Forests in Ireland have many different roles, from acting as carbon sinks and stores, and a place of biodiversity to providing timber and fuel for energy. They have a positive influence in reducing the impacts of climate change and can significantly diversify farm incomes.
The Programme for Government, as well as the recently published Climate Action Bill, set out the objective to achieve a climate neutral economy, and forests will play a role in that transition.
More importantly, farmers and their land will play a key role, and it is in everybody’s interest that farmers see the benefit of planting trees on their land. This can help them financially, while also making a significant environmental contribution.
Ireland’s national forest estate is an important store for carbon, with estimated stocks at over 312m tonnes
We are determined that farmers very clearly gain from planting trees and we are working hard to ensure that there is better alignment between the next CAP and the next National Forestry Programme.
Both will include viable tree-planting measures for farmers, which can benefit them financially and enhance the environmental status of their farms.
Ireland’s national forest estate is an important store for carbon, with estimated stocks at over 312m tonnes.
In our recent greenhouse gas reporting to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Ireland reported a removal by forests of around 5m tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) from the atmosphere in 2019, which includes the carbon stored in harvested wood products.
Thus, our current forest estate is a net sequesterer of carbon. Forest carbon stocks do change over time and estimates can be subject to change when new information becomes available.
A question that is often asked is who owns the carbon sequestered from the atmosphere in forests
The rate at which forests sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere will depend on a variety of factors, such as species, growth rates, soils and the level of harvesting that takes place. The same accounting and reporting framework applies to all forests and makes no distinction between private or State forests.
A question that is often asked is who owns the carbon sequestered from the atmosphere in forests. This is a question that is evolving over time. However, I want to be clear that the State is not trading nor seeking to trade the carbon sequestered in farmers’ forests.
We are, however, obliged to report and account for all greenhouse gases here under our international obligations, and this includes sequestration and emissions from forestry.
This does not imply ownership, but simply reflects the requirement for those reductions and emissions to be included in the State’s climate inventory.
There is no such similar mandatory accounting framework for farmers or other private individuals. Forestry is not part of the EU Emissions Trading Scheme.
There can, however, be some trading of forestry-generated carbon on voluntary markets, which does take place in other countries, mainly for corporate social responsibility by businesses rather than for mandatory compliance.
For example, this can be where a landowner partners with a private company that wishes to be associated with the environmental benefits of the farmer’s forestry and will pay the farmer for this right.
The Department is in the early stages of exploring opportunities for the development of such a voluntary carbon market in Ireland
This is a voluntary initiative and the buyer is not claiming ownership of the carbon credits or ecosystem services. It is very clear that the carbon sequestered must not be double counted by the State’s reporting and accounting obligations.
The Department is in the early stages of exploring opportunities for the development of such a voluntary carbon market in Ireland.
This would look at encouraging reductions in emissions and at the same time develop a potential alternative source of income for landowners and foresters.
This could be similar to our existing Woodland Environment Fund, which includes a mix of private finance and State funding to pay farmers to establish native woodlands, which has worked well, or other voluntary models with similar outcomes.
Such carbon farming is highlighted as an option in the EU Green Deal and the European Commission is examining ways of encouraging activities that remove carbon across sectors, including involvement by the voluntary carbon trading sector. Ultimately, we want to put farmers at the very centre of this strategy.
At the moment, we directly fund afforestation by providing a range of grants, premiums and tax incentives on the sale of timber
We will work with stakeholders and will explore options for the development of such tools which encourage the removal of carbon in line with developments at EU level as outlined in the EU Green Deal, with particular reference to farm carbon.
At the moment, we directly fund afforestation by providing a range of grants, premiums and tax incentives on the sale of timber, but there may be opportunities for adjusting this model in the future, through complementary voluntary carbon markets, for example.
Farmers and landowners are key to helping achieve our goals here and I believe these can be delivered in a mutually beneficial way which also boosts farm incomes.
These are still early days in this exercise and I look forward to engaging with all stakeholders when the time comes.