Factor

Ireland’s planning to make its Emerald Isle even greener

09 September 2019 | Mitigation

It’s already known as the ‘Emerald Isle’, but the Irish government wants to make the country even greener, by planting trees to tackle climate change.

Policymakers set a planting target of 440 million trees by 2040 - or around 22 million trees per year, a government spokeswoman told The Irish Times.

Of these, 70% are set to be conifers and will be 30% broad leaves.

Growing support

While reforestation isn’t a new concept, planting trees is increasingly being incorporated in government policies around the world as a growing body of evidence supports its potential to reduce carbon.

Scotland planted 22 million trees last year with the country's forestry agency saying that surpassed its target.

Trees remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through photosynthesis. Scientists estimate that US forests offset as much as 20% of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions each year. Researchers at Climate Central also point to other advantages of tree cover, including controlling stormwater and fostering habitats for wildlife.

Broad benefits

Ireland is among the least forested nations in the EU, with government estimates showing that in 2014, forest cover was around 11%, compared with the EU average of almost 40%.

The motivation to reforest isn’t just about mitigating climate change, it also wants to produce more commercial timber, provide biomass for energy production and generate jobs in rural areas.

Ireland and Scotland aren’t the only countries planting trees. Last year, Pakistan hit its target of planting more than 1 billion trees and China enlisted its army to create new forests.

Sweden employs a sustainable forestry model, growing more trees than it chops down. But the government balances forest biodiversity with the importance of wood to its national economy: the forestry industry employs more than 60,000 people directly and is indirectly responsible for around 200,000 jobs.

Global potential

The details of Ireland’s plan comes as scientists from the Crowther Lab of ETH Zurich published a report showing around 0.9 billion hectares of land worldwide would be suitable for reforestation and that - if realized - could capture around two-thirds of human-made carbon emissions.

The greatest potential for reforestation was found to be in Russia, the US, Canada, Australia, Brazil and China.

While Ireland’s push is backed by government grants for landowners that plant forests, some environmentalists, including Mary Colwell, have expressed concern that the focus on non-native coniferous trees is turning the nation into an “ecological dead zone”.

With the benefits of forestry increasingly undisputed, it’s likely that the debate over which trees to plant, how many and where, will continue for some time to come.

 

Source: World Economic Forum