A failure by Government to reform forestry planning procedures and to address issues in the processing of forestry licences is hindering farmers from taking climate action, John Fitzgerald of the Climate Advisory Council has said.
Fitzgerald – a former-chair of the independent council which advises the Government on climate issues – suggested that entire licensing system should be replaced with regulation.
“On the forestry, the Government just needs to get rid of the licensing regime and move to regulation immediately,” Fitzgerald commented in an RTÉ Radio 1 interview discussing Ireland’s climate change ambitions.
According to Fitzgerald, the current legal requirements for planting forestry are excessive and have been hindering the uptake of tree planting on farms.
The decision to plant forestry, Fitzgerald argued, would be taken by more farmers should the system be reformed and the excessive bureaucracy removed.
“Agriculture needs to change and farmers are willing to change, but there is a problem where the Government has dawdled in dealing with the licensing regime for forestry – that you need a license to do pretty well everything – and it is now clogged up,” he said.
Fitzgerald made clear his thoughts that forestry has a significant role to play in Ireland meeting its climate targets, which are now legally binding under the Climate Action Bill.
Movement on the forestry licensing issue would allow more action to be taken, he argued, shifting the focus of Ireland’s climate debate away from the setting of targets and towards action on climate-friendly measures.
“The Government needs to sort that quickly, because forestry sucking carbon out of the atmosphere will be a major part of the solution in Ireland.
“If farmers plant between 5% and 10% of their land with trees, that will suck carbon out of the atmosphere and cool the planet, not warm it,” he added.
One of the points reiterated by the climate advisor over the course of the interview was that non-forestry land-use changes do not require planning for the changes to proceed.
Rather, as Fitzgerald outlined, a farmer simply has to comply with standard regulations that exist to protect the environment.
“If you move from growing barley to raising beef, you do not need a license, you have to comply with the EPA regulations,” he pointed out.