Political parties urged to utilise ‘biggest weapon to tackle climate change’

Ibec industry body Forest Industries Ireland (FII) launched its General Election 2020 manifesto for political parties yesterday, Thursday, January 23.

In the document, FII calls on all political parties to assist it in supporting the Climate Change Action Plan’s ambition to plant 8,000 hectares of new forest each year.

The Ibec industry group describes forestry as a “critical pillar” of Ireland’s climate action plan and accuses the  Government of “failing to effectively utilise the biggest weapon of all to counteract climate change”.

Ireland’s forests already contain 312 million tonnes of carbon and they absorb an additional 3.8 million tonnes of CO2 each year.

Only 11% of Ireland is covered by forest compared to 38% across the EU, the group added

Annual planting has decreased in recent years and the situation needs to be turned around. Every new hectare of forest is a new carbon sink that helps battle climate change.

Poorer agricultural lands are unprofitable and should be used to plant trees, helping both farmers and the environment, the group contends.

FII is proposing a five-point plan for the next government:
  1. Plant more trees by revitalising the national afforestation programme;
  2. Green Irish farms by reinvigorating farmer interest in planting forestry;
  3. Get the forestry programme working by investing in people, processes and technology;
  4. Facilitate timber mobilisation to get timber to market; and
  5. Stimulate a vibrant market for timber at home by contructing public buildings with timber.

Mark McAuley, director of FII, said: “The critical thing is to get more of our farmers interested in forestry.

“They need to be properly rewarded and incentivised. They need to be valued for their contribution to the environment. They need to be able to plant trees with confidence and a system that supports them,” McAuley added.

In terms of revitalising the national afforestation programme, FII says this should be regionally balanced and diversified, planting native woodlands for nature and conifer forests for timber.

“Everything must be done to create a programme that aims for 8,000ha of new afforestation each year,” the group says.

On its second point FII says farmers must be properly rewarded for planting trees. “Forestry provides strong, steady incomes in farming communities.

Our farmers must be able to embrace forestry with confidence and security. The system should support and value them.

“Farming families should be proud of their decision to plant and their environmental contribution be properly recognised,” the group says.

The group says the senior minister for agriculture should have direct responsibility for forestry and set up a senior level interdepartmental working group for forestry and climate action.

“We need faster decision making and reduced bureaucracy. Uncertainty and delays are undermining forestry and reducing farmer interest in the forestry schemes,” the Ibec industry organisation contends.