Soil Organic Carbon can play a significant role in the land use sector in mitigating greenhouse gases and ensuring the environmental integrity of the access to Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) credits provided in the EU regulations agreed in June 2018. At a national level, the Government’s Climate Action Plan contains 14 actions relating to Irish agricultural adoption carbon abatement opportunities. There are a further 12 actions promoting diversification of land use (part of gradual transition), such as afforestation. Four additional actions look at the better management of Peatlands and soils.
Our forest estate has a very important role to play in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). Through the Effort Sharing Regulation (Regulation 2018/842), recognising that there is limited abatement potential in the agriculture sector, land use including forests and grasslands have the potential to contribute an additional 26.8 million tonnes of increased removals or emissions reduction over the period 2021-2030. The Government’s Climate Action Plan specifically associates the mobilisation of these CO2 removals as part of the contribution from agriculture and land use towards Ireland’s 2030 targets. In addition, the current afforestation programme has been reviewed to enhance participation rates, while also informing land use policy to increase the benefits for climate, the environment, as well as rural communities. Since the late 1980s, nearly €3 billion has been invested in forestry, and ongoing suitable forest management will continue to contribute 21 MtCO2eq over the period 2021 to 2030.
Research by Teagasc and the EPA has highlighted that grasslands play a key role in the provision and regulation of important ecosystem services. From a climate change perspective, grassland soils have the ability to sequester atmospheric CO2 , potentially contributing to climate change mitigation. Better management of grassland includes activities such as increased time to reseeding, increase in legumes, less frequent use of heavy machinery and long-term pasture management plans.
Furthermore, hedgerows are estimated to cover 3.9% or 660,000 km of the Irish landscape. The recently published reports by The Joint Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action, as well as the All-of-Government Climate Action Plan to tackle climate breakdown both recognise the contribution of hedgerows to climate adaptation as well as to carbon sequestration and storage.
The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) has made and will continue to make an increasingly significant contribution to the environmental sustainability of the Irish agriculture.
Forty percent of the future CAP (2021-2027) budget will be directed at climate and environmental measures which will likely include payments which promote biodiversity, water quality and carbon storage.