The target to plant 8,000ha of forestry annually to 2030 “will be challenging to meet in the next decade”, according to Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue.
This target is ambitious when compared with recent afforestation rates, he said.
“Clearly more needs to be done to substantially increase our afforestation rates over the next decade.
“There are many land-use options available to landowners and forestry is a strong contender, especially in view of the generous incentives currently available under the afforestation scheme,” he said in response to a parliamentary question from Sinn Féin’s Matt Carthy TD.
The target is outlined in the Government’s Climate Action Plan.
The Minister said that Ireland’s forests and harvested wood products play a significant role in climate change mitigation by removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.
“Carbon sequestration by forests is influenced by a range of factors including species, soil type, site conditions and management practices."
The national forest estate is an important store for carbon, estimated at over 312m tonnes
“The rate of sequestration changes over time as a forest develops and matures.
“When forests are young, the sequestration rate is low, but as the trees mature their ability to sequester carbon dioxide increases.
“The national forest estate is an important store for carbon, estimated at over 312m tonnes,” he said.
Sink to source
Projections of the greenhouse gas balance show that Ireland’s forests will transition from a sink to a source by 2024, he said.
“This trend is primarily related to the increasing rate of felling in private forests and the extent of historical afforestation on peats.
“However, as these forests are replanted, they will again sequester carbon and the strength of the forest sink will increase as these forests mature.”
Some 103 afforestation licences were issued during January and February, Department figures show. At the current rate of approval, the Department is on track to deliver less than 650 afforestation licences this year.
The Department’s target is to issue 1,040 afforestation licences this year.