Forests “are in the front line” of Ireland’s response to the climate change emergency – but State targets for afforestation are weak and compare unfavourably to near neighbours like Scotland.
Mairi Gougeon, Scotland’s minister for rural affairs and natural environment, said there was “a growing understanding that forestry and forests are in the front line of our national response to the climate change emergency that faces us all”.
Ms Gougheon was addressing a conference in Enfield, Co Meath organised jointly by the Society of Irish Foresters and the Wood Marketing Federation. The conference heard while Ireland has the greatest scope in Europe to expand its forests without negatively impacting on food production, Government targets, already lagging behind the rest of the EU, will not be met until “well into the middle of the century”.
Ireland has 11 per cent of land under forest and has a target of 18 percent by 2050. In contrast to Ireland, Scotland already has 18 per cent forest cover and aims to have 20 percent 2032.
To achieve its target, Ireland would need an annual afforestation programme of 15,000 hectares, said Donal Magner of the Wood Marketing Federation. While this was achievable, Justin McCarthy, editor of the Irish Farmers Journal, said planting in 2018 was just 40 per cent of what it should be.
Architect Mike Hasla said while wood energy is important, “the production and processing of wood for construction and other uses is regarded as highly energy-efficient”.
“Engineered wood such as cross-laminated timber (CLT) is now an integral part of tall building construction,” he said.
“Thirty storey towers are either being built or planned for cities such as Vienna and Stockholm. Wood can be used as a substitute for non renewable materials such as steel, aluminium, concrete and plastics which require large amounts of energy,” he said.
Minister of State Andrew Doyle told the conference “Irish forests are a significant sink and carbon store”.
“The most recent National Forest Inventory published by the Department of Agriculture, estimates that the national forest estate is an important and expanding store of carbon at just over 300 million tonnes,” he said.