The negotiations under way in Paris include how countries will be allowed to account for activities that take greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere, including forestry.
A study presented by the European Forest Institute on the side of the COP21 climate conference and funded by European governments including Ireland recommends that the EU assign clear targets to each member state in this area.
The experts estimate that forests and the forest sector currently offset 13% of the EU’s overall greenhouse gas emissions, and a lot more could be done if they were developed and managed more efficiently.
“If adequately incentivised, member states could achieve a combined additional effect of as much as 400 Mt CO2/year by 2030 on top of the existing sink and substitution. With the existing sink and substitution this comes to an equivalent of about 22% of the current EU CO2 emissions,” the authors of the report wrote.
This is of particular interest to Ireland, where the forest cover is very low and the Government has already been providing incentives for afforestation in recent years.
“Ireland has a lot of young, new plantations. One measure for Ireland could be to further expand your forest area, but also find synergies with maybe more variation of forestry sources,” Geert Jan Nabuurs of Wageningen University told the Irish Farmers Journal. “If you only have plantations on drained peatlands, your carbon benefits may not be that large,” the lead author of the study added.
Listen to an interview with Geert Jan Nabuurs in our podcast below:
The European Forest Institute recommends a policy that encourages “climate-smart forestry”, which looks for the most cost-efficient climate benefits based on each country’s characteristics and circumstances.
Yet the rest of the agriculture and land use sector should not expect a free ride from the development of forestry. The EU will decide next year whether emissions from agriculture and gains from trees should be accounted for in the same basket. Regardless of the final outcome, all observers in Paris reckon that every sector will be asked to make a significant contribution to emissions cuts, regardless of offsets found elsewhere.