I propose to take Questions Nos. 42, 55 and 56 together.
The Government's forestry policy, as set out in Growing for the Future – A Strategic Plan for the Development of the Forestry Sector in Ireland, is to increase Ireland's forest cover from its present level of 9% of land area to 17% by 2030. This strategy is to be achieved by planting approximately 20,000 hectares of forestry per annum. The planting programme is supported by a generous grants and premium package co-financed by the European Union. This significant increase in forestry will assist in countering the increase in greenhouse gases. Forestry is the only economic activity that can contribute to reducing our greenhouse gas emissions.
Conifers are particularly well suited in this regard. These species play a significant role as a carbon sequestrator. It is estimated that on average one hectare of Sitka spruce absorbs 3.3 tonnes of carbon per year while broadleaves absorb 1.3 tonnes. Over its rotation one hectare of conifers will remove approximately 100 tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere, per hectare making them exceptionally efficient in combating the greenhouse gas effect.
The national climate change strategy identifies the key role to be played by forestry in carbon sequestration. There have been ongoing discussions between my Department and the Department of the Environment and Local Government in the context of the national climate change strategy.