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Carbon sequestration in forests

COFORD Connects note on Climate change and Irish forestryclick here (pdf 482Kb) 

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The present concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere is higher than in the past 420,000 years or maybe even in the past 20 million years, and it continues to rise. The is now convincing evidence that human activities are contributing to global warming by adding large amounts of green house gasses (GHGs) to the atmosphere. Our fossil fuel use is the main source of these gases. The second most important source of GHGs is deforestation, mainly in the tropics, and other land-use changes.

Measures to protect, restore, and sustainably manage forests offer significant climate change mitigation potential. Furthermore, forest-based measures can be an effective complement to abatement options focused on fossil fuel emissions. Forest-based mitigation of global warming can occur by three strategies:

  • Conservation of forests - to avoid emissions associated with deforestation, forest degradation or clearing.
  • Increasing forest carbon absorption capacity either by afforestation, natural regeneration of forests or changing management practices to maximise sequestration potential.
  • Substitution of materials requiring energy-intensive production with sustainably produced forest products.

Under the agreed terms of the Kyoto protocol, Ireland is committed to reduce green house gas (GHG) emissions by 13% above the 1990-base year level. This posses a tremendous challenge, given the rapid growth of the Irish economy in the past decade, since current green house gas (GHG) emission levels are 23% above the 1990 level. Assuming a business as usual scenario, it is estimated that the contribution of national forests, under Article 3.3, may offset ca. 16% of the required GHG emissions for the first commitment period (2008 to 2012). However, estimation of the extent to which forests sequester carbon in the mid to long-term is hindered is by a high degree uncertainty due to spatial heterogeneity and temporal variability.

Climate change adaptation

Ireland's climate will have a significant influence on soil and microclimate conditions and this will in turn affect the productivity of managed forests. It is clear that the long rotation length of forests will not facilitate a large enough evolutionary response time for adaptation/acclimation to the rapid changes in local climate. Given the long-term nature of forestry, the selection of suitable provenances or genotypes and adaptable management practices under future climate change scenarios is essential for sustainable forestry in Ireland.