Managed forestry now a carbon source rather than carbon sink

Managed forest land (MFL) in Ireland is now a source of carbon rather than a carbon sink, according to Ireland’s National Forestry Accounting Plan for 2021 to 2025.

The plan, which was released by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, shows that MFL accounts for some 54% of forestry land in the state.

The publication of the plan follows the European Commission adopting the forest reference levels (FRLs) for each EU member state to apply between 2021 and 2025.

For Ireland, the FRL projects a declining level of carbon in MFL (‘the C stock’), indicating that the carbon is being emitted rather than stored.

The FRL for Ireland for the period 2021 to 2025 is an emission of 141,000t of CO2 equivalent (CO2 eq) per each of those years.

However, the Forestry Accounting Plan notes that afforestation and reforestations lands have a much larger overall impact on the long-terms carbon sink than MFL areas.

The department has said that these emissions will be “far outweighed” by what the rest of the country’s forestry estate is sequestering.

This ‘afforested’ land will, the department said, be a “significant sink for carbon dioxide” over the 2021 to 2025 period.

Long-term projections

The plan outlines long-term projections up to the year 2050, which show that net carbon removal of total forest area (including MFL) will decline from 5.5 million tonnes CO2 eq in 2017 to 260,000t CO2 eq by 2034.

This trend is set to be reversed from the year 2036 on, with net carbon removals from total forestry land projected to be 3.1 million tonnes CO2 eq by 2050.

Forest reference levels

The European Commission yesterday (Thursday, October 29) adopted the forest reference levels (FRLs) for each EU member state to apply between 2021 and 2025.

In December 2018, Ireland submitted to the commission the first version of its Forestry Accounting Plan, including a proposed FRL for the period from 2021 to 2025.

FRLs are “benchmarks to calculate the sum of greenhouse gas removals and emissions from existing forests in each member state”.

FRLs concern managed forest land, which encompasses existing forests that undergo cycles of growth, harvest and regrowth, and forests under various protection schemes, including old growth and primary forests.