I fully agree with the long-term goal of the decarbonisation of our economy and that sequestration through forestry will be key to achieving this. This is why this Government continues to invest over €100m each year in the National Forestry Programme. I also agree with the goal of increased broadleaf planting and mod-term review of this Programme introduced a number of policy changes last year which have already resulted in a 25% year on year increase in broadleaf planting.
As regards Coillte, one of its statutory functions, under Section 12 of the Forestry Act 1988, is to ‘carry on the business of forestry and related activities on a commercial basis and in accordance with efficient silvicultural practices’. A duty of the company, under Section 13, is also ‘to have due regard to the environmental and amenity consequences of its operations’.
In relation to the consistency of Coillte’s statutory functions with the principles of sustainable development and the EU’s Long Term Climate Strategy for decarbonisation, I consider that the existing Forestry Act 1988 facilitates Coillte in the continued sustainable development of the public forest estate.
Their operational matters are of course a matter for the company concerned and their policies evolve over time in response to emerging issues. Any issues concerning an operational or policy matter for Coillte can of course be directed to the Company for direct response.
The independent certification of Coillte forests by both FSC and PEFC demonstrates sustainable forest management. I know that Coillte works diligently to maintain such certification.
Coillte is also subject to the Forestry Act 2014, which was enacted to make further and better provision in relation to forestry, to provide for the development and promotion of forestry in a manner that maximises the economic, environmental and social value of forests within the principles of sustainable forest management.
Coillte, in carrying out its functions and duties, are providing a reliable supply of sustainably produced wood fibre to a thriving timber industry. Coillte forests continuously sequester carbon as they grow and products made from harvested wood, such as the panel boards manufactured by Coillte’s panel mills, safely lock-up carbon and provide an environmentally friendly substitute for carbon intense products such as plastic, concrete and steel.
These are matters which I am assured are kept under constant review by the company. I do not consider that sustainability issues are a matter for legislative change per se but rather one of ongoing operational review to ensure that it is fit for purpose.