million tonnes of CO2 per year.  However, it is important to recognise that forests are replanted after harvesting and as forests mature the projection is that these forests will return to being a sink.

 

The Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine with responsibility for Forestry, Senator Pippa Hackett stated, ‘‘There is a climate crisis, and whether we deal with it successfully will depend greatly on how we utilise our land in the future. We must protect it, while also deriving from it benefits for our society, our environment and our economy. In that context, I fully understand the alarm with which many greeted reports on Ireland’s forests becoming a net emitter of greenhouse gases, and I am very happy to see my department clarify the situation.

 

There is no question that forestry has an important role to play in climate change mitigation. As we strive to decarbonise our economy, it has the capacity to provide a wide range of ecosystem services.  Of course forestry also supports many thousands of jobs, and I am very mindful of the importance of integrating the industry with other community and climate considerations as we strive to develop a new model for it, one which will work for all, while planting the right tree in the right place.

I am looking forward to developing this new model. The work on it will be starting very shortly, and I have already begun engaging with those who represent the groups and stakeholders who will help me shape that future. Forestry of the future must be multi-functional.  It must address climate action, and also deliver for biodiversity, for water quality, and for local communities. We must get this right.’’

 

Notes to Editors:

  • Ireland’s forests play a significant role in climate change mitigation by removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. The national forest estate is an important and expanding sink for carbon, estimated at over 312 million tonnes[1]  
  •  
  • Ireland’s forests removed an average of 3.8 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year from the atmosphere over the period 2007 to 2016[2]. This includes all forests of all ages and species found throughout Ireland. This figure changes from year to year as Irelands forests mature and in some cases are harvested and are replanted.
  •  
  • The National Forest Accounting Plan examines and details the carbon balances that are expected to occur over the period 2021 to 2025 with particular reference to older forests. As forests mature the sequestration rates of all species declines but the trees themselves remain a significant store of carbon.
  •  
  • Creating a forest estate which was just 1% of land cover in the early 1900s to over 11% today occurred due to different annual afforestation rates over the last 100 years. These differences result in forests maturing at different times, in some years harvesting and replanting rates will higher and in some years lower. The National Accounting Plan models these changes and in conjunction with recent afforestation within the last 30 years demonstrates that Ireland’s forests are and will remain a net sink of carbon dioxide and will remain so by 2050 and beyond.
  •  
  • The recently adopted EU Regulation 841/2018, known as the LULUCF regulation, sets out the accounting framework to account for greenhouse gas emissions and removals in the following land use categories from 2021 to 2030. These categories are;
  • Afforested lands
  • Managed forest lands
  • Deforested lands
  • Managed grasslands
  • Managed croplands
  • Managed wetlands
  • Harvested wood products
  •  
    • As part of the implementation of this Regulation, Ireland, like all EU MS, had to submit a National Forestry Accounting Plan for the “managed forest lands” category. This is needed in order to generate a reference level which will be used to account and report greenhouse gas changes from 2021-2025 against this land category. The managed forest land category represents about 60% of the forest estate. Ireland’s forests in this category includes all forest that are older than 30 years of age during the period 2021-2030.
    •  
    • It is estimated that these forests will be a small net source of approximately 0.1 million tonnes of CO2 per year, when harvested wood products are included, over the period 2021-2025. They will obviously continue to retain vast stores of carbon as part of the 312 million tonnes in Irish forests overall;
    •  
    • Although the managed forest land will be a small source of carbon dioxide over the period 2021-2025, projections indicate that this trend will be reversed and these forests will return to being a sink over the period 2036 to 2050.
    •  
  • However, Ireland’s forests in the other “Afforested land” category which includes all forests that will be 30 years of age or less during the accounting period 2021 to 2030 will continue to be a significant and growing sink for carbon dioxide. This category is currently approximately 40% of the national forest estate. This category represents the majority of the forests planted since 1990 and will include all new forests planted over the next 10 years.

 

 

 

ENDS

 

[1] Ireland’s National Forest inventory - 2017

[2] [2] Ireland’s National Forest inventory - 2017

Date Released: 30 October 2020