Forests play an important role in climate change mitigation by removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. This process is known as sequestration. The ability of forests to sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere depends on a range of site parameters, including the species of the trees, the age of the forest and the type of soil.
The national forest inventory, which is compiled by my Department, collects a range of data on our national forests, including data on carbon. According to the most recent inventory, Ireland's forests removed or sequestered an average of 3.8 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent from the atmosphere each year between 2007 and 2016.
The total carbon stock in Irish forests is approximately 312 million tonnes. This carbon is stored in trees, soils, leaf litter, dead wood and roots. It is important to note that the national forest inventory provides a statistical sample of a proportion of Ireland's forests and does not estimate carbon stocks in individual forests.
However, based on the results from the last survey and the total size of the forest estate, which measures 770,020 ha, we can say that approximately 5 tonnes of CO2 per hectare per year, on average, is sequestered. This is an average figure and takes into account all different types of tree species and ages growing on a range of different soil types.
Sustainable forest management and the protection of forests from disease are important to ensure that forests continue to sequester and store carbon. Harvested wood products are also an important store of carbon and recent changes to accounting rules now mean that the carbon stored in wood products is to be included when determining overall net emissions. This change will help to promote the increased use of wood and allow the mitigation effect of carbon storage to be accounted for.
Considerable scope now exists for further expansion in wood use and processing. The all-Ireland wood production forecast anticipates that production on the island will increase from 4 million cu. m to nearly 8 million cu. m by 2035. This doubling of output is set to come, in the main, from privately-owned, grant-aided forests in the Republic.