The current forestry licensing crisis is a bureaucratic mess and a proper forestry plan is needed for the industry to boost tree numbers, Forest Industries Ireland director Mark McAuley has said.

In response to the Climate Action Plan announced by Government on Thursday, he said the forestry sector is making zero progress in planting more trees to combat climate change, which is also threatening 12,000 rural jobs in the sector.

“It is clear we need to plant millions of trees in the decades ahead and utilise much more timber in our houses and buildings.

“However, the issue here is that the plan is completely aspirational. Right now, we are planting only 10% of what is needed to achieve the carbon targets,” McAuley said.

He said that this year they will only plant 2,000ha when it needs to be 15,000 to 20,000ha per annum to get to net zero by 2050.

“We need to translate aspiration into reality. The current afforestation programme is not fit for purpose and needs complete overhaul.

"Farmers need to see real value for planting forests and woodlands. A proper forestry plan and much better incentives are what’s needed to boost our numbers.”

Afforestation licences

He said the Climate Change Advisory Council has repeatedly told the Government of the need to plant more trees to combat climate change, yet the Government is only delivering a trickle of afforestation licences.

“We are making zero progress on this right now, which is hugely frustrating and is now threatening the 12,000 rural jobs in our sector. We grow trees here faster than anywhere else in Europe and we can’t get trees planted due to a bureaucratic mess created by the Department of Agriculture.

“We also need to build more with wood, but very little is happening with that in this country. We are way behind our European neighbours in terms of sustainable timber construction and locking away carbon for generations in our built environment. The majority of our houses can and should be built with wood.”

The scientific fact is that our forests store over 300m tonnes of carbon and currently absorb millions more tonnes of carbon dioxide every year, he said.

“That alone is offsetting the emissions from 70% of our cars and it is why the whole world is calling for the planting of more trees in the fight against climate change.”