Climate change is one of the most urgent and complex challenges facing humanity today. It is caused by the accumulation of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, in the atmosphere, which trap heat and alter the Earth’s climate system. The impacts of climate change are already being felt around the world, such as rising temperatures, melting ice, sea level rise, extreme weather events, biodiversity loss, and human health risks.
One of the most effective and natural ways to combat climate change is to plant more trees. Trees are the lungs of the planet, as they absorb carbon dioxide from the air and release oxygen. They also provide many other benefits, such as enhancing biodiversity, improving water quality, preventing soil erosion, and supporting human well-being. In this blog post, we will explore how tree planting can help mitigate climate change and what Ireland is doing to increase its forest cover.
How can tree planting help mitigate climate change?
Sequestering carbon: Trees store carbon in their biomass, such as their trunks, branches, leaves, and roots. This reduces the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which is the main greenhouse gas responsible for global warming. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, forests and wood products sequestered about 7.6 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2015, which is equivalent to about 16% of the fossil fuel emissions that year. In Ireland, forests and wood products removed 4.3 million tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in 2015, which is equivalent to about 9% of the national greenhouse gas emissions that year.
Providing renewable energy: Trees can also be used as a source of renewable energy, such as wood pellets, chips, or logs. This can replace fossil fuels, such as coal, oil, or gas, which emit large amounts of carbon dioxide when burned. Using wood for energy can also create a carbon-neutral cycle, as the carbon dioxide released from combustion can be recaptured by new trees. However, this requires sustainable forest management, such as replanting harvested trees, maintaining biodiversity, and avoiding deforestation.
Cooling the climate: Trees can also help cool the climate by shading the ground, reducing the albedo (reflectivity) of the surface, and transpiring water. These processes lower the air temperature and increase the humidity, which can reduce the demand for air conditioning and irrigation. Trees can also influence the regional and global climate by affecting the cloud formation, precipitation, and wind patterns.
What is Ireland doing to increase its forest cover?
Ireland has one of the lowest forest covers in Europe, with only 11.6% of its land area covered by forests, compared to the European average of 38%2. However, Ireland has a national goal of increasing its forest cover to 18% by 2050, which is part of its climate action plan and its commitment to the Paris Agreement.
To achieve this goal, Ireland has set a target of planting 22 million trees every year for the next 20 years, or around 440 million trees by 20405. This will require planting 8,000 hectares of new forests every year, which is equivalent to about 6,000 Croke Park pitches3. The government has allocated €1.3 billion for the next national Forestry Programme, which is the largest ever investment by an Irish government in tree planting1. The programme will provide financial incentives and supports for landowners, farmers, and communities to engage in afforestation and sustainable forest management.
The programme will also promote the planting of native and diverse tree species, which can enhance the biodiversity and resilience of the forests. The government plans to plant 600,000 new native trees over the next three years on 1,500 hectares of land that will no longer be used for peat production4. The government also intends to introduce a new small-scale native woodland scheme, which will allow farmers to plant up to one hectare of native woodland on farmland and along watercourses without the need for a forestry license.
Tree planting is a vital and viable solution for climate change mitigation, as well as for environmental and social benefits. By increasing its forest cover, Ireland can contribute to the global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to the changing climate. However, tree planting alone is not enough to solve the climate crisis. It must be accompanied by other measures, such as reducing fossil fuel consumption, enhancing energy efficiency, and promoting low-carbon lifestyles. Together, we can make a difference and create a greener and healthier future for ourselves and the planet.