Research co-funded by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has revealed that between 13,000ha and 40,000ha of forestry will be required annually from 2025 to 2050 in order to counterbalance carbon dioxide (CO2) and nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions from agriculture. This estimation, however, does not consider methane emissions. The EPA has expressed concerns that the policy of carbon neutrality is uncertain without immediate action to increase afforestation rates. These concerns were outlined in a recent submission made by the EPA in response to a government request for expert evidence ahead of the development of the Climate Action Plan 2024.
According to the EPA, while the forestry sector plays a crucial role in removing CO2 from the atmosphere, there has been a noticeable decline in the overall value of this removal activity due to the age profile of Ireland’s national forestry stock. This decline has been driven by two factors. Firstly, there has been a significant reduction in afforestation compared to the 1990s and early 2000s. Secondly, substantial afforestation has taken place on peat soils, which can result in significant greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Recent research has indicated that these emissions are higher than initially estimated.
The EPA’s submission document highlights that the current afforestation rate of approximately 2,000ha per year is well below the planned 8,000ha per year outlined in the 2023 Climate Action Plan. Coupled with increased timber harvest, this will further diminish the ability of Irish forestry to contribute to CO2 emission removals in the future. It is projected that by 2025, the forestry sector in Ireland will become a source of GHG emissions.
To address these challenges, the EPA emphasizes the need to determine the extent of afforestation required for Ireland to meet its national climate objectives. This will enable the setting of appropriate afforestation targets in the forthcoming Climate Action Plan. The EPA suggests that the current planned afforestation rate of 8,000ha per year is insufficient and estimates that between 13,000ha and 40,000ha of afforestation per year will be necessary from 2025 to 2050 to offset projected CO2 and N2O emissions from the agriculture sector. However, it is important to note that these estimates do not include methane emissions. Afforestation rates at the lower end of this range take into account other actions, such as a 75% reduction in agricultural emissions and a substantial rewetting program for agricultural organic soils.
In conclusion, the EPA’s submission highlights the urgency of taking action to increase afforestation rates in Ireland. Failure to do so could jeopardize the country’s ability to achieve carbon neutrality and meet its climate objectives. The research co-funded by the EPA and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine underscores the need for between 13,000ha and 40,000ha of afforestation per year from 2025 to 2050 to counterbalance CO2 and N2O emissions from agriculture. It is imperative that these findings are considered and incorporated into the Climate Action Plan to ensure a sustainable and environmentally responsible future for Ireland.