In order to mitigate negative impacts, the trend must be towards increased afforestation coupled with decreased deforestation. In addition, forests will need improved management in terms of harvesting.
Mitigation of global emissions requires sustainable agriculture and forestry, which primarily relates to better land management to increase carbon storage in the soil, better livestock management to reduce emissions from enteric fermentation and improved fertiliser use to reduce nitrous oxide emissions. In China, practices such as reduced water injection to paddy fields during the winter are being studied to assess the effectiveness of reducing methane emissions during the growing season.
Irish Agriculture accounts for 33.3% of our total greenhouse gas emissions, which as a proportion of overall emissions is higher than any other EU member state. These emissions include methane (CH4) from enteric fermentation (animals’ natural digestive processes) and manure management. Nitrous oxide (N2O) is released to the atmosphere from fertiliser use and the recycling of animal manures onto agricultural land.
By virtue of their role in the carbon cycle, forests act as mitigation measures for greenhouse gas emissions. Trees act as a “sink” in the carbon cycle and remove CO2 from the atmosphere through photosynthesis. Under the Kyoto Protocol, emissions of greenhouse gases may be offset by removal by sinks, which are limited to afforestation and reforestation.
Consequently, it is in Ireland’s interest to preserve and manage our existing forests and to investigate the potential for further afforestation. The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has set a target of 17% forestry cover in Ireland (currently 11%). For more information, see the Forest Service website.
In addition to the classification of forests as sinks, the other major mitigation measure applicable to forestry is the use of wood as a substitute for fossil fuels. As wood absorbs CO2 during growth and then emits CO2 when combusted it is considered “carbon neutral”, i.e. it does not add any extra carbon to the atmosphere as coal, oil or gas do. This carbon neutral fuel can be used in a range of applications from domestic wood pellet burners in domestic houses, to use as a fuel in industrial installations. Timber can also be used as a building material in replace of other more carbon intensive materials.
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