Climate crisis and the future of forestry

Peat soils must be protected from disturbance

Sir, – The “right tree in the right place” has become a meaningless trope, generally supported by the argument that “fast-growing coniferous trees capture more carbon in the short term”. Both appear in the article “Future of forestry needs the right trees planted in the right places” (Science, March 23rd).

Irish forestry is second only to peat extraction in the scale of destruction of our native biodiversity and now has become a growing source of greenhouse gas emissions (GHGS).

This is particularly so because the definition of “peat soils” that should be protected from forestry’s drainage for the establishment of predominantly non-native fast-growing conifers managed by clear-fell excludes vast areas of peat soils that, according to last year’s UN environment report, should be protected from disturbance on climate grounds alone.

The issue is the “depth threshold” of peat soils required to qualify as peat soils. While historically generally 20 to 50 centimetres is used worldwide, the Department of Agriculture requires a depth of 60 centimetres to qualify for protection; 44 per cent of Irish afforestation between 1990 and 2000 was on peatlands just using this 60 centimetre metric.


The 2022 UN Global Peatlands Assessment report, however, recommends protecting peat soils only 10 centimetres deep to prevent further emissions of GHGs, pointing out that in Russia reducing the current yardstick – already half of Ireland’s at 30 centimetres – to 10 centimetres means the protected area would be tripled.

Under questioning by Richard Boyd Barrett TD, Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue said in a written parliamentary reply last month that he was aware of the UN report but that it did not apply to Ireland but to “tropical areas” and that “applying a depth threshold that is associated with tropical forest and wetland is not appropriate given that Ireland is located in the temperate zone”.

The UN report in fact extensively details and maps only Russia as the example of the impact of accepting the lower level. The vast majority of Russia is located in the northern hemisphere and has a cold or temperate climate; less than 1 per cent of Russia can be considered to have a tropical climate.

The Environmental Protection Agency has determined that even with a defining peat depth at 60 centimetres, the Irish forest estate is increasing GHG emissions from 363 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (Mt CO2e) this year to 5412Mt CO2e by 2031 because of its disturbance of peat soils.

If the same civil servants who composed the reply to the TD’s parliamentary question are in charge of ensuring “the right tree in the right place”, we can be assured that the current growing trend in the afforestation of what the industry calls “marginal land” and in increasing GHG emissions will both continue unabated. – Yours, etc,


Friends of the

Irish Environment,


Co Cork.