I will focus on issues relating to forestry and climate change. I am aware that Private Members' business this evening relates to much the same issue. I have received a number of representations in recent weeks from people who are concerned about forestry. If we are to be serious about climate change, action is required. We are kidding ourselves if we believe that launching Government policy on the matter, with a now familiar fanfare, will result in any meaningful change to current trends. Claiming that there is a climate change crisis will get headlines but without a coherent action plan, nothing will change. Scientists tell us that a single hectare of mature trees absorbs 6.4 tonnes of carbon per annum. Scientists also accept that planting trees is by far the quickest and cheapest way of tackling climate change.
Carbon needs to be removed from the atmosphere. As trees grow, they absorb and store the carbon dioxide emissions that are driving global warming. According to Coillte, wood and wood products are known as climate smart products. They are low energy, renewable and fully sustainable construction materials. When used for construction or furniture, they store carbon for long periods. Coillte also states that wood is a low carbon source of fuel and that using wood and wood products for construction and biomass burning releases much less carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere than conventional fossil fuels.
Coillte has committed to increasing the amount of carbon dioxide stored by our forests by managing our existing forests on a fully sustainable basis and promoting the use of wood and wood products as an alternative to fossil fuels and non-renewable construction materials. Private companies and individual growers also have a significant part to play in this process. This Government has set a target of planting 8,000 ha of forestry per annum. Unfortunately, we are only reaching 50% of that target. The reason is the level of bureaucracy and delays in granting licences for clearing, felling and planting. In 2015, there were delays of up to 522 days in granting a licence. In 2016, there were delays of up to 680 days and in 2017, delays reached a staggering 1,119 days before falling to 959 days in 2018. The effect of this is that growers miss planting deadlines and the whole process is backed up. The Government is ultimately missing very modest targets for forestry planting.
The impact on the businesses involved is also a serious problem. I was speaking with the owner of a clear-felling company in Tipperary this week. He has 12 employees but has no work to do for the first time in many years. I visited a nursery in the Minister of State's part of the country last week and it is also struggling with the amount of planting available. This is seriously affecting the viability of the business. In reply to a parliamentary question recently, the Minister of State told me that vetting applications for licences was a complicated process. I have no doubt that is the case. However, that should not be used as an excuse to allow delays in granting licences to continue. The Minister of State must immediately put in place sufficient manpower to grant licences and significantly reduce waiting times. Without this measure, there will be job losses in the sector and we will continue to fall behind our climate change targets, which will cost the State in carbon credits.
The Forestry Act 2014 is a complicating factor. The in-combination impact assessment being used is unduly bureaucratic and the application of a radius of 15 km to 20 km is completely impractical. This radius should be set at a maximum of 3 km and there must be an exemption for plantations under 8 ha. More ecologists are required in the Department to interpret reports as they come in. Staff must be provided to reduce this delay.