The need for change throughout the forestry sector has never been more urgent, especially when viewed against the background of recent developments.
The importance of forests in combating climate change has been recognised by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, while in Ireland, the Government’s Climate Action Plan 2021 acknowledges afforestation as “the single largest land-based climate change mitigation measure available to Ireland”.
The major challenge lies in afforestation, as pointed out by COFORD, the Department’s advisory research council.
In its Statement on Forests, Land Use and Climate Change Mitigation, COFORD recommends increasing annual afforestation rates above the current low levels of 2,000ha to 16,000ha or doubling the planting rate proposed in the 2019 Climate Action Plan.
Having consulted with various stakeholder, we are strongly of the view that the case for a development agency is self-evident
Professor Cathal O’Donoghue’s recent report – The Economics of Afforestation and Management in Ireland: Future Prospects and Plans – maintains that annual afforestation needs to increase to 18,000ha to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.
Existing Department structures will result in business as usual, as they were never designed to respond to these challenges and opportunities, as acknowledged by Prof O’Donoghue in his report.
What is needed is a new and innovative approach that actually incentivises farmers and other landowners to afforest part of their land, while addressing barriers to afforestation, harvesting and forest road construction to access forests, and actively support all aspects of sustainable forest management.
Having consulted with various stakeholder, we are strongly of the view that the case for a development agency is self-evident, that time is of the essence and that the chronic non-delivery of afforestation targets over the decades requires immediate action to drive and energise the sector, if there is to be any hope of it making its required socioeconomic and climate change contribution.
Forestry is the only natural resource sector in Ireland without an independent development agency to lead and promote it.
Without exception, they all support an independent forestry agency, but maintain rightly that it needs support from Government
In presenting this proposal to the Department and various stakeholders over the years, we have been asked where is the support for such an initiative?
To gauge the support – or lack thereof – for such an agency, we consulted with organisations, companies and individuals who will be required to deliver a viable forestry programme in Ireland (see panel opposite).
These will be issued with the challenge to provide the land for afforestation, to plant and manage new and existing forests, as well as the timber processors that provide timber and timber products for construction and other end uses in Irish and export markets.
We also spoke to the nurseries that provide the plants, the contractors who deliver the planting and harvesting programmes, the foresters who manage the resource, the universities that educate our forestry students and the forestry organisations that provide advice and promote forestry in Ireland.
Without exception, they all support an independent forestry agency, but maintain rightly that it needs support from Government.
This support would be interpreted as a positive, unequivocal signal that acknowledges the interdependency of forestry and the need for a partnership approach to achieve a viable, sustainable forest sector.
Michael Guilfoyle, is a former assistant secretary at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources.
The following stakeholders support the establishment of a Forestry Development Agency