One in every 10 hectares of land is now planted in forestry, according to the latest figures. The Government’s Forestry Statistics paint a picture of the country’s afforested grounds amid increasing pressure to up volume of lands under trees due to greenhouse gas emissions targets. Despite Ireland falling far short of planting targets, the area of forest is estimated to stand at 731,650ha or 10.5% of the total land area of the country. Around 53% or 389,356ha is in public ownership, mainly Coillte.
The forested area acts as a carbon reservoir, amounting to 381 million tonnes of carbon in 2012 and between 2008 and 2012 it removed 16Mt of CO2 and offset 5% of all national emissions. There have been major concerns raised in western counties, particularly Leitrim, over the level of forestry planting in the region. Farmers account for 83% of private lands afforested between 1980 and 2016, with the average size of private grant-aided plantations around 8.8ha since 1980. It states farmer planting has dominated afforestation since 1993. With farmers and non-farmers now eligible for the same rate of grants and premium payments, the number of non-farmers planting has increased to 35% of the areas afforested in 2016. It points out that ‘non-farmers’ include retired farmers, sons and daughters of farmers and other relatives who may have inherited land.
Forestry and its role in carbon sequestration is an obvious part of any solution to the problem of emissions produced by agriculture. In 2016, Cork had the highest afforestation area at 608ha, followed by Clare at 552ha, Roscommon at 435ha, Leitrim at 434ha and Mayo at 429. There were 34 ‘non-farmers’ who accounted for 254ha in Cork in 2016, while 33 accounted for 238ha in Clare, 26 for 212ha in Cavan and 28 for 195ha in Leitrim. Efforts have been made recently to increase the volume of broadleaves planted by the Agriculture Department, with increased grant incentives, as the forest estate is made up of three quarters conifers and one quarter broadleaves. Sitka spruce is the most common species, accounting for 52% of the forest area. The report warns tree diseases impacting species such as larch and Chalara fraxinea or ash dieback may influence diversity into the future.
Taxi drivers and operators of other public service vehicles are set to benefit from a new €7,000 grant scheme aimed at encouraging them to opt for electric vehicles. Minister for Transport, Shane Ross, has announced a new incentive scheme offering a €7,000 grant towards the purchase of an electric vehicle for those with a small public service vehicle (SPSV) licence. That grant is on top of the existing electric car incentives – the €5,000 rebate on vehicle registration tax, a €3,800 grant from the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI), and the upcoming new grant from the SEAI for installing a home-charging point.
The Department of Transport grant applies to any fully electric vehicle up to six years old, although the amount reduces according to the age of the car. A smaller €3,500 grant applies if you want to buy a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) for taxi use, but only those with Co2 emissions lower than 65g/km. Conventional hybrids are excluded.
The move is the latest in a series of measures being introduced by the Government to promote electric car ownership. Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe introduced a one-year exemption on benefit in kind for electric vehicles in the budget, and it is expected that the exemption will be rolled out for at least three years, including a suspension of any benefit in kind levied on charging your electric car at work.
Meanwhile, Minister for the Environment Denis Naughten has stated that he is looking at other ways to encourage an increase in the move to electric vehicles, including making motorways tolls free for electric cars and banning sales of any non-hybrid or electric car from 2030 onwards. However, the current financial incentives are still not having much effect. Electric cars accounted for a paltry 0.25 per cent of the market last year, with just 622 sold in total in a total new car market of 131,335.
A new report on “Forest biomass, carbon neutrality and climate change mitigation” has been recently published by the European Forest Institute (EFI) with involvement of the Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke) within EFI´s “From Science to Policy” series.
“World leaders finalized a historic global agreement to combat climate change in Paris in December 2015. They agreed on the need for global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to peak as soon as possible; to achieve GHG neutrality in the second half of this century; and to hold global warming well below 2°C relative to pre-industrial levels.”
“A key issue in the debate about the climate impacts of bioenergy is the question of ‘carbon neutrality’: bioenergy systems can influence the cycling of biogenic carbon between the biosphere and atmosphere, but studies sometimes disregard this when estimating GHG balances. In other words they assume that bioenergy systems can be considered neutral in regard to the biosphere-atmosphere CO2 flows.”
“This report provides insights into the current scientific debate on forest biomass, carbon neutrality and climate change mitigation. Its objective is to provide a balanced and policy-relevant synthesis on the issue, taking into account EU and global perspectives. Other societal objectives and interests are briefly touched upon but the focus is on climate change mitigation.”
The link to the series on EFI pages can be found here: http://www.efi.int/portal/policy_advice/publications/from_science_to_policy/fstp3/