It seems that in Ireland we sometimes fail to see the wood for the trees when it comes to doing the many radical but useful things we need to do in our economy and society to prepare this country for a challenging future.
At least this seems to be the latest data from the Central Statistical Office on the amount of afforestation.
Those numbers show disappointing progress on something we’ve known for decades to have many benefits, not the least of which is tackling climate change.
In 2021, just over 2,000 hectares of land were planted for forestry, compared to the nearly 7,000 hectares planted in 2007.
That was just a quarter of the government’s climate change strategy target of 8,000 hectares a year reforestation – and that target itself has already been severely reduced from a much more ambitious target of 20,000 hectares a year.
The original goal was totally unachievable as forestry has been hampered for several years now by a gruelingly slow and bureaucratic licensing system that hampers forest work.
A large part of the problem was a forestry licensing system that yielded to objections and was slowed to a crawl by a plethora of bureaucracy.
This has held the sector back at a time when it may be gaining momentum as European timber markets have experienced major bottlenecks due to the war in Ukraine and sanctions on two of the largest timber producing countries, Russia and Belarus.
Add to that the fact that timber frame houses made from Irish-grown timber, where available, could help alleviate some of the inflationary and supply-side pressures currently hitting home builders.
But our inability to meet ambitious reforestation targets points to problems far beyond the future of Ireland’s timber industry.
It’s an indication that we’re talking a lot about climate change and not doing as much — or certainly not as much as we should be doing.
Many grand declarations and lofty goals have been set regarding this country’s responsibility to try to reduce CO2 emissions. Planting trees is perhaps the most fundamental answer to the problem of too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
But of course, humanity’s true appetite for combustion is such that reforestation alone can never keep up, let alone undo the damage already done to our warming atmosphere.
We have to rethink entire areas of our economy.
Fossil fuels must be replaced by renewable energies in a robust and stable manner. Traffic must be electrified and reprioritized, towards mass traffic and away from the car. Farming must convert or radically reduce inputs from plant breeders and outputs from methane-spitting cattle.
The list goes on and on.
But the fact that we’re struggling so badly with such a fundamental response to the climate crisis as planting trees doesn’t bode well for the larger, more technologically difficult changes that lie ahead if we are to become a carbon-neutral economy.
For example, the development of large offshore wind farms – first in the Irish Sea and later using floating technology in the Atlantic to generate electricity for export and the production of green hydrogen from seawater – is crucial if we are to meet our ambitious and growing demands improbable looking energy targets.
And it’s not just about achieving goals.
As with forestry, there are tremendous opportunities that future generations will not forgive us. The war in Ukraine has brought a sudden, but long overdue, razor-sharp focus to the urgent need for Europe to wean itself off of dirty energy from hydrocarbons originating from troubled places like Russia.
Ireland finds itself with a vast territory in some of the windiest waters on earth, while all attention is now on how generating or importing renewable energy can help countries like Germany cut the Russian tether.
Decisions on how all this will play out are now being made in government cabinets and energy company boardrooms – and Ireland needs to show that it can realistically be part of a better solution.
It is only fair to say that both private companies and Irish State Authorities have done a great deal of good work in bringing a number of wind farms, particularly in the Irish Sea, to the point where they are almost ready to enter the planning and development cycle regulatory system to be included .
But here the example of forestry really becomes a problem for wind farm delivery.
Both ideas – increased reforestation and expansion of renewable energies – are good. However, it remains to be seen whether the game-changing offshore wind farms can actually be delivered from the farthest end of Ireland’s regulatory regimes in time for local coastal communities to have their say.
And unfortunately, the recent experiences of the timber industry do not bode well.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/forestry-logjams-suggest-crucial-turbines-will-face-plenty-of-snags-41603802.html Forestry blockages suggest key turbines will face many obstacles