How forestry biomass can deliver on climate action


Mark McAuley

There is no doubt that forestry has a huge role to play in combatting climate change. We need to protect our old growth forests and plant new trees to provide us with the timber that we need and should be using more of.

Each year Irish forests absorb about 3.6 million tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere - that's equivalent to 60pc of the CO2 emitted annually by the 2.1 million cars on Irish roads. Here in Ireland, forestry is one of the linchpins of our national climate change strategy and has been identified as one of the lowest cost climate tools at our disposal.

Many years of investment in forestry is paying dividends in terms of our climate change obligations as well as in thousands of jobs in every county and rural development. We need to redouble our efforts and plant more trees. We have plenty of suitable land and should create a sustainable mix with other forms of agriculture.

Forest biomass has a triple carbon benefit. Carbon dioxide is absorbed by trees as they grow. Timber locks away this carbon in our building products and replaces carbon intensive alternatives like steel and aluminium. At the end of its useful life, timber products are converted into renewable heat and energy and displace fossil fuels.

Our forests also give people access to the land on forest roads and walkways. They are a fantastic leisure resource and attract many visitors. They also provide wildlife habitats. All of our woodlands and forests are teeming with life including an abundance of insects which are a vital part of the food chain and many bird species as well as providing a natural sanctuary for all to enjoy.

Timber products play a key role in the fight against climate change. Our annual output of timber products contains 1.6 million tonnes of CO2. That CO2 is locked away for decades. It covers off all the household energy emissions from counties Cork, Kerry and Waterford. Across the EU, forests and timber have the potential to deal with 20pc of the EU's total CO2 emissions.

Ireland enjoys a natural competitive advantage when it comes to growing trees. A typical conifer forest will reach maturity in 35 years or less thanks to Ireland's mild oceanic climate. This gives us an enormous advantage over the northern European timber industries in Scandinavia and the Baltic States. We must continue to invest in industries where we have a competitive advantage and can compete in the globalised economy especially given the fact this industry is currently worth €2.3 billion to our rural economy.

Ireland's forests deliver jobs, exports, carbon sequestration, cleaner air, renewable energy, recreation opportunities, landscapes, biodiversity, flood prevention and much more. We should be proud of what they have done for us and what they will do for future generations.

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Mark McAuley is director of Forestry Industries Ireland

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