Tech giant Microsoft gets into the Irish native trees business

Afforestation will help Ireland’s national greenhouse gas emission reduction targets

The newly created forests will sequester about 35,600 tonnes of carbon over 40 years, equivalent to removing 7,500 passenger cars from the road for one year. Photograph: Alan Betson

The newly created forests will sequester about 35,600 tonnes of carbon over 40 years, equivalent to removing 7,500 passenger cars from the road for one year. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

Microsoft is to plant hundreds of acres of native woodlands in Ireland over the next few years in the largest single corporate investment in Irish forestry in a decade.

The plan by the tech giant Microsoft  will concentrate on native trees, such as Pedunculate Oak, Downy Birch, Common Alder and Scots Pine and will help to contribute to reducing Irish greenhouse gas emissions.

Natural Capital Partners (NCP), a company specialising in working with businesses on meeting their environmental commitments, is working with Microsoft on the forestry plan.

The project will enable the planting of trees on 137 hectares of land in different parts of Ireland over the next two years. Forestry specialists Forest Carbon Ltd, and Irish-based forest managers Green Belt, are working with NCP to source sites, establish and maintain the forests for the project.

Ireland is one of two of Europe’s least-forested country (along with The Netherlands). The programme will make an important contribution to the country’s goals of new native woodland creation under the 2014-2020 Forestry Programme – a requirement currently not being met. In addition, the newly created forests will sequester about 35,600 tonnes of carbon over 40 years, equivalent to removing 7,500 passenger cars from the road for one year, and contributing to Ireland’s national greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction targets.

“This programme demonstrates the increasing role of corporates in contributing to the commitments countries have made to greenhouse gas emission reductions. It is a powerful example of the continual evolution in business climate leadership and the types of intervention that will become increasingly critical to delivering long-term positive impact on both emissions and the world’s natural capital,” according to NCP chief executive Stephen Killeen.

Landowner financing

It will provide financing to landowners committing to new native forest creation, supplementing the payments they can receive from the Irish Forestry Service. As the value of agricultural land continues to decrease, farmers are looking for opportunities to diversify their income, and the additional financial support makes the establishment of native woodlands a more viable revenue option. The programme will begin planting on sites in Cork, Kerry and Galway before this summer with the remainder taking place in 2018.

“We have been contracted to supply the native woodland sites for this project which is the first scheme of its kind in Ireland,” said John O’Reilly, chief executive of Green Belt. “This could herald a new chapter for Irish forestry and a first step towards valuing and compensating landowners for the ecosystem services their forests provide.”

Native woodlands deliver key ecosystem services including flood control, water and soil protection, biodiversity conservation and habitat linkage, and climate change mitigation. Forest Carbon is overseeing this element of the partnership to ensure its long-term quality and sustainable impact. Native tree species will be planted in each site, such as Pedunculate Oak, Downy Birch, Common Alder and Scots Pine.

“In May 2012, Microsoft made a commitment to become carbon neutral,” explained Cathriona Hallahan, managing director of Microsoft Ireland, which employs 1,800 people at various locations. It created a fund for investment into both internal and external carbon-reduction activities. The Irish Forest Creation project is one of nearly 50 projects around the world that are supported by investments from the carbon fee funds. “Through the Irish project they would ensure they contributed to the country’s environmental wellbeing and support of the economy. Operating in a sustainable way is an important part of our vision of creating a Cloud for Global Good,” she added.

Minister for State with responsibility for forestry Andrew Doyle welcomed the initiative. “Microsoft has been in Ireland for over 30 years and has made a significant contribution to our local economy. The creation of a fund to encourage planting of native woodlands will now contribute to our environment by protecting and enhancing water quality and enriching the biodiversity of the land planted. This new and innovative contribution to our planting programme is very welcome.”

Explainer

GHG is a gas that absorbs and emits radiation within the thermal infrared range. This process is the fundamental cause of the greenhouse effect, ie global warming, which in turn is linked to climate change. The primary greenhouse gases in Earth’s atmosphere are water vapour, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone.