Decline of forest planting a major obstacle to climate goals, committee told

The shocking decline of forest planting in Ireland poses an enormous obstacle to Ireland achieving its target of net zero carbon by 2050, the chair of the Climate Change Advisory Council (CCAS) has said.

Professor Marie Donnelly said on Tuesday that Ireland is in “a serious hole” in terms of afforestation, because land that has been a carbon sink until now will become a net emitter of greenhouse gasses within the next few years.

It was an immediate and urgent challenge to get the policies right on afforestation Ms Donnelly told the Oireachtas Environment and Climate Change Committee .

“Otherwise so much of the other work we do will be unsuccessful because we will not have a sink in place. That is one of the highest policy priorities on our agenda at the moment.”

Professor Donnelly said it came as a shock to her last August to learn that the carbon sink created by forests in Ireland was degrading at such a rate and was likely to disappear by 2030.

“If we don’t have sufficient forest and a forest sink we will not be able to achieve a net zero position by 2050. That was the situation we were confronted with (last August).

“Even if we planted half of Ireland today we wouldn’t have a sink in place by 2030,” she said.

Prof Donnelly was one of a large number of speakers from the CCAS and its advisory Carbon Budget Committee who were invited to speak about the Carbon Budget published late last year.

The chair of the advisory committee, Prof Briain Ó Gallachóir of UCC, told the Committee that to achieve a 51 per cent reduction by 2030 would require transformation across all sectors of society.

“We have the second highest ambition in the world in terms of climate action. Clearly that brings challenges across all sectors,” he said.

Later, asked if the will was there to achieve it, he said: “Has the penny dropped across the society? I don’t think it has.”

On afforestation, Professor Donnelly said there was a need to build incentives to increase afforestation, including a carbon credit system.

She placed this project in terms in the medium-, to long-, terms as did Dr Brian Styles from the University of Limerick, who did modelling work on afforestation and land use.

He said with very low planting rates of trees, that carbon sink was going to decline dramatically and there would be a doubling of emissions in the land use sector by 2030.

Addressing that deficit, said Dr Styles, would be “extremely difficult because it takes time to build up.”

He said there was a long-lead in time for trees to start working as sinks and that afforestation sinks would not contribute to carbon budgets until 2040 and beyond.

“A million hectares could be needed in the long term for forests and rewetting,” he said.

He added that that change of land use will compete with agriculture but he also pointed to new income streams, including those from bio-based jobs.

Much of the discussion of the committee, chaired by Green Party TD Brian Leddin, focused around the modelling that was used by experts to inform the carbon budget.

Dr Hannah Daly from UCC, a lecturer in sustainable energy systems, said that the energy sector would require rapid reductions in the consumption of fossil fuels if its targets were to be achieved. She said that while electric car sales had doubled last year from 4,000 to 8,000 there was an increase of 11,000 in the sales of new SUVs, which have a much bigger carbon footprint.

“We need relentless immediate focus on reducing fossil fuel consumption.” She added that renewable electricity would be a cornerstone.

“The electricity system is needed to decarbonise (everything else). If we don’t meet targets for offshore wind and solar, all these targets won’t be met.”

She added that lowering demand for energy was also part of the solution.

Dr Kevin Hanrahan of Teagasc told the Committee that a 20 per cent range of emissions cuts in agriculture could be feasible with some changes in activity. He said the upper end of 30 per cent would require large changes in activity levels.

Prof Ó Gallachóir said there were many possible routes to meet the Government’s 2030 targets. “We looked at the analysis and all the obligations we were asked to consider. In addition to compliance with the Paris Agreement we also looked at impacts on the economy, employment, competitiveness and climate justice.”

Contributors to the debate – which included committee members Jennifer Whitmore, Richard Bruton, Christopher O’Sullivan, Pauline O’Reilly, Alice Mary Higgins and Alan Farrell – referred to the gaps between modelling and the policy decisions which were required to implement the targets.

Patricia King of ICTU pointed to issues such as just transition and resilience. “How we get ready for the changes and reconfiguration of the economy?” She asked.

She said some changes were known, including the shift from combustion cars to electric cars.

“It does not take a genius to know that as we fill the place with TVs we will reduce the need for petrol cars.

“We need to train mechanics to be adept in (working) with EVs.

“We have not started to do it. These are policy issues… we should be doing that now,” she said.

Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *