Forests can make an important contribution to climate action through the sequestration and storage of carbon dioxide and by supplying sustainable and renewable materials that support the decarbonisation of our economy.
The Government's Climate Action Plan 2019 recognises this key role which afforestation has to play in climate change mitigation particularly through carbon sequestration. Under current rules agreed as part of the EU Effort Sharing Regulation, forestry can contribute some 2.1 million tonnes of CO2 per annum of carbon towards Ireland’s emissions targets under the next climate mitigation period 2021-2030.
Planting achieved under successive afforestation programmes will be the basis for this emissions reductions figure. The Climate Action Plan now sets a target of an average of 8,000 hectares of new planting per year. While this will mostly yield benefits in the longer term post-2030, it will also contribute to our 2030 target through carbon sequestration.
My Department has approved an average of 9,000 hectares for new planting each year for the last three years. This means that there are almost 10,000 approved and shovel-ready hectares available to the forestry sector which could be planted today. The challenge is to ensure that all of the effort that goes into securing and approving new sites results in those sites being planted, if planting levels are to increase and the target of 18% land cover is to be achieved. I am committed to working towards this target through the continued provision of generous grants and premiums, engagement with a range of stakeholders from farmers to public bodies, a dedicated promotion and communication campaign, and by examining ways in which farm forestry can be better integrated into the new CAP. Knowledge transfer programmes and other initiatives which raise awareness of the economic and ecosystem benefits of forestry will continue to play an important role in tackling some of the barriers to planting.