It’s already known as the ‘Emerald Isle’, but the Irish government wants to make the country even greener, by planting trees to tackle climate change.

Policymakers set a planting target of 440 million trees by 2040 - or around 22 million trees per year, a government spokeswoman told The Irish Times.

Of these, 70% are set to be conifers and will be 30% broad leaves.

Growing support

While reforestation isn’t a new concept, planting trees is increasingly being incorporated in government policies around the world as a growing body of evidence supports its potential to reduce carbon.

Scotland planted 22 million trees last year with the country's forestry agency saying that surpassed its target.

Ireland’s harnessing the power of trees.
Image: Climate Central

Trees remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through photosynthesis. Scientists estimate that US forests offset as much as 20% of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions each year.

Researchers at Climate Central also point to other advantages of tree cover, including controlling stormwater and fostering habitats for wildlife.

Broad benefits

Ireland is among the least forested nations in the EU, with government estimates showing that in 2014, forest cover was around 11%, compared with the EU average of almost 40%.

The motivation to reforest isn’t just about mitigating climate change, it also wants to produce more commercial timber, provide biomass for energy production and generate jobs in rural areas.

Ireland’s forest area is growing.
Image: Ireland’s Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine

Ireland and Scotland aren’t the only countries planting trees. Last year, Pakistan hit its target of planting more than 1 billion trees and China enlisted its army to create new forests.

Sweden employs a sustainable forestry model, growing more trees than it chops down. But the government balances forest biodiversity with the importance of wood to its national economy: the forestry industry employs more than 60,000 people directly and is indirectly responsible for around 200,000 jobs.

Global potential

The details of Ireland’s plan comes as scientists from the Crowther Lab of ETH Zurich published a report showing around 0.9 billion hectares of land worldwide would be suitable for reforestation and that - if realized - could capture around two-thirds of human-made carbon emissions.

The greatest potential for reforestation was found to be in Russia, the US, Canada, Australia, Brazil and China.

What’s the World Economic Forum doing about deforestation?

Halting deforestation is essential to avoiding the worst effects of global climate change.

The destruction of forests creates almost as much greenhouse gas emissions as global road travel, and yet it continues at an alarming rate.

In 2012, we brought together more than 150 partners working in Latin America, West Africa, Central Africa and South-East Asia – to establish the Tropical Forest Alliance 2020: a global public-private partnership to facilitate investment in systemic change.

The Alliance, made up of businesses, governments, civil society, indigenous people, communities and international organizations, helps producers, traders and buyers of commodities often blamed for causing deforestation to achieve deforestation-free supply chains.

The Commodities and Forests Agenda 2020, summarizes the areas in which the most urgent action is needed to eliminate deforestation from global agricultural supply chains.

The Tropical Forest Alliance 2020 is gaining ground on tackling deforestation linked to the production of four commodities: palm oil, beef, soy, and pulp and paper.

Get in touch to join our mission to halt to deforestation.

Conifers in reforestation.
Image: Ireland’s Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine

While Ireland’s push is backed by government grants for landowners that plant forests, some environmentalists, including Mary Colwell, have expressed concern that the focus on non-native coniferous trees is turning the nation into an “ecological dead zone”.

With the benefits of forestry increasingly undisputed, it’s likely that the debate over which trees to plant, how many and where, will continue for some time to come.